Six Tricks of Communicating
Many arguments and problems within families arise not from the substance of a disagreement but from the way we communicate about it. That process includes both the words we use and the “non-verbal” communication that goes with them — how something is said.
There also are unspoken messages: What is left out, or implied without being said? What someone hears may not be what the other person intended.
We often communicate most when we are upset and neglect to convey good, positive feelings to those close to us.
- Think about the purpose of your message. You don’t have to say things that will hurt a relationship. Send positive messages freely; select negative ones carefully and present them with care at a time when they are most likely to be accepted.
- State negative messages verbally — save the non-verbal as a topping for positive words: a smile, nod, pat on the back. Rephrase negative messages into a request for positive changes, stated in specifics: “I would like you to do this, that and that.” Be straight and clear.
- limit your request to things that are important and possible to achieve.
- Check out the reception. You can only be sure someone has understood you when they can state the message back to you — and vice versa. They can think about the response later;
they should first hear the correct message.
- Avoid talking more than a minute at a time. Make a single point and check the reception before going to the next point.
‘Effective Listening’ Is the Quiet Secret
Almost everyone feels good when they have been listened to, “taken seriously” enough to have someone really focus on what they’re saying. Conversely, the absence of “someone to talk to” (meaning a good listener) can cause serious problems in people’s lives, affect how they feel about themselves and others, and contribute to feelings of anger and hostility.
The secret of effective communication is effective listening — in the family, at school, at work, or with roommates and friends. What is “effective listening”? Just that — it’s what you like someone else to do when you’re talking. It means showing that you’re paying attention, such as looking at the person, nodding, smiling (if it’s not a terribly serious conversation), perhaps sitting down across from or near the person.
The responses can include requests to the other person to repeat a point on which you’re not clear, indicating you really want to understand what the person is conveying. When you think you understand, it is important to rephrase the message you heard and repeat it to the person so he or she can agree with or correct it. This is the ultimate confirmation that you heard and understood.
Another central element to good listening is to suspend being judgmental and disagreeing until you fully understand what the other person is saying— whether parent or young person.
Many arguments stem from someone being trigger happy with a disagreement, cutting the other person off with a “That’s ridiculous!” or other shut-down comment before hearing the full message, and without even trying to understand it.
The listener should wait to disagree until (1) the message has been delivered fully and (2) the listener has acknowledged receiving it. But think in advance how you voice that disagreement — including non-verbal messages. What is it that you want to accomplish?
A good starting point for being a good listener is to take a moment all by yourself and think about those people closest to you.
Consider how, in so many ways, their lives are entirely different from yours. A shared, compassionate understanding of those different life experiences and feelings is a rare gift.
Reprinted with the permission of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. 2008 Palo Alto Medical Foundation. All rights reserved.
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