3 Tips to Improve Communication
The foundation of good understanding is communication. But what actually is communication?
Communication is the imparting and exchanging information. There is a constant flow of taking in and putting out of information. At times, we are so concerned with what our output will be (because that is most valuable to us in that moment) that we lose what we are supposed to take in.
When we generally think of communication, we think of how we speak to one another. But arguably, the most essential part of communication is actually listening, not speaking. How we speak to one another is incredibly important, but how we listen is even more important. So let's look at some concepts that can move your relationships into healthy and open communicative spaces.
We don’t listen to react, to respond, or to prove a point. We want to listen with intention to know each other better. Relationships are supposed to be therapeutic. If it is not, you’re likely not in a relationship (think tyrant and servant, a King and a butler, a punching bag and a boxer). We are called to more than that, We are called to communion - the sharing and exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.
Wouldn’t it feel good to know your partner, friends, and family in this way?
Let's focus on three parts of listening that are vital to create and sustain healthy communication in your relationships:
1. Listen to understand, not to respond
When we listen to respond and not to take in information, we miss what the other person is saying. We have all been in conversations where we did not feel like we were listened to well, but we have also all been in conversations where we haven’t listened to someone else well. It comes down to feeling that what we have to say is more significant. If we attempt to move out of that thinking and more into really wanting to understand someone else, this will become easier.
2. Find the meaning
You know when you are in the midst of conflict and you and the other person experienced the same situation in two very different ways? This is where looking for the power of meaning is salient. During conversation, it is vital to not make assumptions based off of your understanding of things. Before assuming, ask questions.
Can you tell me what you mean by that?
Can you tell me more about that?
I don’t think I’m understanding completely, can you explain that again?
These questions filter out areas of miscommunication and get to the root quicker. Clarity allows both parties to respond in an effective and well-intentioned manner. Now, in those times when assumptions are made and you are wrong - admit it, apologize, and make it right. So much goes into how we think and why we think the way we do. We cannot discount someone’s whole life before they met us and say what they’re thinking was wrong and what we are thinking is right. A lot of things in life aren’t just black and white, a lot is grey. So try thinking less right versus wrong, and more “it’s just different”.
Find the meaning.
3. PACE (pause and consider everything)
The practice of pausing will eliminate a lot of unnecessary mind juggling. Pausing allows you to think before you speak. After listening to everything that someone has to say, particular words usually stand out to you. It’s probably the ones that caused some type of emotional reaction inside of you. It is easy to react off of that initial feeling because it is familiar. However, the practice of pausing allows you to take your time in responding.
Considering refers to taking the facts and responding to those instead of assumptions or an emotional reaction. Finding the meaning helps eliminate a lot of assumption making as well and it allows you to distinguish facts from non-facts.
Considering also allows you to check in with yourself about what expectations you came into this conversation with and addressing them with yourself. Usually, we are expecting someone to respond differently to us than they actually do which leads to disappointment and frustration. What’s tricky about expectations is that they usually go unspoken. All the time that you all spend together may make you believe that they should know what you need, but consider what expectations you had, whether they were communicated or not, then respond with the information that you do have.
Now that you have explored these tools of listening well, I encourage you to take practical steps in adding these to your daily life in all of your relationships.
“You never really understand another person until you consider things from their point of view, until you climb inside their skin and walk around in it”. Harper Lee
That’s what listening well feels like.
BIO: Celina Deal is am MA Intern at the MTS Counseling Center and a third year student in the Clinical Mental Health program at Moody Theological Seminary. She enjoys walking alongside young adults, adolescents and couples as they are navigating life, acknowledging their past, present, and future. She also has a particular interest with working with minorities as well as ex-offenders who are transitioning back into their communities.