Communication is difficult, and often very complex. Everyone has a slightly different style; some people are highly animated, while others are quiet and reserved. Some people tend to be very direct and clear about what they mean, and others use more subtle clues in their communication to get their meaning across. As we all try to adjust to others’ communication styles, we can develop unhelpful habits and strategies that are well-intentioned, but which can lead to miscommunication, frustration, and confusion. Below are four small strategies you can use in your interactions with others to communicate more effectively.
Communication Tip 1: Stop interrupting
Make a point to let others finish talking before you start talking. If you are having difficulty getting a word in, try a gesture or signal that you would like to speak. Interrupting others is often not intended to be malicious; we sometimes just get caught up in what we want to say, get excited about what we want to contribute, or even just jump in impulsively when we have a thought. Interrupting is rarely intended to be rude, but it can communicate to others that you feel what you have to say is more important than what they are saying. Make an intention to stop interrupting.
Communication Tip 2: Ask more questions
In general, most of us are responding to what we think people are saying to us, or what we expect them to say. Sometimes it makes it very difficult to really understand what is actually being said. This is especially easy when we feel hurt or offended, and we can respond with defensiveness and arguing. Try asking a question instead. It can never hurt to get more information about what the other person is saying before you respond. Questions like “Can you tell me a little more about what you mean by that?” or “What did you mean when you said that?” can help to keep the conversation going, and make sure that you’re understanding what is being said.
Communication Tip 3: Take a breath
Before you speak, take one breath. This is helpful in any important conversation, but especially one where either party is upset or concerned about something. You don’t have to change what you wanted to say (necessarily), you’re just taking a second to give the other person’s words some space, give yourself a moment to choose your words, and slow things down a bit. It can help others to feel heard by you and can give you a small space to choose your response.
Communication Tip 4: Leave silence
This is a challenging one, as most of us are socialized in conversation to keep things moving. We tend to fill all of the space and jump in if there is any open space in a conversation. Think about the fact that we never say, “there was a silence” – we almost *always* say there was an “awkward silence.” It’s okay to leave little bits of open space. Sometimes in racing to respond, we don’t have a chance to think about what we really want to say, and we don’t give the other person space to finish. Work on letting little bits of silence exist in your conversations. If it helps, let the other person know that you’re taking a moment to think. It’s okay, and sometimes leads to more meaningful, and less impulsive, communication.