Communication receives a special focus in June, which is designated Effective Communication Month. How are your communication skills? Do you feel like you’re always talking, but nobody is listening? Does your advice to your spouse or family members seem to go unheeded? How about when someone is talking to you? Do you really know how to listen, or are you already coming up with your response while the other person is still talking?
If you feel seen, don’t despair. You’re not alone. While a whopping 96 percent of people think they’re good listeners, most people usually retain about half of what they hear. Another survey suggests we’re frustrated communicators. In this survey, people listed being interrupted, being talked over and having to repeat themselves as top complaints.
Effective communication is important in every area of our lives, from our workplace to our homes. People appreciate and understand each other better when communicating their feelings and their needs. When the communication stops, the relationship halts as well. Fortunately, the Healthy356 Connection Center has some effective communication tips you can start practicing this month to strengthen your communication and listening skills.
Effective communication skills
Do you struggle to make your voice heard? Are you an active talker but a passive listener? Do you forget the conversation five minutes after it ends? Consider adjusting your communication skills to strengthen your relationships and ensure that you aren’t playing a guessing game when it comes to what the other person needs you to know and hear.
Your mother probably told you to listen when you were a kid, and Mom had some pretty good advice. Listening may seem like a passive gesture, but there’s a term called “active listening” that encompasses an intentional interest in what the other person is saying. Active listening has three components:
- Cognitive listening – paying attention to what you’re hearing.
- Emotional listening – staying calm while the other person is talking, even if they’re saying something that really hits one of your emotional triggers.
- Behavioral listening – showing your interest both verbally and non-verbally. This can be a challenge in today’s society, where the siren song of our electronic devices entices us to scroll through social media while our friend is unloading his heart.
How can you actively listen without succumbing to distraction? Sometimes it’s as easy as repeating the person’s words back to them: “I’m hearing you say that you’re frustrated with your new boss because he wants to change everything that has worked for month.” Pay attention to nonverbal cues, like facial expressions or body language, and ask the necessary questions. It’s natural to start rehearsing your response before the other person is finished, but this is a habit you can break! Give the other person a few seconds of silence before you respond. Sometimes the most important communication happens when you remain silent.
Say what you mean
Relationships must be built on honesty. Don’t make communication into a guessing game. If you want something from the other person, stop dropping hints and ask for it. If someone asks for your opinion, offer the truth. Remember, though, that brutal honesty can be, well, brutal. If your BFF wants to know how she looks in her new chartreuse dress and you think she looks hideous, convey your opinion gently. It’s better to say, “I think the color is cheerful, but I really loved how you looked in that yellow dress you wore last week.” Authenticity is important, but so is kindness.
Hold off on the unwanted advice
Let’s face it. A lot of advice is unwanted. Sometimes friends and family members just need to unload on each other. They need to share their problems and move on. Ask before you advise. “Do you want to hear my thoughts, or do you just need me to listen?” Then abide by their answer.
Pay attention to your own nonverbal cues
Are your arms crossed? Are you scowling while you talk? Do you maintain eye contact, or do you gaze over the other person’s shoulder as though you’re looking for a better option in the crowd? Is your jaw clenched or relaxed? Do you find yourself speaking louder because you fear the other person is about to disagree with you? These cues can add more to the conversation than the words you’re saying. Use them wisely.
Clarify as necessary
Have you ever had a conversation where you were saying one thing and the other person was hearing something completely different? If you’re not sure where the other person is going in the conversation, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.
Put away the distractions
Phones are great for staying in touch, but they can ruin a good in-person conversation. Keep your phone in your purse or pocket, and don’t grab it every time you get a notification. Give the other person the gift of your undivided attention, which is pivotal to an effective conversation.
Use this Effective Communication Month to freshen up your conversation skills. You may be surprised to discover how much your relationships improve as you deepen your understanding of each other.