Christine Treski, LMFT

Effective communication is not as simple as it might seem on the surface. It is a skill that takes time, energy, and practice to develop. Effective communication is more than just talk. It involves active listening and appropriate, honest expression. Following are some helpful tips for the two elements of communication: expressing and listening.

Expressing

Effective expression will not put others on the defensive or escalate conflict. Try some of the recommendations below:

  • Use “I” messages instead of “you” messages. “You’re so mean for not calling” is a “you” message that will likely cause your listener to become defensive. A better approach is to use an “I” message that expresses how you feel. Us this formula instead: “I feel…when you…”. For example, “I feel unimportant when you don’t let me know you are running late.” Your listener will find it hard to argue with how you are feeling. If you deliver your message without blame or put downs, you are more likely to have a productive, solution-focused talk.
  • Use self-disclosure. It’s okay to show that you are human. Disclosing your own vulnerability and errors makes it easier for others to relate to you. Self-disclosure takes trust, but can increase honesty and open communication.
  • Pay attention to your non-verbal cues. Body language, tone of voice, and eye contact are equally as important as the words you use. Be sure that your non-verbal message matches your words. For example, if you want someone to listen to you, look them in the eye instead of looking at your phone.
  • Watch out for anger. Anger is normal and acceptable, but caution must be used in expressing it. If you are too angry to communicate effectively, take a “time out” and put off the discussion until some of the strong emotions have subsided. This means acknowledging your emotions and asking for a break.

Listening

When we listen to a person in an attentive way, it helps them feel valued and understood. More than just hearing words, active listening involves picking up on the speaker’s emotions and concerns. Here are ways to make your listening more effective:

  • Focus on them. Don’t be too busy. Stop what you are doing and give your undivided attention. Do not get distracted by TV, your phone, or other people around. Make eye contact, nod, or squarely face your listener (non-verbal cues!). All these things will help the speaker feel that what they have to say is important to you. Even if the subject seems minor to you, still give your attention – it will encourage others to come to you with big issues if you listen to the small ones.
  • Paraphrase and ask questions. Be sure to check your interpretation of what is being said. Repeat in your own words what the speaker has said. Try to put it into question format so the other person can correct any misinterpretation.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues. It’s estimated that 60-75% of communication is non-verbal. Pay attention to facial expressions, body positions, tone of voice, gestures and mannerisms. When non-verbal messages contradict what is being said, you may feel confused. If this is the case, ask for clarification. “You sound and look angry right now…”
  • Practice tolerance and patience. You don’t have to agree with what a person is saying to respectfully listen. Try to avoid judgement and defensiveness. If you express that the speaker is “wrong,” or ignorant, they will most likely limit their communication or withhold information. Try instead to take a curious, “not knowing” position to encourage the speaker to give more information. Even if you want to exit a conversation, the speaker deserves your respect. “I understand what you are saying, but I really don’t want to get into that discussion right now.”

If you put these tips into practice, you will see immeasurable benefits in your relationships!