By Ellen Nastir, M.Ed., PCC, BCC, CPCC
We all know how to communicate, right? We’ve been doing it since before we could even speak.
If that’s the case, then why is there so much miscommunication at work, at home, in the world?
When communication doesn’t work, it’s because one or more of five tools are not being utilized—or because the one key, sabotaging ingredient is being used.
Fortunately, just by becoming aware of these, you can make a huge difference in how well your message is received.
1. CLARITY IS KEY.
What is your intention in this specific communication? Is it:
- To share information?
- To receive information?
- To express appreciation?
- To correct or provide constructive feedback?
- To champion someone’s efforts?
- Something else?
Your self-awareness is a key point in beginning a conversation, especially when you need information. Get clear in your mind what you need: organize your thoughts and write down the information you hope/need to acquire prior to approaching the person.
PRO TIP: When communicating difficult information or where there’s a potential for conflict, begin your statements with “I” to be clear you are speaking from your own experiences, hopes, wishes, etc. For example: I feel _______ when __________ because _____________.
2. LISTEN; REALLY LISTEN.
Have you ever tried talking with someone who says they’re listening, but you can tell they aren’t? You feel unheard because they didn’t give you their full attention, right?
So when you’re listening, amp up the volume by being present, using both your ears AND eyes. Think of it as listening with enthusiasm.
Be attentive to their words – notice what they say and how they say it. The words they select can give clues as to how important this is to them. You can only achieve this by giving your full attention and listening to them.
Maintain eye contact. Not an aggressive, stalker-like stare, but a gaze with genuine interest.
PRO TIP: When you do this you’ll also be listening to the words not being said. You’ll hear the feeling under the spoken words. This helps you understand what they are saying—and what they need—even more.
To fully engage with another, pay attention to their way of communicating and attempt to “speak their language.” It might mean trying on a new behavior—such as being more direct or taking some time for niceties before getting down to business.
When you communicate with someone in their preferred manner, they will understand you better, feel more understood by you and the opportunity for resolving conflict increases exponentially.
PRO TIP: Bridge any communication gap by relating to someone on a personal level; show interest in personal topics if/when appropriate—a hobby, family item, a new purchase, anything other than what is causing a gap between you.
While you’re paying attention to others, don’t forget about yourself.
Your thoughts create your perception and lead to your view of “how things are.” It creates your reality. With two people present, individual perceptions may create two separate realities. Pay attention to your thoughts and how they may affect your interpretation of what’s happening. For example, do you expect the best of the other person, or do you anticipate that they will be dishonest and untrustworthy?
Your body language also communicates volumes. Pay attention to how you’re standing, what you’re doing with your arms (are they crossed in front of you giving a signal you’re not interested or in a hurry?), how you position yourself in relation to the other person (are you turning away from them?). You may be communicating something other than what you intend, so pay attention to yourself, as well as the other person.
PRO TIP: Pay attention to more than just what is being said. Words may convey one meaning, but again, the tone of voice, body shifts, pauses are all subtle clues into not only the other person’s message but also how they’re receiving yours.
Obviously, treating each other with respect is a foundation for clear, effective communication. This means respecting yourself and your own feelings, as well as those of the other person. Regardless of whether someone is right or wrong, they always have a right to feel heard.
Use respect to keep the communication positive, especially when dealing with sensitive subjects. Request a break if things begin to get out of hand during a heated discussion and keep a level tone of voice without raising yours, even if the other person does.
PRO TIP: You can always agree to disagree. Sometimes you just won’t see eye to eye…and that’s ok. Being respectful and considerate of the other’s viewpoint will override any negativity that can linger long past whatever this particular issue was!
What Can Undermine Your Communication?
The greatest obstacle to clear, effective communication is making assumptions.
Assumptions about what someone means, about their intentions or that they know how you feel: These are guesses—and a surefire way to cripple communication.
When communication fails, feelings get hurt, productivity decreases and workplace drama escalates. Making assumptions and communicating as if they were “truths” will sabotage all your best efforts.
PRO TIP: Use the five tools above to get back on track: Get curious. Ask questions with an intent to understand. Learn to listen for what’s not being said—what’s underneath the words. Respond only after the other person has finished speaking.
Practice using the five tools—and not using the disruptor!—to deepen your overall communication. And just watch happens to your relationships—professional and personal.
Here at Turnaround Life, Inc., we aim to help organizations and programs that make it possible for people to turn their lives around. For more information about us, visit our website.
Ellen Nastir, M.Ed., PCC, BCC, CPCC, is principal of Innovative Team Solutions and certified with the International Coach Federation and Positive Psychology. She has advanced training in Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching, Tension and Change Management and Appreciation at Work. She received her coach training and certification from The Coaches Training Institute. Ellen holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, and a master’s from the University of North Florida—both in education. She is a trained PeopleMap Systems educator who focuses on the “people side” of professional performance within the corporate structure. Her expertise is in the development of employees’ people skills to complement their technical skills and abilities, thus increasing productivity and retention, communication skills, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.
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