What is effective communication?
Effective communication is more than just exchanging information. It is about understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information. In addition to being able to clearly convey a message, you must also listen in a way that gets the full meaning of what is being said and that the other person feels heard and understood.
Effective communication appears to be instinctive. But too often, when we try to communicate with others, something is lost. We say one thing, the other person hears something else and misunderstandings, frustrations and conflicts occur. This can cause problems in your home, school, and work relationships.
For many of us, communicating more clearly and effectively requires learning some important skills. Whether you’re trying to improve communication with your spouse, children, boss, or coworkers, learning these skills can deepen your connections with others, build greater trust and respect, and improve teamwork, problem solving. and their social and emotional health in general.
What prevents you from communicating effectively?
Common barriers to effective communication include:
Stress and emotion out of control. When you are stressed or emotionally overwhelmed, you are more likely to misread other people, send confusing or unpleasant nonverbal signals, and fall into unhealthy behavior patterns. To avoid conflict and misunderstanding, you can learn to calm down quickly before continuing a conversation.
Lack of concentration. You cannot communicate effectively when multitasking. If you are checking your phone, planning what to say next, or daydreaming, you will almost certainly miss the non-verbal cues in the conversation. To communicate effectively, you must avoid distractions and stay focused.
Inconsistent body language. Nonverbal communication should reinforce what is said, not contradict it. If you say one thing, but your body language says another, your listener will probably feel like you’re being dishonest. For example, you cannot say “yes” while shaking your head.
Negative body language. If you disagree or don’t like what is said, you can use negative body language to reject the other person’s message, such as crossing your arms, avoiding eye contact, or hitting your feet. You don’t have to agree with or even like what is being said, but to communicate effectively and not put the other person on the defensive, it’s important to avoid sending negative signals.
Effective communication Tips
Tip 1: Become a committed listener
When we communicate with others, we often focus on what we should say. However, effective communication is less about talking and more about listening. Listening well means not only understanding the words or information being communicated, but also understanding the emotions the speaker is trying to convey.
There is a big difference between actively listening and just listening. When you really listen, when you are committed to what is said, you will hear the subtle intonations in someone’s voice that tell you how that person feels and the emotions they are trying to communicate. When you are a committed listener, you will not only understand the other person better, but you will also make that person feel heard and understood, which can help build a stronger and deeper connection between you.
By communicating in this way, you will also experience a process that reduces stress and supports physical and emotional well-being. If the person you are talking to is calm, for example, engaging listening will also help calm you down. Similarly, if the person is agitated, you can help calm them down by listening carefully and making the person feel understood.
If your goal is to fully understand and connect with the other person, engaging listening will often come naturally. If not, try the following tips. The more you practice them, the more satisfying and rewarding your interactions with others will be.
Tips for becoming a committed listener
Focus fully on the speaker. You can’t hear in a compromised way if you’re constantly checking your phone or thinking about something else. You must stay focused on the experience from moment to moment to grasp the subtle nuances and important nonverbal cues in a conversation. If you find it difficult to focus on some speakers, try repeating your words in your head; This will reinforce your message and help you stay focused.
Favor your right ear. Oddly enough, the left side of the brain contains the main processing centers for both speech understanding and emotion. Since the left side of the brain is connected to the right side of the body, favoring your right ear can help you better detect the emotional nuances of what someone is saying.
Avoid interrupting or trying to redirect the conversation to your concerns. Saying something like, “If you think it’s bad, let me tell you what happened to me.” Listening is not the same as waiting your turn to speak. You cannot focus on what someone is saying if you are forming what you are going to say next. Often the speaker can read their facial expressions and know that their mind is elsewhere.
Show your interest in what is said. Occasionally nod, smile at the person, and make sure their posture is open and welcoming. Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like “yes” or “uh huh”.
Try to let go of judgment. To communicate effectively with someone, you do not have to like or agree with their ideas, values, or opinions. However, you must put aside your judgment and withhold blame and criticism to fully understand them. The most difficult communication, when executed successfully, can often lead to an unlikely connection with someone.
Provide feedback. If there appears to be a disconnect, reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. “What I’m hearing is” or “It sounds like you’re saying” are great ways to reflect. However, do not simply repeat what the speaker has literally said: he will seem untrue or unwise. Instead, express what the speaker’s words mean to you. Ask questions to clarify certain points: “What do you mean when you say …” or “Is this what you mean?”
Tip 2: Pay attention to non-verbal cues
The way you look, listen, move, and react to someone else tells them more about how you feel than words alone. Nonverbal communication, or body language, includes facial expressions, body movements and gestures, eye contact, posture, the tone of your voice, and even your muscle tension and breathing.
Developing the ability to understand and use nonverbal communication can help you connect with others, express what you really mean, navigate challenging situations, and build better relationships at home and work.
- You can improve effective communication by using open body language: arms folded, standing in an open posture or sitting on the edge of your seat and maintaining eye contact with the person you are talking to.
- You can also use body language to emphasize or enhance your verbal message by patting a friend on the back while congratulating her on her success, for example, or hitting her fists to underline her message.
Improve the way you read non-verbal communication
Be aware of individual differences. People from different countries and cultures tend to use different non-verbal communication gestures, so it is important to consider age, culture, religion, gender, and emotional state when reading body language cues. An American teenager, a grieving widow, and an Asian businessman, for example, are likely to use nonverbal cues differently.
