Healthy and constructive communication skills are not innate. If we are fortunate, we grow up in an environment with confident parents and clear non-judgmental communication. Unfortunately, that is not the case for most of us. We usually end up learning we need to work on our communication and relationship skills later in life. So, what can you do to help yourself now?
Think before you react: It is common to want to spit back a reply or act out when we are feeling hurt, upset, or uncomfortable. However, it is in these moments of intense emotion that I find it is most useful for me to step back, take a breath, and think about what I need from the situation. Once I know what I need, it is easier for me to articulate what I want to say without blame and judgement. Count to 10! It’s not an emergency. The person will still be there to hear your response in most cases.
Learn to listen: We all love to talk, but listening takes work. It means that we need to quiet the thoughts in our mind for long enough to let someone else’s in. It also means that we need to step out of ourselves and focus on someone else. It takes time, effort, and patience to try to understand another person’s perspective, especially when it is in direct contrast to our own. But, you can’t really craft a constructive response to a situation, if you don’t understand it first. So, listen before you speak next time and see what happens.
Lead with “I” statements: The biggest issue in communication is blame, shame, and defensiveness. It is impossible to get anywhere in a conversation once you or the other person becomes defensive. Defensiveness is destructive, whilst openness is constructive. So, instead of focusing on being right and assigning blame, you could try focusing on what you are feeling, what do you need, what do you hope to get out of the conversation. Then, lead with “I” statements, instead of “you” statements. That is as simple as saying: “I really felt hurt and betrayed when you suddenly dropped out of the group assignments and didn’t do the work you’d previous agreed upon. I don’t feel comfortable letting you back into the group unless we can do things differently in the future.” That is much better than: “OMG! How dare you ask to rejoin our group! You’re so lazy and totally let us down last time. Forget it!!” Hmmm…which one do you think is going to escalate a situation?!
Be open to feedback? Personal growth is a process. There is no finish line in that process until you cross over to the other side (ie. death). Communication is a part of personal growth, so don’t beat yourself up when you make a mistake or could do better. Instead, stay open to how your communication style impacts others. Can you do something different in the future? Maybe? Maybe not? But, at least you opened your ears and took the feedback as constructive, instead of closing yourself off from some potentially valuable information.
Remember that communication is a skill, not a in-born trait. It takes practice and lots of blunders, so don’t get discouraged. And remember, if you need some advice on how to improve you communication skills at school or work, you can book a free 30 minute consultation with one of our coaches. You can also check out our upcoming talk with qualifying psychotherapist, Jill Gillbert, on Tuesday, February 26th at 6:00pm. Check out the blog post and EventBrite for more details.
All content in this post is created by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang. Please feel free to share widely, but also please do remember to give us credit. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property rights.