Effective communication has many benefits. It can enhance a relationship and isn’t costly. With practice, it can make life easier for those around you. Charlotte Shoup Olsen, Kansas State University Research and Extension Family Systems Specialist, shares these thoughts.
Learning to communicate effectively can make any day a better day:
- Be an active listener. Limit distractions. Focus on the person who is speaking you; make eye contact and be attentive. Try not to interrupt; ask to check signals or paraphrase what is being said-that’s not the same as interrupting. It can, in fact, keep a conversation on track. For example, sum up the conversation: “What I hear you saying is…” The speaker may respond with “Exactly!” and continue; if the speaker says “That’s not what I was saying at all,” he or she may want to re-define a point.
- Be willing to trade places. Listen intently before responding. Try to be fair and objective. Sharing an appropriate, easy-to-understand message can be more important-and more effective-than having the last word.
- Choose an “I” rather than “You” message. Saying “I’m sorry that you were called back to work Saturday” is less inflammatory than saying: “You’ve spoiled everything-we can’t go to the concert!” Choosing an “I” message over a “You” message shares the responsibility. It can diffuse anger and help keep conflicts from escalating.
- Try not to get stuck on one issue. If a topic is heated, borrow from child development experts who suggest a time-out. Set a time to discuss the issue, but be sure to allow enough time before the discussion to cool off and think through the issue.
- Try not to table tough issues indefinitely. Putting an issue on hold for too long can cause it to fester and grow. Do your homework; focus on the facts; be willing to listen intently to the other person’s point of view; and be willing to compromise. Compromise can make everyone feel like a winner.
- Try not to nag; recurring issues need resolution, not constant reminders.
- Use humor, but use it carefully. Humor can illustrate a point, ease tension or bring a group together. Remember, there is a difference between being lighthearted and making a joke that may hurt or offend another person.
- Curb negative thinking and self-talk.
- Think negatively and the result is likely to be negative. Think positive and the outcome is likely to be more positive.
- Be kind, always.
- Be thankful. Thoughtful comments, like “Thanks for getting the bills paid.” or “You did a great job cleaning up the car.” carry a message of appreciation. A compliment can be like money in the bank, but sincerity is a must.
What a difference effective communication can make in relationships. But it requires constant attention and hard work.