Sometimes we think we are communicating with people when we are not. The other person is hearing things we think we didn’t say. We think we are giving them feedback they think they aren’t getting. We aren’t listening; rather, we are preparing our next point in the argument. We don’t feel it’s necessary to speak any certain way; we just have to make our point.
Effective communication, in any arena, is hard. It’s harder when feelings are involved, when each person is starving to be heard and have their feelings validated, if not necessarily agreed with. Effective communication is draining sometimes. Sometimes you don’t feel like going through all of that to make yourself understood; the other person should just know.
Re-establishing the lines of communication isn’t usually the problem; it’s that the communication hasn’t really been established in the first place. The best example of this I can come up with is the relationship I have/had with my father. For the longest time, he wasn’t involved in my life. I hadn’t seen him since I was two, or eight, or ten. We would never get to establish a method of communication before he was gone again. Once he got himself together and started going to church, we finally began to try to have a relationship, but the tools weren’t there to build on an existing communication relationship. He had no idea how to talk to me, and I had no idea how to talk to him, so most of our conversations were about movies we had seen and what we thought of them, or descriptions of the people we worked with or saw on a daily basis. We retreated to our stories. It’s easier. We are both great with words, but when you analyze all the conversations, we weren’t really saying anything.
My dad sent me a letter in November of 2008 that made me really mad, but it was also one of the first honest communications I had ever gotten from him. It made me mad because of the tone and the ultimatum quality of it, but I understood a few things about him for the first time ever. It made me angry to think he had been feeling the way he had for such a long time before he said anything (which, I find, is where most ultimatums spring from–holding back and biting your tongue for so long you can’t take it anymore), but I began to see my father as an actual person, with thoughts and feelings like I had, not a moviefone, a restaurant critic, a half-listening ear on the other end of a cell phone, a complaintant about my cell phone usuage. He had hurt me a lot, but apparently, so had I.
Anyway, here are a few of my effective communication rules/regulations; feel free to try them.
- Listen to the other person, then begin phrasing your response. Make sure you hear all of what they are saying and process it before you decide how you should respond.
- Don’t interrupt unless for clarity. It’s important to let the other person know you care about what they are saying and want to understand where they are coming from and what they mean. No one likes to be interrupted and put on the defensive, especially when they haven’t even made their position clear yet.
- Ask questions, but let the person finish saying what they are trying to say before you attempt to respond. If you really don’t understand what they are talking about, ask them. Let them finish before taking issue with something they’ve said; if you wait to hear the whole thing, it might not be what you thought, and will save a lot of time trying to defend themselves and being angry over something you took out of context.
- Briefly rephrase what they have said as you heard it to allow them to further explain if necessary. The way we interpret something someone said isn’t necessarily what they meant to convey when they said it. We speak the same language, but we also speak different ones. Discourse is more important than the language the discourse is in. Words, especially ones that describe feelings, have our personal experiences attached to them. We have to make sure we attach the other person’s meaning and not our feelings/experiences/pains to the conversation.
- Be clear. Don’t make your comments a matter of interpretation. As John Mayer says, say what you need to say, but say what you mean to say as well.
- Meet them where they are in terms of how they communicate. If they use/need examples, if they need logic like a computer, if they need to see things visually, make sure that your communication style is adapted to that when you speak to them. You can be speaking a foreign language to them and not know it.
- No one wins; it’s not a competition. Winning is when you both understand each other, not necessarily when you have beaten the other person down so much they will agree to anything to stop talking.
- If this relationship is really important to you, how long it takes to communicate will not bother you. Even if you have to table a discussion for a later time, be willing to put in the effort. It gets easier the more you do it, but not always faster. My minister tells us his sermons aren’t long, we are just not focused and want to be somewhere else. We aren’t interested in what God has to say and just came to be there, so we fidget and wonder when he’ll sit down. There is some truth to that. When you don’t want to do something, it takes forever to do and you wish yourself anywhere else, but when you love it and want to understand it, time just seems to fly by.
- Sometimes, you have to walk away and think about things. Communicate that you have things to think about and don’t feel you can constructively talk about it further at that point instead of just walking away. No one is a mind reader. You going to clear your head can be taken as you don’t care about the conversation (or the relationship) or that you are walking away from the person altogether.
- In personal relationships, you choose whether to be present and entertain discussions. If talking to the other person is not worth it, if the relationship is not important enough to salvage, you can leave.
I’m not the expert on communication, even though I talk A LOT! If you have any tips you want to add, or any points you want to disagree with discuss, feel free.