Want to communicate effectively? Then talk less, listen more and be very clear about what you want to say when you do speak.
Talk, as they say, is cheap. And easy to do. Communicating effectively is a little more involved. "It's a two-way street," says psychotherapist and life coach Antoinette Giacobbe. "Communication involves a receiver and a sender, and an exchange of ideas—that is, getting your message across to others in a clear and precise manner as well as receiving information from others with the least amount of distortion."
Read on to learn more about being a clear—and assertive—communicator.
“Part of what contributes to clear communication is being prepared for one,” says Antoinette. To do this, you need to:
- Be clear in your thinking (before you start talking) about what you really want to communicate. This could mean de-cluttering your mind.
- Make the information as easy as possible to understand when you deliver it—don’t use jargon or slang that can be misinterpreted.
- Understand who you are communicating with, and anticipate and eliminate as many obstacles as you can to clear communication. Obstacles include having preconceived notions of the other person’s response and physical obstacles like loud noise, inappropriate surroundings (like too many people) and speaking with your mouth full.
You can set up a positive context by being clear with yourself about your intention:
- Think about what outcome you want and what compromises you are willing to make to ensure the results are positive for both you and the other person
- Approach the conversation with a positive attitude and help to create a positive experience for the other person. That involves having respect for the other person so that they don’t feel threatened and having respect for yourself by speaking up if your feel your boundaries have been crossed
- Be prepared with possible solutions rather than complain about a situation. That way, you’ll be creating a win-win situation so that everybody walks away with a sense of accomplishment
- Keep an open mind and an open line of communication since both are prerequisites for maintaining a positive frame of mind and for learning how to turn obstacles into opportunities, stumbling blocks into stepping stones and problems into creative possibilities
Poor listening is a major obstacle to effective communication. Many of us seem to want to talk more than listen, and when we do listen we don’t do it very well. “Effective listening is an active process,” says Antoinette, “unlike hearing which is a passive activity.” She adds that the difference is like being at a concert and being focused on the music compared to just hearing music in the background while you’re doing something else.
To be an active listener you need to:
- Stop talking.
- Become an active participant in receiving information from others—stop talking and stop trying to think of what you’re going to say next. Really listen.
- Actively acknowledge what others are saying by nodding or using language, such as:
“I see ...”
“If I understand you, this is what you are saying …”
“What it sounds like is …”
- Ask questions to help clarify information
- Keep an open mind to help you see things from another person's perspective, even if you don’t agree with the other views
“Aside from poor listening skills, there are many other obstacles that can interfere with effective communication,” says Antoinette. “Do your best to overcome these common problems:”
- Interruptions — communication is about quality not quantity. Focus on your conversation and ignore other noises, cell phones and computers
- Assumptions and jumping to conclusions — for example, expecting people to read your mind; and letting things like stereotyping cloud your judgments or perceptions
- Emotional interference — from things like a lack of self-confidence to attitudes such as fear, mistrust and anger generated by past experiences
- Cultural issues and language.
- Power struggles.
- Information overload — when too much information can cloud the issue.
- Stress — and the fatigue, confusion and irritability that may come with it.
- Lack of information — not knowing the subject or what you really want to say.
“Assertiveness,” says Antoinette, “is one of the most important communications skills and is closely linked to self-esteem.
And assertive does not mean aggressive or belligerent. It means clearly defining and articulating your needs and understanding the needs of others. “It’s basically how you deal with and defend your personal boundaries and those of other people,” says Antoinette.
To communicate assertively, Antoinette points out that a clear message consists of three components—I think, I feel and I want. She suggests you try using these components to express yourself:
- “I think …” — stating the facts of what you believe the issue is
- “I feel …” — stating your feelings/perceptions about what is happening
- “I want …” — stating how you think the issue can best be resolved for everyone involved
And you also want to watch your body language so that you don’t come across as nervous, hostile or disinterested.
So how do you know if you’ve communicated effectively? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Has my message been received as intended?
- Have we reached a common ground?
- Has the problem been solved?
- Has my goal been reached?
“And in the end,” says Antoinette, “the more you know yourself, the better you can express yourself and this will enhance your ability to communicate while achieving your goals and greater success.”