Effective communication is foremost about improving your ability to listen. That is actively or empathetically listening to one another and responding accordingly.
Active or Empathetic Listening
So what is active or empathetic listening…? Active listening is when you listen attentively, fully engaged… And in so doing become cognizant not only of the other person’s language and choice of words… but on hearing those words rather than assuming that through your own filters of experience and perception you’ve received the message intended, check in with the sender of the message…empathetic to their choice of words.
…So using the sender’s key words check in … to see that you’ve interpreted or received the message correctly… that the message received is in fact, the message intended.
Why Listen Actively In This Way?
It’s so easy to assume that we’ve heard what was intended and understand the message that was sent… Sadly this is rarely the case.
Actively or empathetic listening is a means of eliminating or reducing potential misinterpretations or misleading exchanges… because you’re checking in with the other person, the sender, clarifying that you’ve received the intended message.
It’s important to remember that we all use words differently, and while the words themselves may seem important… because we use that differently it’s very easy to misinterpret what the sender intended with those words.
Your Personal Communication Filter
What’s not always appreciated in the act of communicating with one another is that we each have our own individual communication filters or distortions that come into play when we’re communicating with one another. And that these filters often interfere with the message/s that are being received.
…Particularly marked when the topic or issue being discussed is a sensitive one…
When the topic being discussed is particularly sensitive our language and choice of words is often less direct. And due to our personal communication filters we typically assume that we’ve used language that is clear and to the point…and that what we’ve said and what has been heard and interpreted is distinct and clear. This however is rarely the case…
…What’s been uttered and what has been heard are often quite separate from one another.
So by practicing active listening… checking in with the other person to ensure that the intended message has been received as intended…has been heard and interpreted correctly… is a means of ensuring that you’ve heard correctly. And that’s extremely important when you’re receiving sensitive or delicate information…
Increase Your Communication Effectiveness
Employing active or empathetic listening techniques increases your likelihood to overcome potential communication challenges and increasing your communication awareness. Using these techniques you gain greater clarity and begin to recognize and appreciate one another’s point of view differently.
So take the time to learn and adopt some basic communication strategies designed to test and measure your communication effectiveness…and in the process increase your awareness of the complexities inherent in different communication styles.
This may sound challenging at first or difficult but it’s really very easy to do. And the results are worth it!
And the more you use these tips the more effective your communication will become. And that’s certainly worth the effort!
Listen Intently & Responding Actively
When your partner speaks or responds to something that you have said PAUSE before you respond… That’s right…. Stop for a moment. Apply gaffer tape if need be – metaphorically speaking that is… This will result in your responding in a more considered fashion rather than jumping in… Interrupting… Or reacting emotionally…
Listen and then respond preferably by asking questions … Taking the time…to listen… to gauge fully what’s been said and what might be intended. In other words clarifying that you’ve interpreted the meaning correctly.
….‘Tell me more about that’… is an excellent questioning technique …And an effective means to find out what’s driving a hurt or a conflict…
Posing questions enables you to explore your partner’s comments and feelings…. without evaluating or judging! Asking questions before responding enables you both to appreciate in more detail one another’s perspective… so go on a journey of discovery…
And when we go on a journey of discovery we learn lots about ourselves…as well as the person we’re communicating with.
‘Tell me more about that ‘…says to your partner, I’m here! I’m listening. I’m holding a space for you in my heart and am willing to listen – and I’m making time to listen to you right now as I care for you and our relationship deeply.
These techniques when used well send very clear messages that the environment of exchange is safe. That you’ll respond lovingly…and that at the deepest level you respect and care very deeply.
Jumping in too quickly… getting defensive…not listening to what is really being said is counterproductive to developing meaningful and artful communications between you and your partner.
Effective Communication Strategies
Here are a few more tips…to increase the effectiveness of your communication.
