In my opinion, the most important life skills that we can learn is how to communicate.
It’s a skill that we can use in almost any situation.
Unfortunately, most of us aren’t taught how to communicate.
Instead, we learn how to communicate through osmosis.
We learn by watching and imitating others – our parents, our friends, TV and movies.
The problem is that most of them don’t really know how to communicate either. At least not in a way that leads to authentic communication. Not in a way that leads to healthy, quality relationships.
So if we want to improve our communication skills, if we want to improve our relationships, we’re left to our own devices.
The great news is that communication is a skill just like any other.
We can learn how to communicate just as we can learn anything else. Through practice and repetition.
Below are five simple communication strategies that you can use to improve your relationships.
Pause Before Responding
Pausing before responding is a particularly useful strategy when you’re having a difficult or contentious conversation.
When someone stops speaking, we often feel that we have to jump in right away with our response.
But our initial response normally comes directly from our ego.
Next time, instead of responding immediately, wait one second, two seconds, five seconds, before responding.
You might be surprised with how your response changes during that pause.
Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood
If you’re familiar with Steven Covey’s bestseller, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, then you’ve seen this phrase before.
Unfortunately, we often approach communication with the opposite intention.
We want the other person to understand us. We see our own perspective as correct and the other person’s as flawed.
We expect that once they understand our perspective, they’ll magically change their perspective.
Instead, the opposite often happens. Both parties become more entrenched in their positions.
An alternative is to begin by focusing on better understanding where the other person is coming from. You can use phrases like:
- Can you tell me more about that?
- That’s interesting but I’m not sure I understand.
- Is there anything else you’d like to share about this?
Check In For Understanding
We often assume that we understand the other person’s perspective.
But rather than assuming, we’d be best off making sure that our assumptions are correct.
The best way to do this is to simply ask the other person.
Paraphrase what they’ve said and then ask them if what you’ve said is what they wanted to communicate.
Use Tentative Language
We have a tendency to present our opinions as if they’re facts. This only leads the other person to become defensive.
Instead, try using tentative language. Introduce your ideas and opinions using phrases such as:
- I could be wrong about this…
- It appears that…
- I’m not exactly sure about this….
You get the idea. You can play with these to come up with phrases that resonate with your style of speaking.
Remember That Words Can’t Harm You
Children are fond of repeating the phrase: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.”
As adults, we tend to forget this wise advice.
If someone says something we don’t like, or something we don’t agree with, we feel that we have to respond.
But we don’t.
If you have a healthy self-esteem, you’ll realize that other people can’t hurt you with their words.
Let them say whatever they want about you. Be strong in your knowledge of who you really are.
And recognize that anyone who says something negative about you is probably having a bad day and dealing with their own issues.
If you want to incorporate any of these strategies into your life, my suggestion is to pick one and practice it for about 30 days.
Once you feel you’ve mastered that strategy, and it’s become a regular part of your communication, then you can add another one,
One final note: while my post focused on challenging and contentious situations, many of these strategies can be used in any communication situation.