Talking is easy. However, communication, or an exchange or communion with another, requires great skill. Communal exchange demands that we listen and speak skillfully, not just talk mindlessly. Interacting with fearful, angry, or frustrated people can be difficult, because we’re less skillful when caught up in such emotions. Don’t resign yourself to a lifetime of miscommunication at work or home, however. Good communicators can be honed as well as born. Here are a few tips to get you started.
- Understand that people want to feel heard more than they care about whether you agree with them.
- Remember that what someone says can be amazingly different than what you hear! Personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what you hear. Repeat or summarize to ensure that you understand.
- Improve your listening skill. Most people think they listen well, but the truth is that most of people don’t listen at all. Instead they speak and think about what they’ll say next. Listen to what is being said so that both parties are heard.
- Respond, don’t react. Monitor yourself as you attempt to communicate. Focus on understanding what is being said and clarifying if you do not understand. This allows you time to process any reactions and address them healthily.
Communication happens not in isolation but rather in context. Communication may happen in several different contexts. Psychological context involves who you are and what you bring to the interaction. Each participant’s needs, desires, values, and personality formulate the psychological context for any communication.
The relational context for any communication is based on your reactions to the person with whom you communicate. The psychosocial background, or the “where” in which you communicate formulate the situational context for communication. For example, if you interact with someone in a classroom, your communication will be different than if you were interacting in a bar.
The physical location in which you’re communicating is the environmental context for the communication. Furniture, location, noise level, temperature, season, and time of day are all factors in an environmental context. All the learned behaviors and rules that affect your interaction with others compose the cultural context for communication. For example, if you come from a culture in which it is considered rude to make prolonged direct eye contact, you will avoid eye contact out of politeness. If you’re interacting with someone from a culture in which eye contact signals trustworthiness, then your different cultural contexts may cause misunderstanding.
Online Resources on Communication
- The Seven Challenges Workbook: A Guide to Cooperative Communication Skills for Success at Home and Work, by Dennis Rivers, M.A. (2008), is an excellent resource for people who wish to improve their communication skills independently.
- The article Overcome the Fear of Speaking to Groups by Ron Kurtus (2001), will help you understand why you fear public speaking and provide you with techniques to manage your fear.
- The Georgia Southern University Counseling Center website includes a section on the use of “I Statements” and active listening.