Communication is what connects us to other people.
If you’re a good communicator, you’re likely to have strong, positive relationships; whereas if you’re a poor communicator, you may feel isolated, misunderstood, and have trouble forming strong connections with the people around you.
Most of us fall somewhere in between those two extremes of “good communicator” and “bad communicator.”
- We may find it easy to communicate with certain people who are close to us, but have a harder time getting our point across to people in other contexts.
- Or, we may be able to express ourselves well, but struggle with really listening to those around us (or vice versa).
There are some basic components of quality communication, and you may find that you would benefit from working on one or more of them.
In this post, we’ll take a look at what those components are, and how you can improve your skills with each one. Improved communication skills help you to create stronger bonds, feel more satisfied, and be able to accomplish more in your life.
Effective vs. Poor CommunicationWhat makes some people better communicators than others?
Much of it comes down to a combination of natural tendencies and environment, but those tendencies can be changed and adjusted with the right efforts.
In the next section we’ll take a look at some strategies you can use right now to improve your communication, but the first step is understanding what exactly “good communication” is.
Positive communication involves mutual expectation. When there is a disconnect between the intent of the speaker and the reception of the listener, everyone is bound to leave that interaction frustrated and dissatisfied.
So how do we make the intent and reception line up?
When trying to get a point across to another person, there’s a tendency to say things the way we would want to hear them, in a way we would be receptive to, without really thinking about how the other person perceives your exposition.
Of course, because the other person is not you, that approach will rarely work, unless you happen to be speaking to someone who thinks just like you.
We think we are being empathetic by “treating others the way we want to be treated,” as the old saying goes.
In reality, by approaching the other person in this way, we’re expecting them to react the way we would. And when they don’t, we feel like they “just don’t understand” or like they’re being unreasonable.
Instead of thinking about what you would want to hear, imagine how the other person might receive what you are saying. This takes skill for sure, but luckily it’s a learnable skill that gets better with practice.
How Good Communication Strengthens Relationships
Psychologist and relationship researcher John Gottman explored this concept of reciprocal communication through studying couples’ communicative behaviors.
He observed that some couples – those most likely to stay together longer than 6 years – would “turn towards” each other’s needs, while unsuccessful couples more commonly “turned away” from each other’s needs.
People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t—those who turned away—would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”
These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.
(Quoted from The Atlantic)
If we want strong, healthy relationships, we have to put in an effort to “turn towards” people as much as possible. Let’s take a look at how to work on that.
There are many strategies you could use to strengthen your communication abilities, the following 3 are a great start, and will make a big difference in improving the way you communicate with others.
Communication Strategy #1 – Be Aware of Your Body Language
Posture and body language convey much more than words.
Non-verbal cueing often happens unconsciously. We all have physical habits and postures that come to the front during emotional and expressive conversations.
- Angry? Your eyes are likely to be narrowed, facial muscles crunched, and shoulders raised up as if you are ready to hit someone.
- Sad? Your whole body droops down, especially your face.
- Happy? Your torso straightens and chin lifts up, exposing the front of your body to the happiness that surrounds you!
- Annoyed? Your eyes will roll back and lips curl in disdain.
These are all highly recognizable to most people and if what you say doesn’t match well with what the person sees, then they will probably be less trusting of your words.
Try this exercise with a friend:
Have a conversation within sight of a mirror and be observant of the way your body looks and the postures you form. Take note of your facial expressions, how your hands move, and even which way your feet are pointing during the conversation.
This exercise will help you to become more aware of how you tend to hold yourself when communicating with others. You aren’t doing this exercise to learn how to deceive someone! Rather it will tell you a lot about how you present yourself and what others are picking up from you.
Communication Strategy #2 – Show Genuine Interest in the Person With Whom You Are Speaking
Genuine and authentic interest breaks a lot of ice.
Conveying your genuine interest in other people shouldn’t really be so difficult. After all, you’re talking and trying to communicate with them for a reason, so if you can’t be genuinely interested, why the hell are you talking to them in the first place?
Being brusque and curt with people, cutting them off mid-sentence, or simply not acknowledging what they consider an important point, is a sure way to alienate and stop them from listening to anything else you contribute.
When speaking with someone, try this instead:
Don’t talk too much about yourself unless asked. You can draw people in much more with listening and mindful responses, rather than always steering the discussion towards yourself.
Obviously, there will be times when you need to talk about yourself, but practice this with a friend or loved one and see how the flow of the conversation compares to your usual interactions with that person.
You may see the other person open up a bit more, and you may learn something about that person that you didn’t know before.
You’ll also likely notice the other person acting more interested in what you have to say.
Communication Strategy #3 – Practice Active Constructive Communication
The “active constructive” style of communication is where you respond to someone in a way that acknowledges what they’ve said, and ask for them to expand upon the subject.
This way of communicating with people has been shown to foster improved personal and professional relationships.
A friend of yours tell you about this new job offer they’ve received that has a high risk of failure, but is something they’ve been waiting to do for a long time.
A passive response is: “Oh that’s nice.”
A deconstructive response would be: “Wow, are you really sure you want to do that? It sounds like it could blow up on you.”
Whereas an active constructive reply would be: “I know you’ve been wanting something like this for a long time! How did it happen and what are your thoughts on what needs to be done to get you there?”
Train yourself to respond in this way and you’ll avoid the misinterpretations of tone and intent that can plague the passive and deconstructive ways of communication.
Even when you feel you mean something completely different from the negative way someone is taking what you’ve said, the fact is that they’ve taken it that way, and defusing that is much harder than not eliciting the reaction in the first place.
The Difference Between Knowing and Applying These Strategies
I knew a man who would give advice to anybody that would listen, and even those who didn’t.
You probably know someone like him, the quintessential know-it-all with a theory about everything, offering unsolicited opinions and advice in every conversation. Kind of funny at best, insulting and condescending at worst, but pretty much always annoying.
One incident that stood out to me the most out of all our interactions was his insistence on recommending Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, which was in vogue at the time.
The book follows the supposition that just as IQ indicates a measure of rational intelligence, there is an emotional intelligence that is comprised of your success in relationships due to your level of awareness of yourself and how you affect others.
This socially clueless person recommending a book on emotional intelligence is the very definition of irony. It reminded me that there is a difference between “knowing” something and actually being able to apply it.
In this post there’s been a description of better methods of communication and some strategies on improving these skills.
But the real trick is to actually practice and hone these skills. You don’t expect to get better physically by simply knowing how an exercise is done, and in the same way it takes time and practice to get better at communicating.
Take some time now to do so and it will pay off later.
In the next post, we share more tips on improving on areas beyond physical fitness. We’ve always been cognizant of how an improved comfort of being in your body affects the rest of your life. Work on the strategies you sense you need the most, and I’ll bet you’ll notice positive changes right away.
Got a question or comment in this post?