The Counselling Centre
Conversation is our primary method of expressing our ideas, opinions, wishes, and feeling to others around us. And as social beings, it is also how we establish friendships and potentially maintain them for a lifetime (or at least a few years while we are in university).
Unfortunately, good, clear communication is a skill we are rarely taught in our families or at school. It is usually as relationships begin to get more complex in our early adult years that we become aware of any deficiencies in expressing ourselves clearly and directly, and in responding to others appropriately.
Psychologists, counsellors, therapists, clergy and people working in social services are trained to listen and respond effectively and helpfully in ways that move the conversation forward and lead to resolution. These skills, however, need not be the exclusive tools of professional care-givers. We can all benefit by learning these skills and practicing them in our everyday relationships.
Communication of any kind involves a Sender (Speaker) and a Receiver (Listener). The message may be clear and straight forward in the Sender's opinion, but if the Receiver misunderstands or applies her own interpretation or "take" on it, the meaning or intent of the message may be lost or distorted. How often do we say something and then are bewildered as the other person leaps to an assumption or conclusion that is way off what we intended to convey? And then, if we are offended, the whole thing can go downhill from there!
Here are some easy tips to improve your communication skills:
In general, people are easily distracted - unfortunate, but true. Develop the habit of "catching" yourself when your thoughts wander - especially when you are with others. This will require discipline, attention and practice. However, focus and concentration aren't the only issues. Our natural impulse is to filter information through our own experiences. This can be a big problem! No two people possess identical perspectives. Therefore all information is subject to interpretation. These biases can be the foundation for minor communication problems or larger interpersonal difficulties. Keep in mind that the point of most conversations is an exchange of ideas, not a competition to be won or lost. It is usually more important to understand the perspective of the person you are taking with than to have one person "agree" with the other.
The primary obstacle to listening is TALKING! If you interrupt, ramble on, or dominate a social interaction you will disrupt any chance of really knowing what is on someone's mind. It doesn't take long for someone to disengage from a conversation if they aren't allowed to express themselves. If you tend to give speeches or soliloquies, consciously try to shorten your comments - you will be amazed at how much more engaging a conversation can be when the other person feels like a part of it!
Keep an Open Mind
Even the world's most successful people can learn something from everyone. Recognize that your reference points are biased by nature. Gain new reference points from the eyes of others. Again, often your goal should be to understand the other, not dominate or dismiss them.
Many people struggle to provide information in a clear concise manner. They may have valuable information and need a little help delivering it. Use open-ended questions to help clarify statements. Keep asking for a better explanation or more information. Don't be afraid to use non-verbal questioning as someone is speaking. In other words, if you look interested while they are speaking more often than not they will respond with more information.
When a person is done speaking, summarize the important points as you heard them. This process will help to gain agreement and most importantly help to identify any disconnects. So often two people will come away from a conversation after hearing the same words with a completely different interpretation of the conversation. The simple process of re-stating key points to make sure you understand is very important and will also let the other person know that you are interested in what he or she is saying.
Observe / Watch
Use non-verbal information to assess the situation and the conversation better. Body language is as important as the spoken word in communication. If the words are inconsistent with the expression on their face or their posture there may be another message that is not being verbally expressed.
Use I Statements
When you use an "I-statement" you are taking full responsibility for your statement. This helps to keep the door open for further dialogue. "You-statements" tend to be accusative ("You always…", "You never…”, "You are so….") and provoke defensive retorts or counter-attacks. These tend to shut down the exchange and are hurtful or angering. Use “I statements” to express your feelings by saying "I feel"…"I believe"..."In my opinion", etc.
The Counselling Centre offers individual and couples counselling to help with these issues. For more information, call The Counselling Centre at 902-420-5615 or drop by our office on the 4th floor of the Student Centre.