Effective Communication

Communication is …....

    “The act or process of using words, sounds, behaviors, and signs to express or exchange information” - Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Communication is more than words, it also includes the following:

•    How you say it -  including voice tone
•    Why you say it – intention behind the message
•    When you say it – during an argument, the time of day
•    What you do not say – What you do not say can give a clearer picture of what is going on
•    Your body language – including facial expressions, gestures, and posture

Effective communication is not instinctive, we are not born knowing how to do it. Often we say one thing, and the other person hears something entirely different, causing misunderstandings, frustrations, and conflicts. When communication goes wrong, it can also cause problems in our home, work, and school relationships. For most of us, learning to communicate more effectively requires our gaining several important skills.  We can all learn effective communication.

Effective communication is more than the exchange of information. It is also understanding the emotion and intention behind the information. In addition to clearly conveying a message, we also have to LISTEN in order to gain the full meaning of what is being said, AND ensure that the other person FEELS heard and understood. Effective communication includes four (4) skills:

1.    Engaged listening- is LESS talking, MORE listening! While listening for understanding there should be an attempt to also understand the EMOTIONS the person is trying to convey. When we are really listening, we are engaged with what the person is saying - we will hear the subtle tone in their voice that tells us what they are feeling and will sense their emotion. Engaged listening will make the person feel HEARD and UNDERSTOOD, thereby building a stronger connection. So, you must focus on the person, avoid interrupting or redirecting the conversation, set aside judgment, and provide feedback by paraphrasing what was said.
2.    Non-verbal communication – or body language, includes facial expressions, body movement, gestures, eye contact, voice tone, muscle tension, and breathing. For example, uncrossed arms, an open stance - sitting on the edge of your seat, and maintaining eye contact with the person indicates engagement. It is important to keep cultural differences in mind, be careful of assumptions when a person lets go of eye contact, or briefly crosses their arms. Consider their signals as a whole for understanding. Improving non-verbal communication involves your words matching your body language, standing tall with shoulders back, smiling, maintaining eye contact, and when necessary giving a firm hand shake. You will feel confidant and the other person will be at ease.
3.    Managing stress- When you are calm, you are able to determine if the conversation requires a response, or if the other person's signals indicate that you should not respond. You can manage stress by giving yourself time to think, asking a question, making one point and providing an example, speaking clearly in an even tone, making eye contact, and having open body language. If the conversation gets heated, it is important to remain calm by recognizing when you are becoming stressed. Take a moment to calm down and breathe, bringing your senses into play through sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell. You can take a deep breath, put a mint in your mouth, squeeze a stress ball, or clench and relax your tightening muscles. Humor is also a great way to relieve stress when used appropriately. Be willing to compromise by giving a little and if necessary agree to disagree.
4.    Respectfully asserting yourself means expressing and standing up for yourself while respecting others. It is NOT about being hostile, aggressive, or demanding. Remember, effective communication is always about UNDERSTANDING the other person, not about WINNING the disagreement, or FORCING your opinion on the other person! To improve assertiveness, value yourself, know your needs and wants, express negative thoughts in a positive way, receive feedback in a positive way, and learn to say NO by knowing your limits. Look for alternatives to ensure a positive outcome. Practice assertiveness in less risky situations to build your confidence. YOU CAN DO IT!

Written by
Cheryl A. Scott, LPC
TMD Counselor, Fort Worth, TX