Wellness Wednesday: Being an Effective Communicator
Effective communication is key to the success of any relationship and the well-being of the parties involved. When communication is ineffective there can be misunderstandings and disagreements. Those involved may feel harmed or like their time has been wasted, as the pretense under which they continued the relationship was not what they thought it to be. A healthy relationship is dependent on clear communication that is rooted in honesty with ourselves and others.
Our words carry weight, and we must use them wisely. We must know our intended message to be able to communicate it to others. When we haven’t sorted out our personal stance on a particular issue that we are asked to talk about we must be comfortable in saying “I don’t know,” and articulate that this stands true unless a definitive change is explicitly stated. In this way, communication is practiced with intention, and aims to protect both the speaker and listener from misinterpretation and confusion. It’s important that we are mindful of the delivery of our message. More often than not, leading with kindness and a desire to understand the other person will bring the best results, ensuring all parties feel safe to express themselves and stand in their truth. No two people are the same and conversations need to be tweaked to cater to the specific person or relationship at hand.
Effective communication is direct. Simplicity can be a useful avenue for ensuring the message is successfully delivered. Effective communication requires that the listener receives the information and understands it. One tool for ensuring this is asking that the listener explain their understanding of the information received. At times we may be required to define the words or concepts we are presenting in our message. “What does that mean to you?” is a highly useful questoom for both parties to ensure an understanding of one another.
Communication does not go one way, it requires all parties to listen with the intention to understand what information is being exchanged. This means that while we listen we silence the little voice of rebuttal in the mind that is trying to speak louder than the person we’re listening to. When we think in terms of defending our perspective we can miss information being presented and hinder our grasp of the situation. After we process the information we’ve listened to and acknowledge that we’ve received their perspective we can continue the conversation and share a response, ask for clarity, or brainstorm solutions. There must be a balance between all those who are part of the conversation, fully engaging each person in the matters that impact them.
We must be emotionally present to communicate well. If we are checked out of a conversation or go into it knowing we aren’t interested in other perspectives, we set ourselves up for failure. While this may appear to have few consequences in the immediate situation, poor communication can lead to ongoing disagreements, misunderstandings, and harm. At times we will have to compromise to ensure all parties are receiving some kind of positive result when there is a difference in perspective or expectations of the relationship. We cannot be afraid of humbling ourselves when we are seeking to build a better relationship with another person.
Remember, body language is a key component to our interactions and how others will receive us. Body language that expresses disinterest or negative emotions like anger or frustration can bring tension to a conversation. For this reason it’s important to keep a level head when we are trying to communicate well with others. Centering the self and breathing out our frustrations either prior to the conversation, or during a pause from the conversation, can aid in ensuring that the energetic exchange happening is productive rather than divisive. Voice tone can also have major impacts on how well a conversation goes and how comfortable people are in an interaction. When we put ourselves in the shoes of those we’re speaking with, and think about how we might want to be spoken to, we become more conscious of how our voice can steer a discussion.
Indigenous people have long known the value of storytelling as a tool for sharing experiential knowledge and creating a thought provoking event between the storyteller and the listener. Stories can be powerful teaching tools and when we marry the use of storytelling with clear expression of our desired outcome for a situation, understanding is deepened. Storytelling can be used to create a safer environment for ideas to be exchanged, as through the process all parties place their emotions to the side and focus on something outside of themselves while still engaging with the subject or lesson the story speaks to. A story stimulates the mind in ways a simple statement cannot.
Communication skills require lifelong learning and attention as we are continually growing and placing ourselves in new situations and meeting new people. As we learn new information we may need to adjust our perspective and communicate our updated thoughts or decisions. Effective communication takes practice. The more that we seize opportunities to clarify our meaning and ensure understanding in a conversation, the more we can build relationships that move forward smoothly. There may be times in our lives when we don’t feel we have the words to express ourselves. To remedy this it’s important to stay a life-long learner. By reading regularly, listening to conversational media such as podcasts or youtube videos, we can learn new concepts and diversify our understanding of how to communicate with others. We have an endless array of information at our fingertips and it’s never been easier to research and engage with different perspectives. We are each responsible for the development of our own communication skills and must do what we can to create better relationships and healthier communities.
It can be intimidating to share our truth, not knowing what kind of response we will receive or expecting a negative outcome. Honesty is a marker of integrity and ensures that moving forward the relationship is built on a sturdy foundation. We do ourselves a disservice when we make ourselves small by not speaking our truth or making promises we do not want to keep. We cannot lose ourselves out of fear of losing another person. Effective communication requires sincerity, and intention. We must think critically about how we are sharing a message and consider each interaction an opportunity to build with another person. When we value healthy human interactions and clear communication, we set ourselves on the path to a life that directly reflects the good things we desire for ourselves and want to see in the world.