6 Essential Steps to Better Communication

Connecting with people makes us feel good, and communication is a sacred part of that process. We all have a strong need for connectivity and belonging. This is why positive social interactions increase our subjective wellbeing and provide greater life satisfaction (Lyubomirsky, 2008), But often we forget just how much goes into communicating with someone.

Like relationships, communication is not a “vacuum”, it requires give and take… and effective communication considers contect, delivery, and most importantly, how the message is heard.

Dr. Lori S. Katz describes effective communication as “communication that is received in the way it is intended” (2015), and compares it to throwing a ball.

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One person tosses the ball with the intention that the recipient will catch it. This requires a good enough toss and a completed catch. It helps if both the tosser and catcher are paying attention and motivated to complete the catch. If the ball is not tossed well, it may or may not make it to the recipient. Or if the recipient is not ready to catch, the ball could be dropped.

Lori Katz, (2020)

Effective Communication

With the ball tossing example in mind, we can see that effective communication is much more than being assertive. Sometimes being assertive is a good way to deliver a message, and other times it may not be. “The most effective communication considers context” (Katz, 2020).

For example, sometimes delaying communicating is most effective (e.g. if someone is angry or in a bad mood, it may be best not to engage in conversation at that time.) During these times, assertiveness can be interpreted as being too pushy… and in this case, the message would be received, but not in the way it was intended, in turn leading the conversation astray.

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We’ve all been there, there’s a time for talking and times it should wait. We aren’t at our best when we are in a bad mood or are angry, therefore the information we receive at that time will be filtered through the lense of our current emotion. More often than not, this is when things get misinterpreted.

You are responsible for what you say and how you say it. Sometimes people impulsively express their hurt and anger without regard to considering the outcome. “While you may want to say how you feel and hope that your communication will bring you closer together (e.g., improve understanding, allow for forgiveness, and increase trust and intimacy), if it is not packaged well, it may end up increasing your distance (e.g., amplify hurt and bitterness)” (Katz, 2020). “The way we decode a message is never the objective reality. We all have our own filters and explanatory styles which create the picture of the world as we see it” (Ohlin, 2020).

It’s also important to remember that interactions with people can be verbal or nonverbalwe can even connect with each other through a smile.

Philosophy of Communication

In his Four-Sides model of communication, Friedemann Schulz von Thun (1981) points out that every message has four facets to it:

  1. Fact: What I inform about (data, facts, statements);
  2. Self-revealing: What I reveal about myself (information about the sender);
  3. Relationship: What I think about you (information about how we get along);
  4. Appeal: What I want to make you do (an attempt to influence the receiver).

The same emphasis cannot be put on each of the four faucets, and the emphasis can be meant and understood differently. For instance, a wife saying “the sugar jar is empty” may be less about the fact that there’s no sugar left in the jar, and may instead be a prompt for her husband to go and fill the jar (Ohlin, 2020).

To make things even more complex, as a reciever we tend to have one of the four “ears” particularly well trained (factual ear, relationship ear, self revelation ear or appeal ear).

So if the husband has a well-trained relationship ear, he may decode the sentence to be something like “you are unreliable since you have forgotten to refill the sugar jar,” and he might retort with something like, “Well you are not very reliable, you still haven’t fixed the light in the kitchen!”

Does this type of conversation seem familiar? Things can unravel rather quickly when we are not hearing each other…

“The underlying emphasis of both the sender and the receiver on the four facets can create a barrier to healthy communication. It’s important to understand that what we hear may not be what the other person was trying to get across” (Ohlin, 2020).

In order to engage in healthy communication, we need to be aware of the four faucets. So the next time you feel questioned, go back and review the four faucets. How else could you have interpreted the message?

Which “ear” is your best developed “ear”?

Essential Strategies

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A vital element of positive social interaction, however, is good communication (Ohlin, 2020). But what does that signify? What does a healthy conversation look like? Below we’ll discuss some essential strategies to improving your communication habits:

  • Check the context. Scan the enviornment, read the context of what’s going on, and assess how your recipient is feeling. Are they upset about something else, or relaxed and open to having a conversation? Is this a good time to bring up an important issue? Are they ready and able to hear what you have to say? Are you aware of certain sensitivities based on yours or the recipient’s past? Again, the purpose of communicating is to successfully deliver a message in the way that it is intended.
  • Check your own emotional level. Are you having a strong feeling or irritated about something unrelated to the person with whom you are talking? Is something in the present triggering something from your past? If so, you may project emotions from your personal situation/feelings/emotions onto the other person by way of affecting your delivery. Ground yourself and breathe before talking.
  • What’s the message? Is your message clear, or are you sending mixed messages? In order to avoid confusing the recipient, setting you up for miscommunication and further upset, Insure that your message is clear and your delivery is clear as well.
  • Pay attention to how your message is packaged. If your message is about an important issue, think of it like a fragile vase being sent by snail mail. You want to make sure that it’s packaged appropriately so it isn’t delivered in pieces. If you have a sensitive message, package it securely.

“You may intend to share an important feeling, but if it is packaged as blaming, accusing or threatening, the conversation will likely quickly devolve” (Katz, 2020).

A safe way to do this is to focus on how you are feeling by communicating using an “I-message”, such as, “I feel (hurt, lonely, etc,) when you (don’t answer your phone, leave the dishes in the sink, etc)”. Avoid using a “You-message”, such as “You never answer the my text messages,” or “Why do you keep our daughter’s clothes from this house when you know it upsets me?” Messages sent with as “You-messages” will quickly result in a fight.

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  • Be a good listener. More important than delivering good communication is being a good recipient. Listen not only to words, but also the tone of their voice and their body language. What is the emotion they are conveying? “As a guideline, if you can read the other person’s feelings, you will vastly improve your communication skills” (Katz, 2020). Have empathy and work towards understanding the other person’s point of view. “When people feel heard, they will be much more likely to be open to hearing you too” (Katz, 2020).
  • Reflect. Reflect on what you heard the other person say. This is not only confirmation for you that you heard it correctly, but very satisfying for the person who delivered the communication.

Tips to set yourself up for effective communication:

  1. Consider the timing and mood of your recipient.
  2. Check your own emotional level.
  3. Be responsible for delivering clear communication.
  4. Consider using I-messages to avoid blaming or putting others on the defensive.
  5. Be a good listener (attentive) when receiving a communication.

In summary, communication requires at least two people: the sender and the reciver. And Communication is only effective if it is recieved in the way that it is intended.

I challenge you to continue to work on emotional self-regulation, breathing, grounding, and positive self talk. Start by writing what you want to communicate down. First drafts may have strong emotions, but writing them down first give you the chance to express them. Do not send this draft! In the second draft, consider how the other person is going to recieve your message. Make it a priority to insure you are being empathetic with how they are feeling, and that you’re considering how you are packaging your communication. What may possibly influence your delivery? Are you are in a good mental mindset? Maybe sandwich something positive with a more sensitive topic. And finally, reflect back on what you hear and ask for clarification if you are unsure.

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References:

Katz, Lori (Aug, 08, 2020), Psychology Today: 5 Essential Strategies for Effective Communication, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/healing-sexual-trauma/202008/5-essential-strategies-effective-communication

Ohlin, Brigit (July, 11, 2020), Positive Psychology: 7 Ways to Improve Communication in Relationships, https://positivepsychology.com/communication-in-relationships/

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