Communication Skills: Back To Basics


How to hear and be heard regardless of the emotional static we all live with every day

We all know how to communicate. If I stick my tongue out at someone they will get the gist of what I am communicating to them, however, their response may not be very positive and full clarity in our communication may never happen.

To truly communicate in a way that other people can hear without defensiveness or heightened emotion is a skill. Slowing down and thinking about how you are getting your point across to someone while using these skills will help in all areas of your life, be it work, relationships or just trying to get your coffee order across at Starbucks.

Use ‘I’ statements. An ‘I’ statement is structured to take responsibility for your feeling and refrain from telling someone else how to act or feel themselves. Try something like this: “I feel ________, when you_______.” Such as “I feel angry when you tell me I’m fat,” rather than, “You make me so angry when you tell me I’m fat!" You may be surprised at how it helps the other person let go of their defenses.

Stick to facts. Describe what it is that you need or what you are concerned about in a clear non-emotional manner. When you stick to facts others are less likely to defend because there isn’t anything yet to defend against; no blaming, no aggression.

When you describe a situation that happened you can even ask them if that is how they remember it happening. After you have gotten the concern across clearly then you can calmly let them know how this impacted you emotionally. Try using one of those ‘I’ statements.

Don’t assume. None of us are mind readers. Regardless of how obvious you feel what you are communicating must be, avoid assuming that the other person knows what you know. Too often I hear people say things like “but he should know that I don’t like that.” Even when it seems perfectly clear to you, if the other person keeps doing the opposite, then maybe they truly just don’t get it and really do need to you to educate them.

Ask for what you want. Again, do not assume that others know what you need or want. Be willing to tell them – the alternative is to not get your need met. When we sit quietly by and do not ask for what we want, or do not speak up when options are on the table, we lose the right to complain about it later.

Be willing to say what you want even if it might not be popular with others or it may not be what someone else wants. You either get what you want or get to negotiate. Either way you are closer to getting your needs met than when you weren’t saying anything.

Say ‘No’ clearly. If it is necessary to say no to a request from someone else, be clear about it rather than leaving any opening for confusion. Actually use the word ‘no.’ If you hint at the 'no' but never say it, then you have not been clear.

Reinforce and reward. Let the other person know ahead of time that the positive outcome of meeting your need will be for them. This may be as simple as, “If you are able to meet my need of letting me know when you will home, I will be able to provide you with a hot dinner.” Be aware of what their motives are not just yours.

Stay on task. Try not to get distracted from your goal, which will only lead to dissatisfaction. Instead, gently return discussions back to your goal when tangents occur. Ignore attempts to change the subject, threaten etc.

Be confident. Voice tone and physical manner communicate how confident we are. Avoid stammering, whispering, staring at the floor or making statements like “I’m not sure.” Remember we are looking for clarity in your communication and when you act without confidence it is more likely that you won’t really say what you mean.

Give and take. Be willing to compromise. Know what you are willing to give in order to get. Be solution-focused, not emotionally reactive. There will be times when you need to give a little more and in a balanced relationship there will also be times when the other person will give a little more.

Treat others as you would like to be treated. Refrain from attacking, threatening, judging, manipulating or moralizing. All of these things lead to defensiveness, which makes it difficult for the other person to be open to hearing what you have to say. Try to be objective and think how you would react if someone spoke to you like that.

Listen. We all want to be heard and if you show another person the courtesy of listening to them, they may be more able/willing to listen to you. This is part of slowing down. Be willing to listen and respond to what you have heard, instead of reacting defensively before hearing what someone else has to say.

Validate. Express your acknowledgment of how others appear to be feeling, what they want, what they are struggling with, etc. Just having someone notice that you are sad and not trying to fix it, can have a profound effect. It can make you feel less alone, more important and even more able to face what you are feeling.

Ask questions. When you aren’t sure of how someone else is feeling go ahead and ask them. You can even take a guess and ask if you have gotten it right. The most important thing is to avoid assuming. By asking you get the real story, not the one you have made up in your head.

Be honest. This includes not only what you say to someone else, but also how you act. Choose what you say to someone and make that be truthful. Be who you are rather than trying to pretend to be someone or something that just isn’t you. As soon as we begin to lie to ourselves or others we create something unreal and all that creates is confused communication and often hurt and resentment.

Be respectful. Be respectful of yourself and others. Recognize that you may not be the only one hurting in a situation or that someone else may have a different experience than you which is not necessarily invalid. Also recognize that you have needs and be willing to address them and make attempts to take care of them. When you respect yourself and others you leave room for acceptance of mistakes because of the trust that is built.

In the heat of a moment it can be hard to remember all of these tips for better communication. If it helps you go ahead and take a copy of this with you or make flash cards with the ideas that feel most important to you. You can them take the list out when you are feeling like communicating isn’t going so well or you are about to try to communicate something and use it like training wheels until you are more familiar and comfortable with the steps. Given time and effort you will gain more and more control of your end of communicating and this will lead to feeling more in control of your relationships.