Is there someone in your life you gave up communicating with years ago because it was just too difficult? Perhaps you stopped trying because the person consistently misinterprets what you say and looks for reasons to find offense. Or maybe you got tired of that person talking over you, not listening, criticizing, or pooh-poohing your ideas before you even fully expressed them.
Communication is defined as a giving or exchanging of information. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But effective communication may prove a huge hurdle because many factors have the potential to inhibit communication.
My granddaughter, Emerald, is six months old. Although she doesn’t speak intelligible English yet, she is practicing expressive phonation, inflection, and learning speech patterns. And she is already in the process of developing good communication skills. Smart child!
Elements of Effective Communication
Make Eye Contact – When Emerald watches my mouth and looks into my eyes when I’m talking, I know she is engaged. If you’ve ever tried to have a conversation with someone who is looking everywhere except at you, you know how difficult it is to continue talking without getting frustrated. I’ve attempted conversations with people who look over my shoulder and speak to someone behind me while supposedly having a conversation with to me. Making eye contact while conversing lets people know you are paying attention, shows courtesy and respect, and signals interest.
Listen without Interrupting – Emerald is learning about the give and take of communication. When I stop talking, she utters a little “word” that sounds like “um” or “eh” and waits for my answer. Besides the fact that she is super cute with her little ums and ehs, she is learning to listen for my answer.
Many people are terrible listeners. Even if they aren’t talking over you, they are thinking about what they are going to say next, which renders them incapable of hearing what you’re saying. Others get tired of waiting for you to finish and blurt out their next argument or opinion.
Sometimes communicators are good at getting their points across, but never develop the art of listening. Listening is a habit that has to be cultivated and is an essential part of effective communication.
Corral Emotions – Emotions are a big challenge to effective communication. Often, deep feelings about certain subjects or past hurts surface during simple conversations. Suddenly, anger, pain, or tears emerge. Be aware of your emotional triggers when attempting to converse with people who have pushed your buttons in the past and do what you can ahead of time to diffuse those emotions.
Little Emerald fusses or cries louder when what she is “saying” isn’t producing the result she desires. While this is normal for a six-month-old, adults should have matured beyond the point of raising their voices when their words aren’t producing what they want. Effective communication isn’t shouting down the other person or abandoning the dialogue and stomping out of the room. Learning to corral emotions goes a long way toward enhancing communication.
Recognize Communication Barriers
Realize not everyone processes words the same – Some people are verbal processors. It takes them a while to digest what you are saying and compose their response. And people who didn’t grow up being teased don’t understand it and often are offended by a gentle “ribbing.” As you communicate, take these kinds of differences into account.
The shadow of history – Often your expectation of how communication will go is overshadowed by past incidents with the person you’re about to talk to or someone like them. If you have difficult history with someone, it’s likely you’d rather avoid talking to that person altogether. Do your part to work around negative expectations and control emotions. Stay on track with the subject at hand and resist the urge to haul out past misunderstandings and make them a part of the conversation. Listen, but be assertive when you speak, and keep trying for effective communication. You may not find immediate success, but you are maintaining forward motion with your attempts.
“The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry.” (Proverbs 25:11 MSG)