The key to effective communication is to:
Listen well - it's usually more important than speaking
Pay attention to your body language - it's often more important than what you say
Use assertive skills - and avoid being aggressive or passive
Communication is both simple and complex, easy to do, and easy to mess up.
There are several steps in the process of communicating. Things can go wrong at any of these stages: formulating the message we intend to send; the message we actually send; the message as the hearer interprets it; the response of the hearer based on what he or she heard; and our reaction to the exchange of words, meaning and interpretation.
We have to send, receive, and process huge numbers of messages every day of different types and this is expanding in our information age. Effective communication is therefore a skill worth learning.
Effective communication is about more than just exchanging information. It requires you to also understand the emotion behind the information.
It’s important to listen well, to recognise nonverbal signals (known as ‘body language’), and to comprehend your own feelings while communicating.
Communicating effectively can improve teamwork, decision-making, caring, and problem solving. This happens by enhancing relationships with others whether it is at home, at work, or in social situations. It enables you to communicate even negative or difficult messages without creating conflict or destroying trust.
Practical Tip: To communicate effectively recognise the importance of listening, and make listening a key part of your group’s culture. This is because when we confront difficult issues, listening is more important than speaking or any other form of expression.
The other half of the equation to active listening is assertive expression - speaking and expressing what you think, feel or want in a clear, true and non-defensive way.
The human species communicates at least as much through body language as with words, perhaps more. This refers to things like facial expressions, eye contact and the stance or movements of arms, hands and legs.
Practical Tip: try to be aware of your own body language and what it might mean to others.
You can practice watching body language the next time you are involved in a conversation with a group of people, or even while you are watching television. Look at the body language of one of the listeners and consider how it might affect the speaker. Check out the speaker’s body language and see if it tells the same story as the words.
Body language can support effective communication. Examples include: an ‘open body stance’, sitting on the edge of your chair and focusing your eyes on the other person. The opposite effect can be achieved with body language such as: pointing with your index finger, wringing your hands, crossing your arms on your chest, and casting sideways glances.
What to Avoid in Communication
There are ways that you can sabotage or block effective communication. These include things like:
Giving advice when it is not asked for.
Arguing or disagreeing with the speaker, analysing or interrupting.
Having a ‘me-too’ approach such as “That’s nothing, let me tell you what happened to me”. Statements like these make the speaker feel unheard.
Being judgmental, moralising, or preaching at people. Others may say something that appears to offend your value system. Set aside the judgment so you can listen.
Using meaningless consolation comments, such as “It’s going to be all right.”
Asking a direct question to satisfy your curiosity. The speaker will share more information when and if ready.
Anger and Communication
You are bound to encounter feelings of anger and conflicts when working with groups of people. Anger is often a poorly understood emotion. It has a potent capacity to influence the effectiveness of communication between individuals and within groups.
Remember that anger can provide information and stimulate energy that can be used positively. It is also important to understand that other emotions, such as pain, fear, despair or frustration are often expressed as anger.
Practical Tip: It is worth learning how to express anger and how to receive it.
Assertiveness means expressing your point of view in a way that is clear and direct, while still respecting others. Being assertive is different from being aggressive or using passive communication.
Communicating in an assertive manner can help you to minimise conflict, to control anger, to have your needs better met, and to have more positive relationships with friends, family and others.
It is a style of communication that many people struggle to put into practice, mostly because of confusion around exactly what it means.
People often confuse assertiveness with aggression because it involves sticking up for yourself, but the two are actually quite different.
Practical Tip: Assertiveness is not the same thing as being aggressive. It means expressing your point of view in a way that is clear and direct, while still respecting others. Communicating in an assertive manner can help you to minimise conflict, to control anger, to have your needs better met, and to have more positive relationships with colleagues, line managers, friends, family and others.
Learn the difference between assertiveness and aggression
Assertiveness involves ...
Expressing your needs clearly but respectfully
Treating others with respect
Considering the needs of others as well as your own
Building stronger relationships
Using clear language to get your point across
Aggression involves ...
Forcing your needs or opinions onto others
Bullying or pushing others around
Only focusing on your needs
Damage to relationships
Consequences like shouting or physical aggression
Damage to self-esteem
Assertiveness is also confused with passive communication. That involves:
Not speaking up for yourself, either because you think your views don’t matter or for reasons like trying to please everyone or ‘keep the peace’.
Putting your needs after the needs of others.
Allowing yourself to be bullied or ignored.
Often involves speaking quietly or with a hesitating voice, or with body-language like looking at the floor or shrugging the shoulders.
Undermining your opinions with passive phrases like ‘only if you don’t mind’, or ‘it really doesn’t matter that much to me’ (when it does).
Passive communication also damages self-esteem and your relationships with others. They are much more likely to ignore your needs, and this usually leaves you feeling hurt or even angry with them for not treating you better.
Practice Being Assertive
Assertiveness is a skill that requires practice. Try doing these:
Find a way to state your point of view or request clearly.
Tell the other person how you feel as honestly as you can, and remember to listen to what they say as well.
How you say something is as important as what you say. Pay attention to the tone and volume of your voice. Try to speak at a normal conversation volume, rather than a shout or whisper, and make sure that you sound firm but not aggressive.
Match your body language to what you are saying. Avoid giving mixed messages, like speaking firmly while looking at the floor. Try to communicate by looking the other person in the eye, while keeping a relaxed face.
Avoid exaggerating and be factual rather than judgmental. For example you might say ‘you are late for the second time this week’ to a worker instead of grumping ‘you’re always late’.
Use “I” in statements wherever possible, so that you can tell the other person how you feel rather than coming across as accusing. For example: ‘I feel frustrated when I have to tidy up your tools’ instead of ‘you’re a messy worker’.