“The great success in communication is to build on the other person’s observation, not overthrowing it, to exercise the mind with thought rather than our own words, to exercise truth, good sense, humor and wit, saying nothing of our self, and to answer with agreement.”
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Everyone believes that we can communicate exceptionally well – that we have years of experience in speaking to others and so we must be knowledgeable in doing so. As simple as it sounds to be effective in communicating to others, to say what we mean, it just as often does not work out well. Often our communications with others turn into misunderstandings, frustration, and may even result in a conflict to the point of the loss of a friendship or other relationship.
The problem begins with what we perceive as experience in communication – actually meaning that we are knowledgeable about our abilities – when experience does not imply knowledge at all. What good is all the experience we possess if we have only been doing the same thing for years, but were wrong to some degree? Every communication is unique speech between two (or more) individuals and we may have little or no experience in communication with a particular individual.
Believing that we are experienced has little consequence with the unique conversation. We cannot rely on past experiences with others – our friends, family, past lovers or others when dealing with a new and unique individual – as it is simply unique and not the same as our past communications with others. If we bring our past experiences into this new and unique communication we are only going to set ourselves up for failure.
Communication should be a two-way endeavor and while we know what we want from the communication, we often lose sight of the other person’s needs and wants – focusing only on our own.
Fortunately, there are some rules for effective communication that will prevail when attempting to learn how to communicate more clearly and effectively. However, we must learn that what the other person – this unique individual is attempting to communicate to us – is most often more important to effective communication – than what we have to say to them.
Whether we are attempting to improve communications with our friends, family members, or someone we are in a relationship with, we must treat each communication as unique in order to enable the most effective connection with others.
Our goal should be to build trust and respect, to feel what others are saying and to more fully understand their communication. In the end, if we provide for the other person’s needs and wants - we will feel more connected, have more trust and respect given to us and ultimately feel heard and understood. It must work both ways to be successful.
What is effective communication?
Contrary to popular belief, effective communication is about more than just exchanging information.
1. It is about understanding what is being communicated.
2. It is to be fully engaged in the emotions and intentions of the information that is being passed along.
3. It is to receive and understand what the other person is conveying in the manner that they intended it to be understood – not just what we believe they intended.
4. It is about listening carefully to each word to gain the full meaning of what is being said, so to that the other person feels heard and understood.
5. And, when it is our turn to speak, to be able to fully convey our own thoughts in a compelling manner so that we believe the other person heard and understood what we were communicating.
Effective communication can take place between two people who speak different languages, through the use of non-verbal communication cues. We can effectively communicate happiness, anger, fear, and more without the use of words or even the understanding of the other person’s language. We can do this by acquiring a set of skills that include forms of non-verbal communication, through engaged listening, their body language, managing our stress, as well as the capacity to recognize and understand our own emotions and those of the person we are attempting to communicate with. With a bit more work, we can increase our skill set to include verbal communication as when we acquire the language that allows both to speak and understand in the same manner.
Effective communication helps us to make deep connections with others and improve teamwork, decision making, and problem solving. It enables us to communicate even negative or difficult messages without creating conflict or destroying trust.
While effective communication is a learned skill, it is more effective when it’s spontaneous rather than constituted with a verbal formula or produced in accordance with a slavishly followed style that might be predictable. Communication that is spontaneous has more impact than that which is delivered as if read or recited. And, while it takes both time and effort to acquire and develop the skills to effectively communicate with each unique individual, the result is that we become more instinctive and spontaneous in our communication with that individual.
30 Rules of Effective Communication
If our goal is to fully understand and connect with the other person, effective communication will often come naturally. If it doesn’t, try the following tips. The more we practice them, the more satisfying and rewarding our interactions with others will become.
1. Become an engaged listener
People often focus on what they should say, but effective communication is less about talking and more about listening. Listening well means not just understanding the words or the information being communicated, but also understanding the emotions the speaker is trying to communicate.
There’s a big difference between engaged listening and simply hearing what the other is saying. When we really listen—fully engaged with what is being communicated—we will hear the subtle intonations in someone’s voice that tell us how that person is feeling and the emotions they’re trying to communicate. When we are an engaged listener, not only will we better understand the other person, we will also make that person feel heard and understood, which can help build a stronger, deeper connection between us.
By communicating in this way, we will also experience a process that lowers stress and supports physical and emotional well-being. If the person we are talking to is calm, for example, listening in an engaged way will help to calm us, as well.
Similarly, if the person seems to be agitated, it is usually due to either that that they are extremely passionate about what they are speaking of, or that they feel that we are disagreeing with them, or that they are not being understood. It should be our role to help perpetuate calm by being more agreeable, listening in an attentive manner and assuring them that we do understand them.