Always speak from the first person! What I mean by this… is to talk from a point of view of how you’re feeling: – Using the word ‘I’ as the starting point so …
‘I am wondering… ‘ or ‘I am feeling…’
Speaking from the first person (the ‘I’) means that you’re speaking from a place of authenticity…which is a very personal place from which to speak… revealing how you feel… which is a legitimate and very transparent place from which to speak or voice your opinion…
Adopting the first person, (the ‘I’) places the emphasis of the conversation on YOU and how you’re feeling… your reaction to something or some behavior…
From an ‘I’ perspective you’re taking full ownership of what you believe and what you want to say… There’s NO blame or accusation involved in the exchange when you start your conversation with the first person…’I’
As a corollary to this, avoid using the word ‘YOU’ as a starting point in a conversation or debate… ‘You’ as a starting point… from the onset adopts an accusative or blaming stance… Which is NEVER a good place to start… as it automatically puts the receiver in a position of defense. And the possibility of an objective or neutral dialogue is diminished.
Consider these examples and notice your reactions to each!
‘You make me angry!’
Compared with… ‘When you do… (the behavior/the words) it (NOT YOU!) makes me feel angry inside.’
Or ‘I feel angry and upset when you do… (insert the behavior).’
Notice how in the latter two examples the emphasis has shifted. The emphasis now is not on the other person who may be your partner but on the how YOU (the, I) feel and the behavior or words that have resulted in your feeling that way… The accusation is gone and it’s very clear as to why you might feel the way that you do!
In owning your feelings and at the same time asking for consideration…the conversation or exchange becomes more personal…which facilitates the opportunity to discuss an issue more openly and objectively. You’re no longer blaming or putting the burden of responsibility onto the other person… which …potentially sets up a situation of conflict. And if that person is your partner that’s the last thing that you want to do.
And when blame is directed onto another… that party automatically responds from a defensive mode… making the opportunity for an open or objective dialogue or exchange challenging or flawed from the start.
Express Your Feelings Not Your Thoughts
So talk using the first person – from the ‘YOU’ and how ‘YOU’ feel! From the how you FEEL not how you THINK… That’s a very important distinction.
So it starts with ‘YOU’… Expressing how YOU feel and using the ‘I’ as the owner of the feelings or issue…to be aired and discussed…
So the model to consider is as follows:
‘I feel angry and upset when you do…( insert the behavior).’
…Or another variation of this communication style is to use the word…’me’… ‘When you (do/say …whatever it is), it makes me feel…’
Eg ‘When you do that (INSERT: behavior or WORDS EXPRESSED – say that expression) it makes me feel …’
A Word of Caution as to How You Use the Word ‘Feel’
And just a word of caution with how you use the word, ‘feel’. Its use is to denote feelings NOT thoughts…
Typically the feelings aroused from another person’s actions fall into one of four categories: sadness, anger, happiness or fear or a variation of one of these…
None of these emotions are thoughts, so be careful that when you are expressing feelings…They ARE in fact feelings… What do I mean? If you can replace the word ‘feel’ with ‘think’ in the same sentence, then you’re not expressing an emotion or taking ownership of the issue… You are in fact expressing thoughts, which are a very different construct. So be sure to get in touch with your feelings…your emotions… when you speak
By way of example consider this ‘When you walk into the room and throw down your coat and don’t look at me, I feel that you don’t love me…’
In this instance, the word ‘feel’ can easily be replaced with the word ‘think’. So in this instance thoughts rather than feelings are being expressed. Mind reading and thinking…has replaced an expression of feelings.
Compare that to this ‘When you walk into the room and throw down your coat and don’t look at me, I feel angry.’ In this version feelings are being expressed, not thoughts.
Most of us express our concerns or issues from a head space rather than a heart space, talking from our thoughts first, rather than from our emotions. ‘Belly up communication is far more effective than a head down approach.’ What do I mean by this? Think of your belly as the seat of your emotions, and your head the center of your thinking or thoughts. Speaking from the belly as the starting point is much more effective and heartfelt than speaking from a head or thinking space.
This may sound odd at first but with practice these variations will become automatic and second nature to you…
So take the time to learn the art of effectively communicating together.
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