Do you ever feel like you’re trying to explain your point of view but the other person isn’t actually hearing you? Or you’re having a disagreement and no matter what you try, you can’t see eye to eye? Or you think everything is agreed on, only to have someone convey a different understanding down the road?
Sometimes, the challenges we face with communication can be a result of how we’re communicating. Communicating is an art, and it requires practice. It’s also a two-way street—to communicate effectively, you need an engaged sender and an engaged receiver. Here are some tips to improve your communication for better results.
There’s a lot of noise in today’s world and, unfortunately, that noise isn’t very conducive to good communication. When having a conversation, try to reduce or eliminate those distractions. Put away phones and computers, find a quiet space, and focus on the message.
Check for understanding.
Throughout your communication, check for understanding by paraphrasing back what you understand. That may sound something like “What I’m hearing is that you’ll have the project to me by Monday at 2pm. Is that correct?” or “When I forgot to load the dishwasher, you felt like I was piling another chore to your busy workload. Is that right?”
It can also be helpful to send an email summary after an in-person meeting or conference call, so that any discrepancies in understanding can be caught early.
Talk about you.
Particularly for difficult conversations, talking about how you feel and what impact the situation is having on you personally can help remove defensiveness from the other party. It’s common advice to use “I feel” statements during disagreements, to shift the focus from blame to impact. “I feel sad when someone calls me bossy” will likely work better than “You called me names!”
It’s important to be a good listener, and part of that means letting the message sender finish their thought. It’s tempting to interrupt, especially when you’re passionate about the subject, but doing so won’t earn you any listening points. Be patient and let the person finish what they’re saying, then check for understanding before you respond. This will make both of you feel heard, and help ensure you leave on the same page.
Choose your media wisely.
It is so hard to convey tone in written communication. When you’re in person you have tone of voice, body language, and facial cues to give you hints about how the person is meaning to present themselves. This just isn’t possible over text or email. For that reason, messages sent over text or email can often be misconstrued or interpreted incorrectly. If you have a sensitive or important message, consider doing it in person or, at the very least, over the phone instead.
Take a break.
If your conversation is getting too heated, or you feel it’s not being productive, it’s okay to call a time out. Step away, take some deep breaths, and come back to the table when you are all ready to continue. It’s unlikely you’ll make progress if everyone is feeling too emotional, so set those boundaries and take those breaks as you need them.