Monday, January 4, 2016

6 Rules of Happy Communication

I have been told I am a good communicator. Sometimes this proves to be true. Other times, I feel like I am communicating to the best of my ability, but something is still getting lost in translation, no matter how many techniques I employ. A few months ago, I had an argument with my husband about something I can't even remember. Not long after that, I went to a staff development session where the speaker shared some of the concepts from the book Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson. Equipped with some new tools under my belt I revisited the previous topic of argument with my husband again. The conversation which followed took much longer than our previous argument, but I learned so much more about my husband's point of view, and why he had been so irritated in our last conversation. Imagine my surprise when I learned that most of his irritation didn't actually stem from what we were arguing about. Like a broken record, or rather a computer voice which is only programmed to respond in a few ways, I diligently employed the same (new) responses over and over again. Through that second conversation, I learned 1. these things actually DO work, but you MUST employ them religiously. 2. They are REALLY difficult to employ when you are frustrated.

Today I will post 6 rules for happy communication.

1. Acknowledge the other person's thoughts and emotions. 
Ignoring the way someone feels about something, especially when you disagree with them, is a recipe for an unproductive and one-sided conversation.  Discussions can only take place if you are willing to recognize that the person with opposing views has come to those conclusions through experiences that are very personal. Try to understand why they believe what they believe. This does not mean you have to adopt those beliefs, but people will be much more willing to listen to your beliefs if you are first willing to listen to theirs.

2. Make sure you are both on the same page about what you are talking about.
Many times my husband and I have pushed our way through a long and frustrating argument only to find out that we were actually arguing about two different things. Even more astounding, we actually agreed with each other on the main issue. How embarrassing is that? Such a waste of energy. This can be avoided by doing two things.

a. active listening
"What I hear you saying is......" Warning: make sure you are repeating back the exact words of the other person. Try not to interpret beyond the literal meanings of the words they use.

b. questioning
"When you say_______, do you mean_______?"
"Can you explain what you mean by ___________"
"I wanted to make sure I understand________"

This shows that you have listened to their words and are trying to understand them in the best possible way.

3. Avoid judgement words and embrace comfort words.
Examples of judgment words: just, but, stupid, crazy, insane, ridiculous, bratty, etc. Think about your personal reaction when these words are applied to you and how willing it makes you to listen to the other party.

By contrast there are certain words and phrases you can use that will put other people at ease. Words like, "please", "thank-you" (always thank them for something, and try to be sincere!), "I want to put something on your radar", and "at your earliest convenience." Let them know that you care about them and their time.

4. Seek first to understand and then to be understood.
Ask questions more than you make statements. The goal is to understand their position. Asking questions puts them at ease and keeps them from feeling attacked. When people feel attacked they close up and attack back and the crazy cycle continues. Nobody learns anything when you communicate AT someone.

5. Don't play the pity card.
I have been guilty of this one several times. Remember, the argument is not about you, it is about effective communication. You may have had your feelings hurt, but making the argument about your feelings takes the focus away from the problem at hand. It delays problem-solving. Also, avoid making excuses, even if they are true. When you let the other person see you taking responsibility for something that may not have been entirely your fault, you communicate to them that you care more about solving the problem than you do about being right or "not wrong".

6. Stay on each other's team!
Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best. The goal is not to be right or to win the argument. The goal is to understand each other. Recognize that there are times when you fail to communicate what you really meant. If you want someone to go the extra mile and try to understand you when words fail, make that effort for them. Help each other communicate effectively.

I hope these are helpful to someone. What advice for effective communication has served you well in your relationships?