Communication is a work in progress for many of us. Even when we have the best of intentions, sometimes the message we want to get across — or that someone is trying to convey to us — winds up lost, and misunderstandings occur.
“Even as a psychotherapist, I find myself caught up in miscommunication from time to time,” said Scott Allen, a psychotherapist with Clarity Health Solutions. “I should know better because of my profession, but I also realize I’m human and that we all may have given our attention to more than one thing around us at any given time. I find that “presence” is the key factor to making sure you are seen, heard, and understood,” said Allen.
Here are some tips to maintain a good connection:
1. Eye contact
Eye contact is the first form of nonverbal communication to let someone know they are outside of your “no-zone”. “Your presence is instantly observed and will allow the other person know you are ready to receive their message,” said Allen.
2. Active listening
Actively listen to the person who wants to connect with you.
“Focus on their presence, their words, their body language, and facial expressions to gain familiarity of what they want you to know and what they may feel about it,” said Allen.
Fair warning though: You may find yourself stuck trying to figure out how to respond; avoid that temptation, as your focus will begin to shift away from them and back to yourself.
“Be a mirror and reflect what you experienced from that person while you were actively listening,” said Allen. This is more than just telling them what you “heard” from them. “This is an accumulation of what they may have thought, felt, and spoke about their experience. You have been given a chance to formulate your theory on what they needed you to know, and now is your time let your empathy shine,” said Allen.
Test your theory and be willing to say “it’s okay” to yourself if you were incorrect. If it was incorrect, that person will correct it based on their experience.
A reflection statement could sound something like this: “Oh no! What happened to you was horrible. That really must have left you feeling vulnerable and angry. What did you do next?”
3. Don’t assume
Ask yourself: Am I making an assumption? This assumption could be about the other person’s intention or motivations, or even their message as a whole.
“Many times we assume the other person understands how we think and feel but they may have no idea why you might be upset or what might be wrong,” said Jacintha Carson, a licensed professional counselor.
4. Check for understanding
Making sure that you’re correctly reading what someone else is saying to you is as important as making sure you’re being understood by someone else.
“You can do this by paraphrasing what the other person said or asking for clarification to make sure you understand what the other person is saying rather than jumping to conclusions,” said Carson.
5. Give the benefit of the doubt
“Most of the time people are not purposely trying to get you upset or manipulate you even though it might feel like it,” said Carson.
Practice assertive communication. Say what you mean and how you feel so the other person doesn’t have to guess or assume. “Directly addressing problems is how problems get solved! Ask for what you need or want instead of feeling resentful about not getting your needs met later,” said Carson.
6. Speak in “I” statements
A lot of the time we as humans are reacting rather than responding. “We’re over-taken by an emotion, often without realizing it, and we’re communicating from that place. This can only lead to misunderstanding,” said Tristan Gutner, who works in coaching.
If we’re willing to wait a beat before speaking we can get clear on what we’re feeling, what we really think, and what we actually need. Then we can communicate our true needs clearly.
“Speaking in “I” statements is a practice for taking personal responsibility for what we feel and what we want. Instead of saying “you made me angry by doing that”, you might say “I feel angry, are you willing not to do that?” If we’re willing to take responsibility for ourselves in this way it creates a safe environment for the other to hear what we’re saying rather than feel the need to defend themselves,” said Gutner.
Now you’re ready to strt communicating more clearly and to create a space for the other person to actually hear you. That’s the key to maintaining great communication, and avoiding misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
Now get out there and communicate!