2. Focus fully on the speaker
We should focus fully on the speaker, his or her body language, tone of voice, and other nonverbal cues. Tone of voice conveys emotion, so if we are thinking about other things, checking text messages or doodling, we are almost certain to miss the nonverbal cues and the emotional content behind the words being spoken. And if the person talking is similarly distracted, we will be able to quickly pick up on it. If we find it hard to concentrate on some speakers, we could try repeating their words over in our head—to reinforce their message and help us stay focused.
The left side of the brain contains the primary processing centers for both speech comprehension and emotions. Since the left side of the brain is connected to the right side of the body, favoring our right ear can help us to better detect the emotional nuances of what someone is saying. We should try keeping our posture straight, our chin down, and tilting our right ear towards the speaker—this will make it easier to pick up on the higher frequencies of human speech that contain the emotional content of what’s being said.
3. Avoid interrupting
We should avoid interrupting or trying to redirect the conversation to our concerns. Listening is not the same as waiting for our turn to talk. We will find it quite difficult to concentrate on what someone’s saying if we are forming what we are going to say next. Often, the speaker can read our facial expressions and know that our mind is elsewhere. Normally, communication consists of elementary principles, just like a sentence or a paragraph that we might read. The communication may deviate from a known principle based on the speaker’s skills, their needs, and the unexpected events that accompany the act of composing one’s thoughts during communication. The more clearly we perceive the shape of what is being communicated, the better the chances of success.
Communication is a convenient unit of speech composition and it serves all forms of communication. A statement by another may be of any length – a single sentence or a passage of great duration. Ordinarily, communication follows the same composition as a written paragraph, beginning with a statement that suggests the topic of the communication that acts as a transition into an explanation of the topic. This opening sentence simply indicates the direction of the communication that is to follow.
It is better to focus on what the other person has to say, their opening and the transition into their thought, rather than on what we want to say in rebuttal to their thoughts. If we are an argumentative and negative (or both) type of person, we will find that we will have less to argue with if we hear the total of what the other person has to say and will find the communication more enjoyable.
If we are the type of person who constantly interrupts others, a person who has little interest in what others have to say, who does not want to learn from from others, or simply likes hearing our own voice, we will have a hard time being an effective communicator and most likely will find it difficult to find a willing partner with whom to communicate.
It is better to not become a boorish, poorly mannered and coarse participant and learn that it is far better to listen and learn than to push our agenda off on others and risk losing the ability to communicate altogether.
4. Show interest in what is said
Interest in what is being said goes beyond, but does include the occasional nodding of the head, a smile, assuring that our posture is open and inviting and encouraging the speaker with small verbal comments such as “yes”. Our interest is best exhibited by becoming fully engaged in the conversation at all times. As Bacon stated, “Take no heed until all words are spoken.” It is much like reading only the first sentence of a book and believing that we know the whole story that a thorough reading of the book might give.
We should learn to listen as much or more than we speak, showing interest in what is being said and keeping the conversation going by asking questions that relate to what is being said, rather than changing the subject to ourselves.
5. Set aside our judgment
In order to communicate effectively with someone, we don’t have to like them or agree with their ideas, values, or opinions. However, we do need to set aside our judgment and withhold blame and criticism in order to fully understand a person. The most difficult communication, when successfully executed, can lead to the most unlikely and profound connection with someone.
Patricia Covalt wrote in “What Smart Couples Know: The Secret to a Happy Relationship” that setting aside judgment of the other person and what they are saying is one of the most important ingredients in the ability to sustain a relationship.
6. Hear the other person’s emotion
We should hear the emotion behind the words by exercising our middle ear muscles. By increasing the muscle tone of the tiny middle ear muscles (the smallest in the body), we will be able to detect the higher frequencies of human speech that impart emotion and be better able to understand what others are really saying. As well as by focusing fully on what someone is saying, we can exercise these tiny muscles by singing, playing a wind instrument, and listening to certain types of music (high-frequency Mozart violin concertos and symphonies, for example, rather than low-frequency rock or rap music).
7. Pay attention to nonverbal signals
When we communicate things that we care about, we do so mainly using nonverbal signals. Nonverbal communication, or body language, includes facial expressions, body movement and gestures, eye contact, posture, the tone of our voice, and even our muscle tension and breathing. The way we look, listen, move, and react to another person tells them more about how we are feeling than words alone ever can.
Developing the ability to understand and use nonverbal communication can help us to connect with others, express what we really mean, navigate challenging situations, and build better relationships.
8. Be aware of individual differences
Be aware of individual differences. People from different countries and cultures tend to use different nonverbal communication gestures, so it’s important to take age, culture, religion, gender, and emotional state into account when reading body language signals. A teenager, a grieving widow, and a businessman, for example, are likely to use nonverbal signals quite differently.
