Communication is considerably more complex than we are led to believe. A typical 5 year old child has a vocabulary of 5,000 words. But as any parent can attest, these kids frequently have difficulty conveying a message in a clear manner.

I equate communication to gift giving. If someone purchases a beautiful sterling serving tray as a gift for you, and rather than putting it in a box with wrapping paper, simply hands it to you, what message is being conveyed about the value the gift-giver has for you? Conversely, when that same beautiful sterling serving tray is nestled in a box between crisp white tissue paper, wrapped with ribbons and a bow and handed to you, how does that feel? The contents of the gift is the same! But the presentation of it, and the way you feel about receiving it, has changed dramatically. Similarly, the “presentation” of communication has to be delivered in as conscious and thoughtful manner as the gift-wrapped tray.

To be an effective communicator, we have to be aware of our nonverbal communication. Facial expressions, voice quality, and body language must be considered.

Avoid unproductive pitfalls in communicating. All too often conflicts, especially between family members, will deteriorate until someone says, “What’s the use?”, and the communication ends. Or a person becomes defensive, yelling, “Don’t blame me!” And once ‘kitchen sink fighting’ (throwing into the mix everything else you’re angry about) begins, then unhealthy and ineffective communication will prevail.

For effective communication to take place, you should begin with a level of respect for the other person. Your goal is to have something positive come out of your communication, so let the other person know you want to speak with them. Obtain permission to address the topic with them. After all, it will be a disservice to you to try to address a topic of importance when the other person is distracted. Then, state your feelings while avoiding judgment as much as possible. Judgment will make the other person feel defensive. People who feel defensive will put more energy into preparing their defense than to genuinely listening.

Speaking clearly about your message is important. I always advise my clients to avoid falling into the mind reading trap. Be specific about what behavioral outcome you want. In other words, if you want your husband to spend more time with the children at their Saturday soccer games and less time golfing with his buddies, you need to clearly state your request. You can’t say, “I would like you to be golfing less and with the kids more at soccer.” Rather, reframe it as, “I would like you to go to the kid’s soccer games every other Saturday instead of golfing.” Communicate one idea at a time. If you also use this as an opportunity to complain about the fact that he doesn’t help put the kids to bed at night and to talk about choosing a place to go for a family vacation next summer, then your communication is likely to get overloaded and break down.

Learn to reframe your negative thoughts that lead to a loss of self-control when communicating. For example, if, when communicating with your stepson you start thinking, “This child is horrible”, then substitute less emotional thoughts, such as “This is typical behavior for children of this age. I just need to stay calm and help him learn better ways to ask for what he wants.”

Successful communication is critical as the underpinning of all relationships. Not only are friendships, marriages, parent-child relationships, neighbors, etc., positively and negatively impacted by communication, but so are businesses. Business managers recognize that good communication results in improved loyalty and commitment to achieving shared goals. They realize that workplace problems are addressed more quickly when employees have a level of trust in their relationships with each other. Problems in the workplace resulting from poor communication can result in poor cooperation, avoidance of co-workers, poor morale, high turnover and unmet business goals.

We are not born communicators. It is a skill we continually refine. We do so by being honest about our feelings, non-judgmental and active listeners. It’s about being aware of our non-verbal communication, including facial expression, eye contact, and speed at which you talk. To overlook these issues is to risk creating a barrier between you and the person with whom you want to communicate.

And most important, remember that being a good communicator doesn’t mean your requests or point of view is always agreed to. I advise clients that the winning in communication is when both people address issues at the time they occur so that resentments don’t build up, each express their positions and listen to each other, and both walk away feeling positive about themselves and each other.

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