Communication is the lifeblood of every relationship and in all probability the most important tool in keeping relationships alive. Every day, we communicate through words, facial expressions, gestures, and body language, sometimes actively and sometimes passively, to convey our thoughts and feelings. Beware! Even when we have the best intentions, choosing the wrong communication style or not communicating at all can lead to misinterpretation, emotional pain, and lingering barriers to healthy relationships.
Why don’t you understand me?
Communication takes on various forms including verbal, nonverbal, and written. No matter which form we use, miscommunication can occur even when we are well-intentioned. Misunderstandings are frequent and many of them can be avoided by learning about and utilizing effective communication skills.
Some communication tools lend themselves better to particular types of communication. When deciding on the best communication tool, consider the following questions:
- Is this someone I know well?
- How detailed is my topic?
- Is emotion involved?
- How quickly do I need a response?
- What is my emotional state/frame of mind?
Rule of thumb: If the message is free of emotional content and the response you expect is short, texting is a good choice. If the communication is more detailed and is best laid out in print and emotion is not involved, then use email, especially for business. Phone calls, video calls, or in-person conversations should be used for emotional topics and those that require brainstorming or group input.
“I didn’t mean it that way. You misunderstood.”
Communication requires back and forth interactions and doing it effectively is the responsibility of everyone involved. Avoiding miscommunication can be a challenge and it takes thoughtfulness about yourself and your audience to reduce the frequency of problems. Checkpoints along the way are critical, ensuring your message is clear and lands in the way you intended. Crucial points to consider include:
- Think before you speak/write.
- Speak like you’re the receiver.
- Ask clarifying questions.
- Notice body language.
- Switch communication methods, if needed.
- Ask for feedback.
- Listen to others and make changes.
- Assume best intentions.
- Postpone the conversation if emotions become high.
When things don’t go as planned….
Even the best communicators make mistakes that cause problems in relationships. Everyone brings their experiences, moods, and expectations into the conversation, and, at times, communication lands poorly on someone. If emotions arise, allow time for all to break and come back together at an agreed-upon time. This gives the opportunity to admit unclear communication, offer an apology, and provide additional clarification to restore the relationship.
Effective communication benefits everyone involved and allows others to feel safe and respected. Less time is spent arguing or repairing hurt feelings when care is taken. In our fast-paced society, we need to slow ourselves down and conscientiously choose communication methods that produce what we desire and avoid knee-jerk reactions by assuming good intentions from others. Approaching confusion with curiosity versus a blaming approach can also help to progress the conversation in the right direction. In the end, a few extra thoughtful minutes save time and preserves healthy relationships.