9. Reinforce what is being said
Use nonverbal signals that match up with our words. Nonverbal communication should reinforce what is being said, not contradict it. If we say one thing, but our body language says something else, our listener will likely feel we are being dishonest. For example, it is quite difficult to remain confident when saying “yes” while shaking our head no.
Look at nonverbal communication signals as a group. Don’t read too much into a single gesture or nonverbal cue. Consider all of the nonverbal signals we receive, from eye contact to tone of voice to body language. Anyone can slip up occasionally and let eye contact slip, for example, or briefly cross their arms without meaning to. Consider the signals as a whole to get a better “read” on a person.
10. Convey positive feelings
Use body language to convey positive feelings even when we are not actually experiencing them. If we are nervous about a situation—a job interview, important presentation, or first date, for example—we can use positive body language to signal confidence, even though we are not feeling it. Instead of tentatively entering a room with our head down, eyes averted, and sliding into a chair, try standing tall with our shoulders back, smiling and maintaining eye contact, and delivering a firm handshake. It will make us feel more self-confident and help to put the other person at ease.
11. Keep stress in check
How many times have we felt stressed during a disagreement with our spouse, kids, boss, friends, or coworkers and then said or done something we later regretted? If we can quickly relieve stress and return to a calm state, we will not only avoid such regrets, but in many cases we will also help to calm the other person as well. It’s only when we are in a calm, relaxed state that we will be able to know whether the situation requires a response, or whether the other person’s signals indicate it would be better to remain silent.
12. Stay in control of emotions
To communicate effectively, we need to be aware of and in control of our emotions. And that means learning how to manage stress. When we are stressed, we are more likely to misread other people, send confusing or off-putting nonverbal signals, and lapse into unhealthy knee-jerk patterns of behavior.
13. Remain agreeable at all times
It should come as no shock that people will find the conversation more attractive if we are agreeable. If we find ourselves in disagreement, look for those things that we do agree with rather than disagree. If we come across as disagreeable others will find it difficult to carry on a meaningful conversation with us and the less effective our communication will become. We should not expect that others will always have the same opinion as ours and naturally there will be lots of opportunities to disagree, but we must fight the urge to do so.
14. Make time to think
Pause to collect our thoughts. Silence isn’t necessarily a bad thing—pausing can make us seem more in control than rushing our response. Make one point and provide an example or supporting piece of information. If our response is too long or we waffle about a number of points, we risk losing the listener’s interest. Follow one point with an example and then gauge the listener’s reaction to tell if we should make a second point.
15. Ask for clarification
Provide reinforcement. If there seems to be a disconnect, reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. "What I'm hearing is..." or "It sounds like you are saying..." are great ways to reflect back. Don’t simply repeat what the speaker has said verbatim, though—or we will sound insincere or unintelligent. Instead, express what the speaker’s words mean to us. Ask questions to clarify certain points: "What do you mean when you say..." or "Is what you mean...”
16. Take time before responding
Use stalling tactics to give ourselves time to think. Have a question repeated, or ask for clarification of a statement before responding.
17. Maintain an even disposition
Adjust our nonverbal signals according to the context. The tone of our voice, for example, should be different when we are addressing a child than when we are addressing a group of adults. Similarly, take into account the emotional state and cultural background of the person we are interacting with.
18. Emphasize points with eye contact
The subject of eye gaze as to when, where and why people look at one another has attracted a great deal of interest. There are those who have read into the subject of eye gazing and came to some misguided opinions, such as “the eyes are the messenger of the soul”, “seeing eye to eye”, and more. Where, when and how we look at others are all part of the phenomenon of eye gaze, and those who have not studied the subject in depth believe it to be an important and primitive means of communication.
However, it is by no accident that Catholic confessionals and psychiatric couches are arranged to attempt to reduce the amount of eye contact between the priest or therapist and the confessor or patient. When people are looking inward, it is better that they sense, but do not actually look into the others eyes, and that those listening do not (or cannot) stare at them.
Similarly, people often find that they can have good conversations while walking or doing a co-operative activity, such as washing the dishes together, because they are close to, but not looking at, their companions. Intimate talk can be inhibited by eye contact.
Eye contact is not necessary to have an effective communication, but can be useful when emphasizing a point or asking a direct question. Thus, looking at another person is a way of getting feedback on particular points. It is also used as a synchronizing signal. People tend to look up at the end of utterances: This gives them feedback and hands over the conversational baton. People also look up more at the end of grammatical breaks, but look away when hesitating, talking non-fluently, or thinking. There is often mutual eye contact during attempted interruptions, laughing, and when answering short questions.
