MisunderstandingsOr you meant one thing, but somehow the message was misinterpreted and you ended up hurting someone close to you without even knowing how? Robert McCloskey, in his famous quote “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant”, humorously highlights how very difficult effective communication really is, especially with those close to us.

When life is going well and everything is fine, it is easy to interact, have fun and a good laugh. However, when life becomes a little more complicated, when people feel vulnerable, tired or stressed, when there are difficult situations to handle, or when emotions are running high – this is the time when good communication skills are vital in order to work out solutions and resolve difficulties. This is also the most difficult time to communicate well.

Effective communication means speaking clearly, directly and earnestly (CDE):

  • Clearly – means being very specific and keeping the focus on the current situation and current behaviour;
  • Directly – means that we speak directly to the person who the situation relates to; and
  • Earnestly– means we speak from our heart, we are assertive, we understand our own reactions and responses, and we are honest about them.

We also need to keep in mind who we are speaking to, and how to say something in a way that the person can hear it. Even when we don’t say anything – we are communicating. Our body language, our tone of voice, our expressions, and our physical distance to each other, are all an important part of communication.

At this moment in history, we have become a very technological society. Emails, instant messaging, computers, texts, and social networking have evolved so quickly, and communication has never been easier. But are we communicating better? It is my belief that these quick and easy forms of communication, has had a very negative impact on our ability to communicate as a society.

We need only to turn on the news and watch our politicians raise a topic for debate. We watch our leaders, our role models put each other down, mock, patronise and insult one another, and most open discussions turn into a mud-slinging attack on their opponent’s character.

Breaking people’s spirit, humiliating, degrading, insulting, and embarrassing people seem to be the goal of some reality TV shows.

Many of our role models today tend to be very clever, very wealthy and/or very talented but many have difficulty relating to people. They have a string of broken relationships or they might have anger, gambling, alcohol and/or drug issues.

We have so few people in the media, politicians, role models, sporting heroes, artists or music icons who embrace and model family values, good communication skills, acts of kindness, high values, integrity, honesty, respectfulness and morality.

To quote one of my favourite authors, Robert Fulghum, in his book

“All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”: “Think what a better world it would be if all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together”.

The goal of effective communication is to find a solution and come to an understanding that pleases both parties.

17 strategies for effectively communicating:

  1. Think about what you would like the outcome to be. Then working backwards, think what you need to say, and how you need to say it, in order to reach your goal;
  2. When raising a concern, always check to make sure you were understood accurately;
  3. Know who you are speaking to, and say what you need to say, in a way that can be heard;
  4. The more you listen and understand another person’s point of view – the more they will listen and understand yours;
  5. Speak about a specific incident, be simple, straight forward, and brief;
  6. Stay focused on the present situation;
  7. Really listen. Hear and reflect back so they know they have been heard. You will understand where they are coming from and they will be more willing to listen to you;
  8. Try to see the situation from their point of view;
  9. Most of us just want to feel heard and understood. We don’t need to be “right”;
  10. Say sorry for causing hurt or upset and admit when you are wrong;
  11. Use “I” messages;
  12. Ranking differences of opinions helps us to recognise how much something means to each of us. Sometimes, armed with this information, it makes it easier to know how to move on;
  13. Be prepared to compromise and find a solution where everyone wins;
  14. Take time-out if the conversation is getting too heated. Give yourselves an opportunity to calm down, and come back later to finish the discussion;
  15. Ask yourself “do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?” – often these are mutually exclusive positions;
  16. It is a good idea to hold hands or touch each other in some way when you are talking about something difficult. This serves as a reminder that you care about each other, even if you disagree or have hurt each other; and
  17. Always remain respectful.

13 communication mistakes that are often made:

  1. Blaming, naming, and shaming each other;
  2. Speaking in the heat of the moment and saying things we might not necessarily mean;
  3. Avoiding conflict and finding ourselves feeling increasingly more angry;
  4. Being defensive and attacking;
  5. Denying the situation or someone’s feelings;
  6. Over generalizing;
  7. Being stuck on being right;
  8. Believing we know what a person is going to say, rather than letting them speak their mind;
  9. Not really listening;
  10. Interrupting;
  11. Bringing past situations and experiences into the present;
  12. Criticizing and blaming the other person for the situation; and
    Blocking a conversation.

Effective communication does not mean you have to agree with someone. What it does mean is that you are able to listen and to be heard when you have a difference of opinion. It means that you want to find a way to meet in the middle, to understand where the other person is coming from, and to compromise to resolve your differences. Sometimes it might mean you agree to disagree.

If you find it difficult to remain respectful during a discussion, or if you’ve tried to resolve a conflict with your partner on your own and the situation just doesn’t seem to be improving, you might benefit from a few sessions with a therapist. Couple counselling can provide help and teach skills to resolve future conflict. If your partner doesn’t want to go to therapy, the relationship can still benefit from you going alone.

In the words of Patrick Overton:

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

I’d like to hear the ideas you may have about this article. If you wish to, please leave your comments below.

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