Look at the non-verbal communication signs as a group. Don’t read too much in a single gesture or nonverbal signal. Consider all the non-verbal cues you receive, from eye contact to tone of voice and body language. Anyone can slip in occasionally and let go of eye contact, for example, or inadvertently cross their arms. Consider the signs as a whole to get a better “read” of a person.
Improve the way you deliver non-verbal communication
Use nonverbal cues that match your words instead of contradicting them. If you say one thing, but your body language says another, your listener will be confused or suspect that you are being dishonest. For example, sitting with your arms crossed and shaking your head does not match the words you say to the other person who agrees with what you are saying.
Adjust your nonverbal cues according to context. The tone of your voice, for example, should be different when you are addressing a child than when you are addressing a group of adults. Similarly, consider the emotional state and cultural background of the person with whom you are interacting.
Avoid negative body language. Instead, use body language to convey positive feelings, even when you’re not actually experiencing them. If you’re nervous about a situation (a job interview, an important presentation, or a first date, for example), you can use positive body language to indicate confidence, even if you don’t feel it. Rather than tentatively walking into a room with your head down, eyes averted, and slipping into a chair, try standing with your shoulders back, smiling and making eye contact, and giving a firm handshake. It will make you feel more confident about yourself and will help reassure the other person.
Tip 3: Keep stress under control
How many times have you felt stressed during a disagreement with your spouse, children, boss, friends, or coworkers and then said or did something you later regretted? If you can quickly relieve stress and return to a calm state, not only will you avoid such regrets, but in many cases it will also help calm the other person. Only when you are in a calm and relaxed state will you know if the situation requires a response or if the other person’s signals indicate that it would be better to remain silent.
In situations like a job interview, a business presentation, a high-pressure meeting, or a presentation to a loved one’s family, for example, it’s important to control your emotions, think standing up, and communicate effectively under pressure.
Communicate effectively by staying calm under pressure
Use delaying tactics to give yourself time to think. Ask to repeat a question or clarify a statement before answering.
Pause to collect your thoughts. Silence is not necessarily a bad thing: pausing can make you seem more in control than rushing your response.
Make a point and provide an example or supporting information. If your answer is too long or you have doubts about several points, you risk losing the listener’s interest. Follow a point with an example, and then evaluate the listener’s reaction to say if you should make a second point.
Deliver your words clearly. In many cases, how you say something can be as important as what you say. Speak clearly, maintain an even tone, and make eye contact. Keep your body language relaxed and open.
End with a summary and then stop. Summarize your answer and then stop talking, even if you leave a silence in the room. You don’t have to fill the silence by continuing to speak.
Quick stress relief for effective communication
When a conversation begins to heat up, you need something quick and immediate to reduce emotional intensity. By learning to quickly reduce stress in the moment, you can safely assess any strong emotions you are experiencing, regulate your feelings, and behave appropriately.
Recognize when you are getting stressed. Your body will notify you if you are stressed while communicating. Are the muscles or stomach tight? Are your hands clenched? Is your breathing shallow? Are you “forgetting” to breathe?
Take a moment to calm down before deciding to continue or postpone a conversation.
Bring your senses to the rescue. The best way to relieve stress quickly and reliably is through the senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, or movement. For example, you could put a peppermint in your mouth, squeeze a stress ball into your pocket, take a deep breath, squeeze and relax your muscles, or just remember a soothing, sensor-rich image. Each person responds differently to sensory information, so they must find a coping mechanism that calms them down.
Find humor in the situation. When used appropriately, humor is a great way to relieve stress when communicating. When you or those around you start taking things too seriously, find a way to lighten your spirits by sharing a joke or funny story.
Be willing to compromise. Sometimes if both of you can bend a little, you will be able to find a happy middle ground that reduces stress levels for all concerned. If you realize that the other person cares much more about a problem than you do, compromise may be easier for you and a good investment for the future of the relationship.
Agree to disagree, if necessary, and take time away from the situation so that everyone can calm down. Take a walk if possible, or spend a few minutes meditating. Physical movement or finding a quiet place to regain balance can quickly reduce stress.
Tip 4: Hold on
Direct and assertive expression allows for clear communication and can help increase your self-esteem and decision-making skills. Being assertive means expressing your thoughts, feelings, and needs in an open and honest way, while defending yourself and respecting others. It does NOT mean being hostile, aggressive or demanding. Effective communication is always about understanding the other person, not winning an argument or forcing their opinions on others.
To improve your assertiveness:
Value yourself and your options. They are just as important as anyone else’s.
Know your needs and desires. Learn to express them without infringing on the rights of others.
Express negative thoughts in a positive way. It’s okay to get angry, but you should also be respectful.
Receive positive feedback. Kindly accept compliments, learn from your mistakes, ask for help when needed.
Learn to say ‘no’. Know your limits and don’t let others take advantage of you. Find alternatives so that everyone feels good about the result.
Develop assertive communication techniques
The empathic affirmation transmits sensitivity to the other person. First, acknowledge the other person’s situation or feelings, then express your needs or opinions. “I know you’ve been very busy at work, but I want you to make time for us, too.”
Increasing affirmation can be used when your first attempts are unsuccessful. It becomes firmer as time goes on, which may include a description of the consequences if your needs are not met. For example, “If you do not comply with the contract, I will be forced to take legal action.”
Practice assertiveness in low-risk situations to help build your confidence. Or ask friends or family if you can practice assertiveness techniques on them first.