Communication Cheats (Hacks? Tips?)

I hate being misunderstood. It is one of my least favorite things. In fact, it kind of eats me up inside. I know I need to care less what other people think of me but that is easier to do when I haven’t been misunderstood. The problem is that we can be so concerned with being understood that we don’t spend the same amount of effort to listen to and understand others. I have been lucky to learn the skills of listening through my master’s in counselling. I spent 3 years learning how to listen to and understand others. And I feel thankful because it has helped me in all most of my interactions with others.

Some of the communication tips I have learned:

#1 ~ When people are emotional, respond to their emotion. If you are talking to someone who is angry, sad, embarrassed, or feeling anything strongly, escalating to their level doesn’t help to solve the problem, but it is helpful to recognize and respond to their emotion. When someone is emotional, they are not ready to be rational, so this is not the time to be discussing facts and details (lectures are futile at this point). They are not listening. They are caught up in their emotions and an overload of oxygen and adrenaline is racing through their bodies, preparing them for ‘fight or flight’. By empathizing with their emotion, “that sounds really infuriating” or “I can see how you would be VERY angry with me if that’s what you thought my intention was,” people feel understood and validated in their emotion. When they feel understood, it brings them down from ‘fight or flight’ mode, the adrenaline and oxygen levels can regulate, their mind can stop racing, and they are able to return to their reasoning selves. Then you can have a reasonable conversation.

#2 ~ Don’t get pulled into the vortex of team building. When people are upset they want to start talking about the problem and gathering people on their team who will see the situation through their lens. When you are listening to someone talk about their frustrations, remember they are telling you their side of the story. It is very rarely exactly how things happened. It couldn’t be, because they weren’t privy to the interpretation that was going on in the minds of other people who were involved. They can speak about their interpretation of others’ intentions, their manipulations and how others were acting, but it is still only their interpretation of the situation. Memory is subjective so events are rarely remembered accurately. In this case again, respond to the emotion of what they are saying, “Wow, if that is they way things went then you must have felt outraged” without confirming that you are siding with them. By saying “if that is they way things went” you are agreeing that you would feel similarly in the described situation but you are not confirming that you agree with the description. This is an especially important skill to use when listening to your kids talk about what happened at school/at a friend’s house. They often want to appeal to your emotions at the expense of cold hard facts. They want their parents to see it from their point of view and to empathize with them. (If you are thinking, “My kid doesn’t do that” I beg to differ. It is human nature. And I have worked with A LOT of kids in my lifetime.)

#3 ~ Ask for clarification rather than assume. So often we assume we know what someone meant and we may become needlessly offended. By clarifying, we can know whether it was misinterpretation or whether we actually should feel offended. Questions like, “When you said I don’t need to bother coming, did you mean that you’d rather not have me along?” can help clarify intention and prevent a needless argument.

#4 ~ Tell people how you are affected by the problem situation rather than accusing them for how they are acting. “I miss you” is a lot less interrogating than, “Why aren’t you spending more time with me?” It is kind of the old “I statement” advice. By telling people how you are feeling, they are more willing to enter into dialogue about the issue; whereas, questioning them puts them on the defensive and the conversation will likely not end in resolution of the problem.

Likely you will have lots of opportunity to practice these in the workplace, at home, and especially during family gatherings. I know I do.


~ Carla



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