'What I Meant Was ... ': Improving Communication Skills for Everyday Talk

Reviewed Jul 10, 2018

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Summary

  • Think before you speak.
  • Avoid “you” statements.
  • Pay attention to and validate the speaker.
  • Avoid bad timing.

We’ve all been there. Across the counter from a customer service representative, taking one step forward and two steps back with each attempt to explain “the problem.” What about those big blow-ups over “nothing”—the ones you spend time and emotional energy on, but which never seem to get to the heart of the matter? And then there are those misunderstandings that keep you talking in circles.

Misunderstanding and conflict are bound to happen when people interact. But you can lessen the rate of these occurrences—and the accompanying headaches—by improving your communication skills. Good communication involves expressing yourself and active listening. Recognizing your areas of weakness and practicing both components will lead to better personal and professional relationships, as well as make everyday conversations more productive and pleasurable.

Expressing yourself

  • Think before you speak. For important matters, you can benefit from a period of self-reflection during which you can identify your true concerns. This point is particularly germane to clashes that erupt over something small. Look for the real reason you are upset, and make sure to communicate that point.
  • Be specific. Don’t leave the listener guessing at your intended meaning.
  • Avoid “you” statements, such as “You never listen to me when the TV is on,” which puts the listener on guard and makes him less likely to see things from your view. Instead try, “I feel like I don’t have your attention while we’re talking if the TV is on.”
  • Don’t bring up past issues that are irrelevant to the issue at hand.
  • Make sure the listener gets your point. Don’t ask, “Do you see what I’m saying?” Instead ask the person you’re speaking with to paraphrase your concern. That way you can clear up any misunderstandings as they come up.
  • Think about how your message may come across. Your word choice, tone of voice and facial expression, as well as your relationship to the person you’re speaking with, play a part in how your message is delivered and its perceived meaning. For example, what you may intend to be advice may come across as disapproval.

Active listening

  • Put yourself in the speaker’s shoes. Changing your outlook will help you to know the intended meaning of what is said.
  • Make eye contact, have relaxed body posture, and nod or use expressions like “I see” and “uh-huh.”
  • Pay attention to the speaker. Try not to focus on your own opinions or make rebuttals.
  • Clarify what you heard by repeating back to the speaker in your own words what was said.
  • Validate what the speaker is saying, whether or not you agree, through expressions such as “I didn’t know you felt that way” or “Give me some examples so I can better understand what you mean.”

Communication hang-ups

Human communication is complicated. Practicing skills of self-expression and active listening will improve your odds for solving problems and avoiding misunderstanding. But hang-ups do happen. Keep these points in mind:

  • Avoid bad timing. Find a time to talk that is appropriate to the situation. Serious talks should take place in a quiet place, free from distraction and interruption.
  • Cool off. Don’t let your emotions take over. If you’re upset, take time to cool off and collect your thoughts.
  • Notice patterns of communication that don’t get you anywhere and try a different approach. For example, instead of asking, “How was school?” try “Tell me about what you’re learning in history right now.”
  • Know that people have different communication styles. Age differences and gender differences can cause misunderstanding. For example, women tend to face each other when talking. Men, however, are often more comfortable talking while sitting side-by-side, such as in a car, or while engaged in an activity. Don’t try to force change in somebody else’s style. Instead, change yours to make conversations more productive.
By Christine P. Martin

Summary

  • Think before you speak.
  • Avoid “you” statements.
  • Pay attention to and validate the speaker.
  • Avoid bad timing.

We’ve all been there. Across the counter from a customer service representative, taking one step forward and two steps back with each attempt to explain “the problem.” What about those big blow-ups over “nothing”—the ones you spend time and emotional energy on, but which never seem to get to the heart of the matter? And then there are those misunderstandings that keep you talking in circles.

Misunderstanding and conflict are bound to happen when people interact. But you can lessen the rate of these occurrences—and the accompanying headaches—by improving your communication skills. Good communication involves expressing yourself and active listening. Recognizing your areas of weakness and practicing both components will lead to better personal and professional relationships, as well as make everyday conversations more productive and pleasurable.

Expressing yourself

  • Think before you speak. For important matters, you can benefit from a period of self-reflection during which you can identify your true concerns. This point is particularly germane to clashes that erupt over something small. Look for the real reason you are upset, and make sure to communicate that point.
  • Be specific. Don’t leave the listener guessing at your intended meaning.
  • Avoid “you” statements, such as “You never listen to me when the TV is on,” which puts the listener on guard and makes him less likely to see things from your view. Instead try, “I feel like I don’t have your attention while we’re talking if the TV is on.”
  • Don’t bring up past issues that are irrelevant to the issue at hand.
  • Make sure the listener gets your point. Don’t ask, “Do you see what I’m saying?” Instead ask the person you’re speaking with to paraphrase your concern. That way you can clear up any misunderstandings as they come up.
  • Think about how your message may come across. Your word choice, tone of voice and facial expression, as well as your relationship to the person you’re speaking with, play a part in how your message is delivered and its perceived meaning. For example, what you may intend to be advice may come across as disapproval.