19. Be open with body language
We can enhance effective communication by using open body language—arms uncrossed, standing with an open stance or sitting on the edge of our seat, and maintaining brief eye contact with the person we are talking to. We can also use body language to emphasize or enhance our verbal message—patting a friend on the back while complimenting him on his success, for example, or even pounding our fists to underline our message.
20. Look for humor to deal with stress
Look for humor in the situation. When used appropriately, humor is a great way to relieve stress when communicating. When we or those around us start taking things too seriously, find a way to lighten the mood by sharing a joke or amusing story.
21. Be willing to comprise
Be willing to compromise. Sometimes, if we can bend a little, we will be able to find a happy middle ground that reduces the stress levels for everyone concerned. If we realize that the other person cares much more about something than we do, compromise may be easier for us and a good investment in the future of the relationship.
22. Agree to disagree - not demanding
Agree to disagree, if necessary, and take time away from the situation so everyone can calm down. Take a quick break and move away from the situation. Go for a stroll outside if possible, or spend a few minutes meditating. Physical movement or finding a quiet place to regain our balance can quickly reduce stress.
23. Allow others to assert themselves
Allow others to assert themselves – don’t interrupt. An assertive person will encourage others to do the same. Being assertive allows others to know where we stand and what we need in a kind, direct and flexible way and then work with others to find solutions that work for everyone.
An assertive person speaks their mind without disregarding the opinions of others or becoming overbearing, without intimidation, making their position clear without being insolent
24. Value the opinion of others as much as our own
Value our self and our opinions. They are as important as anyone else's opinions. While we don't need to share the same opinions as others, we need to be respectful. Never underestimate the value that we add to others and not what others have added to us. That is how we build self-worth, which is just (if not more) important as our net-worth.
25. Know the other person’s needs and wants
Effective communication is about exchanging niceties. It is a delicate balancing act. Carefully trying to get to know the other person's needs and wants so that they could be properly met. And even more carefully avoiding saying or doing the wrong thing so as not to offend the other person in any way. Because we want the communication to work. To be successful, fulfilling and comfortable and even fun! Just like a friendship, a romantic, or any other kind of relationship we may find ourselves involved in.
The goal of effective communication should be that the other person trusts us enough to be able to speak openly and honestly with us, without fear of damaging the relationship in any way.
26. Express ourselves in a positive manner
There are right ways and there are wrong ways to go about expressing our emotions about many things. When it comes to effective communication, though, the way in which we express our emotions is an important part of being effective and successful.
This doesn’t mean that we, should ‘keep things to ourselves,’ as is all too common in today’s culture. We should be entitled to express the things that we are feeling, or the concerns that we may have with regard to the communication, however it is important that we express our emotions in a healthy and constructive manner, though. When we do that, then we are going to end up making the entire process of communication that much better for everyone involved.
27. Give positive feedback
One of the most challenging aspects of effective communication is being able to share opinions with others in a way that is respectful, appropriate, meaningful and genuine. Making the choice to give others positive feedback elevates the communication. The habit of affirming others is a good one to get into.
When we are generous and genuine with positive feedback, it provides balance in our communications with others. Interactions can either fill our buckets by making us feel good, or dip from our buckets by making us feel bad. If someone appears to constantly be criticizing our opinion, we should first question our own opinions as it may be our own opinions that are creating the problem in the first place.
28. Find an area of agreement
Effective communication should mean finding an area of agreement with everyone we oppose and everyone who opposes us. Discovering the wisdom to find an area of agreement brings about peace. All conflict is the result of lack of knowledge and understanding. When we really know a person, we understand them and their attitudes and motives. When we find one area of agreement with a person, then the power of conflict and strife is broken. When an area of agreement is established, then communication flows. Communication should be a sharing of the inner beings of two (or more) people. It is possible to find areas of agreement with all others, especially when we recognize their true value.
29. Recognize other’s feelings
Empathetic assertion conveys sensitivity to the other person. First, recognize the other person's situation or feelings, then state our needs or opinion. "I know you are very busy with your work, but I want you to make time for us as well."
30. We only lose when we give up
Most communication requires us to bend to a certain extent. This does not mean to bend with a loss of self, but rather than look at the communication in terms of bending values to accommodate another person, look at it in terms of each person learning and growing as a result of their differences in values.
If we enter into a communication with the intent to protect ourselves against pain, then we will find many controlling ways of avoiding dealing with the differences of the other. We may argue, defend, withdraw, blame, give in, resist, explain and so on, intent on having our way, not being controlled by the other, or avoiding the others rejection. This will always lead to distance and unhappiness in the communication and ultimately – failure. The problem is not in the differences between us and another, but rather in the unwillingness to learn and grow from the differences.
When we are open to learning about the differences, they become fertile ground for the exciting process of personal and spiritual growth and healing.
May all our communications be excellent!!!