This blog is written in tribute to those suffering from a neurological or cognitive impairment, who are no longer able to communicate verbally.
Talking enables us to connect with others and gives us a sense of belonging. Communicating positively enhances our life satisfaction, increases a general sense of wellbeing and so makes us happy.
But why is it then so many of us get it wrong?
Communication is about how we send messages and interpret the replies, no message is ever without some kind of bias. Due to our upbringing, our education, our culture and our social and cultural mores we cannot but have biases and prejudices. This all increases the likelihood of us misinterpreting what the other person is trying to tell us.
I believe the most important skill for successful communication is listening. And listening is different from hearing. If you want to communicate clearly then it is important for you to carefully listen. Listening is an art, which requires you to be genuinely interested in a non-judgemental, unbiased way, without your own agenda intruding.
Some tips for helping you to communicate more productively with others:
Avoid giving titles and interpretations of your observations. Try to be objective, opinions are often expressions of bias.
Arguments often develop from repressed emotions. It is important to own up to your own feelings, no one makes you feel emotions, they are simply your subjective responses.
Make your requests as clearly as you can for as they become clearer then your ability to communicate will improve.
Understand and clearly express what your own needs are. This gives the other person the opportunity to decide if they want to respond to them.
Unhealthy communication tends to start from being negative. Revising your preconceptions and terms of reference will greatly improve your ability to communicate.
Talk in a respectful, valued and empathetic way and respond in the same manner no matter what. What we say and how we say it matters.
Avoid being a smart arse and sarcastic, it is not funny and being on the receiving end hurts. “I told you so”, or remarks designed to one-up another person becomes incredibly emotionally draining. If acting tough and masking emotions is your norm, then before you speak, pause, and before responding consider your reply, pause again and then ask yourself “How would I feel being on the receiving end”.
Passive-aggressive comments are a form of sarcasm and are unhelpful, avoid them. Any conflict is uncomfortable, but beating around the bush then being sullen, hostile and insulting is far worse. Difficult conversations are worse when they linger long in our minds.
Conversation is not a competition. Capping someone’s story and telling them how you went through a similar experience is very different from telling them you have it worse. Trying to convince someone that their situation is not so bad alienates them and belittles their experience. Experiences and pain are not a competition.
Avoid using gallows humour, trying to escape from a sad and uncomfortable situation by being lighthearted and laughing is disrespectful. It is okay to say, ”I’m not comfortable in this situation” and then saying you are uncertain how to respond is better than hiding behind artificial laughter.
Avoid trying to rescue and fix other peoples problems. Often people aren’t asking for solutions, simply a sympathetic listening ear. Instead, ask if they want to talk about it, or say “I have a suggestion would you like to hear it?”
Avoid getting stuck in a groundhog day situation with unwelcome and repetitious events recurring endlessly. There are usually two conflicting sides to a person when wanting to make changes, the side that wants to change and grow. And the side that wants to keep the status quo. This is because there is a self-indulgent part that enjoys the attention and drama gained from staying stuck in the same scenario. A clear sign that this is happening, is when you offer help or suggest a solution, only for them to shoot it down with a “Yes But” response.
Lastly, avoid pointing out someone’s faults hoping it will help them to change. Well-intentioned comments aimed at changing someone’s mindset or making comments regarding appearance only add salt to a wound. Instead, say “I’m here if you want to talk.” Then leave it to them.
Understanding how we communicate with others helps us to better develop empathy, acknowledging why we communicate as we do sharpens our self-awareness. It is important to remember that how, in our heads, we talk to ourselves, is an indicator as to how we talk to others for if we are critical and negative of ourselves then we will potentially project the same. So speak to others in a way that you’d like others to talk to you.
Good luck with improving your communication skills and making the world around you a kinder and more compassionate place.
Be Well, Pip