Active listening

  • Put yourself in the speaker’s shoes. Changing your outlook will help you to know the intended meaning of what is said.
  • Make eye contact, have relaxed body posture, and nod or use expressions like “I see” and “uh-huh.”
  • Pay attention to the speaker. Try not to focus on your own opinions or make rebuttals.
  • Clarify what you heard by repeating back to the speaker in your own words what was said.
  • Validate what the speaker is saying, whether or not you agree, through expressions such as “I didn’t know you felt that way” or “Give me some examples so I can better understand what you mean.”

Communication hang-ups

Human communication is complicated. Practicing skills of self-expression and active listening will improve your odds for solving problems and avoiding misunderstanding. But hang-ups do happen. Keep these points in mind:

  • Avoid bad timing. Find a time to talk that is appropriate to the situation. Serious talks should take place in a quiet place, free from distraction and interruption.
  • Cool off. Don’t let your emotions take over. If you’re upset, take time to cool off and collect your thoughts.
  • Notice patterns of communication that don’t get you anywhere and try a different approach. For example, instead of asking, “How was school?” try “Tell me about what you’re learning in history right now.”
  • Know that people have different communication styles. Age differences and gender differences can cause misunderstanding. For example, women tend to face each other when talking. Men, however, are often more comfortable talking while sitting side-by-side, such as in a car, or while engaged in an activity. Don’t try to force change in somebody else’s style. Instead, change yours to make conversations more productive.
By Christine P. Martin

Summary

  • Think before you speak.
  • Avoid “you” statements.
  • Pay attention to and validate the speaker.
  • Avoid bad timing.

We’ve all been there. Across the counter from a customer service representative, taking one step forward and two steps back with each attempt to explain “the problem.” What about those big blow-ups over “nothing”—the ones you spend time and emotional energy on, but which never seem to get to the heart of the matter? And then there are those misunderstandings that keep you talking in circles.

Misunderstanding and conflict are bound to happen when people interact. But you can lessen the rate of these occurrences—and the accompanying headaches—by improving your communication skills. Good communication involves expressing yourself and active listening. Recognizing your areas of weakness and practicing both components will lead to better personal and professional relationships, as well as make everyday conversations more productive and pleasurable.

Expressing yourself

  • Think before you speak. For important matters, you can benefit from a period of self-reflection during which you can identify your true concerns. This point is particularly germane to clashes that erupt over something small. Look for the real reason you are upset, and make sure to communicate that point.
  • Be specific. Don’t leave the listener guessing at your intended meaning.
  • Avoid “you” statements, such as “You never listen to me when the TV is on,” which puts the listener on guard and makes him less likely to see things from your view. Instead try, “I feel like I don’t have your attention while we’re talking if the TV is on.”
  • Don’t bring up past issues that are irrelevant to the issue at hand.
  • Make sure the listener gets your point. Don’t ask, “Do you see what I’m saying?” Instead ask the person you’re speaking with to paraphrase your concern. That way you can clear up any misunderstandings as they come up.
  • Think about how your message may come across. Your word choice, tone of voice and facial expression, as well as your relationship to the person you’re speaking with, play a part in how your message is delivered and its perceived meaning. For example, what you may intend to be advice may come across as disapproval.

Active listening

  • Put yourself in the speaker’s shoes. Changing your outlook will help you to know the intended meaning of what is said.
  • Make eye contact, have relaxed body posture, and nod or use expressions like “I see” and “uh-huh.”
  • Pay attention to the speaker. Try not to focus on your own opinions or make rebuttals.
  • Clarify what you heard by repeating back to the speaker in your own words what was said.
  • Validate what the speaker is saying, whether or not you agree, through expressions such as “I didn’t know you felt that way” or “Give me some examples so I can better understand what you mean.”

Communication hang-ups

Human communication is complicated. Practicing skills of self-expression and active listening will improve your odds for solving problems and avoiding misunderstanding. But hang-ups do happen. Keep these points in mind:

  • Avoid bad timing. Find a time to talk that is appropriate to the situation. Serious talks should take place in a quiet place, free from distraction and interruption.
  • Cool off. Don’t let your emotions take over. If you’re upset, take time to cool off and collect your thoughts.
  • Notice patterns of communication that don’t get you anywhere and try a different approach. For example, instead of asking, “How was school?” try “Tell me about what you’re learning in history right now.”
  • Know that people have different communication styles. Age differences and gender differences can cause misunderstanding. For example, women tend to face each other when talking. Men, however, are often more comfortable talking while sitting side-by-side, such as in a car, or while engaged in an activity. Don’t try to force change in somebody else’s style. Instead, change yours to make conversations more productive.
By Christine P. Martin

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