Human beings always need to communicate about something. Communication, whether verbal or nonverbal, can be tricky. It’s easy to say a lot of words, it’s even easier to tweet or type a lot of words, but this doesn’t mean one is communicating well. Read on to learn how to communicate better.
Learning how to communicate better requires maturity, restraint, and courage. While no individual will learn to communicate perfectly, some skills and principles can help avoid common pitfalls
A basic, but often forgotten principle of communication is to communicate directly with your intended recipient whenever possible. Playing telephone, expecting that if you tell one person something it will get to the desired audience, is a recipe for disaster. An example of this indirect communication, sometimes called, “triangulation” is when two parents communicate through their children.
The effects on the whole family will be deleterious. The child who is delivering the message carries more burden than is appropriate, things are lost in translation, and the indirect communication upholds patterns of dysfunction because it enables parents to evade conflict.
While no one enjoys conflict, learning to manage it well is a part of healthy communication. The Bible speaks directly to how to handle conflict, and provides a good template for where to start in any communication.
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. – Matthew 18:15-17
This passage lays out an order of communication that can be envisioned as the circles on a target. Begin with the “bullseye.” The people directly involved in a matter should be those that you communicate with first, before moving out to a more general audience. This is especially important in tense situations or where there is conflict. In our current culture that takes easily to social media or other venues to vent frustration, this principle is often forgotten.
Be honest about who you hope to reach, and what you hope to communicate. Examine your motives and determine what the best method of communication might be. Does it need to be a face-to-face conversation where you can read body language? Is it appropriate to communicate via email? To determine the best way to communicate, you need to know what you hope to get from the communication.
In any form of communication, you need to know what you hope to accomplish. If you need to know what time you’re eating dinner, a text message is both appropriate and efficient. If you’re hoping to communicate sincere emotion, you might lose nuance through a text. Do you need the immediate feedback of someone’s nonverbal information and thus the conversation needs to happen in person?
Or is the subject something that could be better served by a little distance and time for the person on the other end to process the message? Getting clear on the objective before you begin a conversation can help you to choose a mode of communication that will be fruitful and effective. In-person communication is the best way to communicate about emotional or nuanced topics, but there might be times when this isn’t appropriate or emotionally safe.
For example, in a relationship with someone who has consistently shown a lack of regard for boundaries, doesn’t listen well, or is emotionally volatile, it could be more effective to not communicate in person.
This leads to another point about communication, which is that it is a two-way process. If you want to learn how to communicate better, a huge part of that is learning how to listen attentively to the other person. Active listening is a skill that can be developed.
This sort of listening makes a concerted effort to first hear and understand the other person, without forming judgment or rebuttal. It then seeks to clarify what the person is saying by asking clarifying questions or echoing what they heard.
Active listening shows engagement in a conversation by not allowing distractions like looking at a phone, engaging in side-conversation, or wandering thoughts to derail one’s ability to listen. This sort of listening means the listener will pay attention to both the verbal information and observe the body language of the person they’re talking to, and take that into account.
It is almost impossible to listen well when you are defensive, or formulating an argument as to why the other person is wrong in your head, so truly hearing another person requires one to put their own thoughts and feelings on hold for a moment to try to understand the person they’re communicating with.
In the epistle of James, we read “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). The Christian’s communication should be defined by a willingness to listen well without clamoring to have our voice heard first.
While it might seem silly to have scripts for communication, learning a few templates for how to structure conversations can provide “training wheels.” Children first learn to communicate by repeating scripts and watching how things are modeled, so when we’re learning how to communicate better, having something to model our conversations on can help.
One example of a helpful script is an “I statement.” An “I statement” focuses on communicating the opinions or feelings of the person speaking, without shifting blame to the person they’re talking to. For example, let’s say that you’re in a discussion with your spouse about something they’ve said that caused you pain. Instead of saying, “you made me feel___,” you instead say, “I felt ____ when you ___.”
This switch allows space to communicate how the action impacted you, without immediately putting the other person on the defensive. The structure of an “I statement” emphasizes assertive communication of what you are sure of, “I feel, I think, I need” vs. shifting blame to someone else.
This communicates the impact something is having, without assuming the intent of the other person. When we begin communication without assumptions about the other person’s intent it smooths the path for collaboration and downgrades the level of emotional reactivity.
If you find that you are consistently struggling with communication, there are several factors to consider. The first is that you might need extra tools to deal with your own unhelpful patterns and emotional baggage. In the middle of a heated conversation, it can be difficult to find the necessary level of objectivity required to move forward with a solution.
A counseling relationship provides a non-judgmental place to lay things out and practice healthier patterns of communication. This enables you to return to the relationships in your life knowing how to communicate better. Another factor to consider if you are struggling to communicate with an individual is that they may not be emotionally safe or healthy.
If you come away from conversations feeling like your brain has been scrambled, feeling shamed, or wondering if you’re crazy, these could be signs of an unhealthy dynamic. A counselor is trained to help you see your responsibility and which things may just need to be managed with firm boundaries. Taking the time to examine your patterns of communication will never be a waste and we would love to help you get healthier.
Sources:“Active listening: Hear what people are really saying.” Communication Skills Training from MindTools.com. (n.d). Retrieved January 31, 2022, from https://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/ActiveListening.htm
“”I” message.” GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog. (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2022, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/i-message
“Daisies”, Courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “White Flowers”, Courtesy of Allison Wopata, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pink Flowers”, Courtesy of J Lee, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Orange Flowers”, Courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License