Thought for the week: The ABC’s of Healthy Communication
When you are wrong, apologize.
Be Direct and Honest: What do you want?
You may simply want the other person to listen and not provide feedback. Perhaps you want advice, but not until you are finished speaking. It is important to let the listener know what you need and want from them. Specifically, “I just need to vent” or “I need your advice on something but let me tell you the entire story first” or “I don’t need you to try and cheer me up. I need you to just say, “I’m sorry you’re down right now. ”
Conclusions: Don’t jump to them.
Jumping to conclusions can easily be perceived as disrespectful. Although you may think you are helping the other resolve their issue by getting to the “bottom line”, they may feel dismissed.
Define your goal: Your end goal defines communication choices.
Attempt to communicate about your subject only after you have defined your goal or purpose. Do you need to be heard and understood? Are you trying to solve a problem or resolve a conflict? Perhaps you wish to strengthen your relationship, express your concern or convey the importance of something. Knowing the answer to this ahead of time helps clarify the words, timing and tone that would best convey your message. Ask yourself, “Is what I am about to say going to get me what I want at the end of this?” For example, if you are worried about another’s behavior but end up delivering a “You” message they perceive as controlling vs. worried – have you met your goal?
Encourage: Compliment a job well done.
Thank the other person for their efforts to communicate and/or for honoring your communication style. For example, perhaps you are a distancer when the topic gets heated and your partner is a pursuer. If the pursuer honors the distancer’s need to retreat for a period of time before continuing – progress and successful communication are more likely.
Feedback: What to do about it.
There are times you may just need to vent. This is healthy even if it is mainly a one-sided communication involving an active listener limiting their feedback. In other types of communication, asking for feedback is very important. Feedback enables you to make certain that the information received matches the information sent. Feedback also provides opportunities for growth and learning about yourself and the other.
Get to the Point: Be Direct
Stick to one topic at a time. To avoid misunderstandings to the extent possible be brief, simple and direct.
Hold off on Assumptions: In fact, get rid of them.
“You’re just asking because you’re jealous!” accuses the other of bad motives, renders them unable to listen clearly and sabotages successful communication.
Individual: See each encounter as new.
Those whom you trust to be more open with are usually those you are closest to. Knowing someone can get in the way of effective communication because it is easy to “know” how they think or feel and to “know” what their facial expression means. It is much more difficult to listen and hear the person as an individual, separate from yourself and your other experiences with them. In fact, there are times you may not even bother to have a conversation with this person you know well, as you may think you already know what they are thinking or how they will respond.
Judgements: Avoid them.
“You’re too sensitive” is an example of being judgmental.
Keep Confidences: Respect the privacy of others.
Listen: Feedback is only what the sender’s message meant, nothing more.
Being an active listener means focusing on what the speaker is saying, specifically what message they are trying to convey. When another person is speaking, very often many “listeners” stop listening and assume they know where the conversation is going. They shift to thinking about how they will respond rather then fully listening to what is being said. In active listening, it is very important that you are not developing your own response in the form of an opinion, evaluation, advice or analysis, but truly listening and then explaining what you heard.
Meaning: Check in with the other before reacting.
What you think a person meant to say may not be what they thought they were saying and vice versa. Ask: “What did you hear me say” or, when listening, offer: “What I heard you say is this….”. This check in for meanings might need to be repeated a couple of times in order to clarify a perspective.
Nonverbal Messages: Over 90% of communication is non-verbal.
In healthy honest communication where nothing is being hidden, non-verbal signals (facial expressions, hand gestures, body posture) match the words and tone you are using.
Own your own behavior: Use “I” statements.
“I” statements like “I feel…” or “I think…” show you are willing to take responsibility for yourself. “You” statements such as “You make me feel…” or “Its your fault I got angry” or “I think you…” are shaming and blaming statements that create defensiveness in the other and block productive conversations. “Everyone” statements, as in “Everyone agrees with me that you…” are an attempt to boost your side of the argument by bringing in third parties. Let those third parties speak for themselves and keep the discussion focused on the two of you.
Perspectives: Agree to disagree.
It is important that the end goal isn’t always to agree, to be right or to win. The ability to accept differences in opinion and differing perspective is a sign of maturity and successful communication skills.
Questioning: Examine your motives for asking a lot of questions.
It is important to examine your motives for asking a lot of questions, as the other person may feel intimidated or threatened, bringing a halt to effective open communication. It helps to remind the other person that you are asking because you are curious, not because you are questioning them or their judgement, if this is the true reason you are asking.
Respectful Words: Use them!
“Should”, “Always” and “Never” are words that may trigger the listener into a defensive rather than a listening mode.
Self-Esteem: Protect it.
One sure sign that the communication between you and another is healthy is that no one’s self-esteem is threatened.
Time: Ask to talk.
Ask the other for time to talk with them. Are you uncomfortable with direct communication or with discussing a sensitive topic? Does direct communication feel the same as confrontation? Have you tried to ease into the discussion indirectly? Without an introduction, the importance of the subject will be lost on the listener, who may be distracted or multi tasking. Be explicit; “Do you have a few minutes? I need to talk to you about something.” You have not only their attention, you have shown them respect by not interrupting what they were doing that moment. You also have signaled to them to shift into their active listening mode and overall set the stage for effective communication.
One last thought borrowed from Don Miguel Ruiz in The Four Agreements: as much as humanly possible, be impeccable with your word.
Have a great week!