Tips for effective communication
As you might’ve seen in styles of communication “you-statements” put people on the defensive and often lead to a hostile response.
On the other hand, “I-statements” have the opposite effect.
For example, “I feel disappointed that you cancelled at the last minute” rather than “You’ve let me down again”.
Clearly express how you feel
Mind-reading and assuming others know what you want can create all sorts of problems. When you hint rather than make a clear statement, people don’t always get the message.
Similarly, when you ramble on rather than state your thoughts clearly, people may not get the message. So, if there is something that you need to say it’s helpful to tell it as it is. Don’t hint.
Do it now
If there’s an issue you need to raise or a situation that needs to be resolved, deal with it as soon as possible. The longer you leave it, the harder it gets, and the more tension builds up.
The only exception to this rule is if you feel very angry, and can’t trust yourself to stay calm when you talk about it.
In this situation, it’s often a good idea to have a cooling off period before you raise the issue. Doing this prevents conflict and reduces the likelihood that you’ll say things you’ll regret. Take as long as you need.
Ask for clarification
Just as people can’t always read your mind, sometimes it is difficult to interpret what someone else is thinking or feeling.
If you’re confused about the message you’re receiving, check it out with the other person. Asking for clarification helps to prevent misunderstandings.
For example, a friend seems withdrawn and you suspect they are angry with you. You say: “You seem quiet. Have I done something to upset you?” or “Is everything OK?”
Checking it out with them can help bring the issue to the surface (if there is one), then you can talk about it.
On the other hand, if there’s actually nothing wrong, talking about it will ease your concerns.
Acknowledge your discomfort in raising an issue
If you feel uncomfortable raising a particular issue, it can be helpful to let the other person know this.
For example: “Look Sam, I feel really awkward about bringing this up but…” or “Alex, I need to talk to you about something and I’m feeling nervous about it. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but if I don’t say anything, I think I’ll continue to feel upset.”
By honestly referring to your discomfort, you lower the temperature, reducing the likelihood that the other person will become hostile or defensive.
Be aware of your body language
The way you speak – including the volume and tone of your voice, physical gestures, and facial expressions, all have an important impact on how your message will be received.
If you fold your arms in front of your chest, have a stern expression on your face or speak in an accusing tone, the other person is likely to feel defensive even before they’ve heard what you have to say.
An open posture, a calm voice, and relaxed body language helps the other person to feel at ease. This allows your message to be delivered in a non-threatening way.
Here’s an acronym that might help you remember good body language:
S – face the person Squarely
O – Open Posture, no crossed arms or fidgeting
L – Lean towards the person, not too much but just enough to show interest
E – maintain Eye contact, without staring
R – be Relaxed, don’t fidget and be comfortable.
Communicate positive feelings
Developing good relationships means being able to express positive feelings at times. We often assume that people know that we like them or appreciate what they do for us, so we don’t tell them.
However, people aren’t mind-readers. If we don’t tell them, they don’t always know (even if they do know, it’s still nice to hear someone say nice things every now and then!)
Communicating positive feelings towards others lets them know we value them and helps to strengthen relationships.
Warm feelings can be expressed as a whole message. For example: “Jo, the other day when I was upset you asked me if I was OK. It was really good to talk to you. I just wanted to say thanks – you’ve been a good friend.”
Alternatively, you can communicate warm feelings by making simple statements such as: “Thanks for being there for me the other day” or “You’ve been a good friend, I really appreciate it.”
You have the right to:
- express your opinion
- say “no”
- make mistakes
- change your mind
- disagree with others
- ask for what you want
- be treated with respect
- not take responsibility for other people’s problems.
Over to you
Is there someone you value who could do with some positive feedback from you? What would you like to say to them?
Remember, good communication skills can help us to have healthy relationships with people, avoid conflict and solve problems. So, they’re worth working on!
Tensions often arise in relationships when you avoid saying what you need to say, or when you communicate in a threatening or hostile manner.
However, using effective communication strategies as outlined here, can help you to resolve problems and disagreements in a reasonable and helpful way.
This fact sheet comes from: Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions. By: Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Remond, Foundation for Life Sciences (2005).