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

Reviewed Sep 20, 2015

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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 1 step forward and 2 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 minimize the frequency of these occurrences—and the accompanying headaches—simply 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 improved 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 arguments 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 the defensive and makes him less likely to see things from your perspective. 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 understands your point. Don’t just 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 arise.
  • Think about how your message may come across, called the metamessage. 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 perspective will help you to understand the intended meaning of what is said.
  • Show your respect for the speaker and a genuine desire to listen by making eye contact, maintaining body posture that is relaxed, and nodding or using expressions like “I see” and “uh-huh.”
  • Pay attention to the speaker. Try not to focus on your own opinions or formulate 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 certainly improve your odds for solving problems and avoiding misunderstanding. But hang-ups do occur. Keep these points in mind:

  • Avoid bad timing. Find a time to talk that is appropriate to the situation. Serious conversations should take place in a quiet place, free from distraction and interruption.
  • Cool off! Although it’s important to communicate your feelings, don’t let your emotions take over. If you’re upset, take time to cool off and collect your thoughts.
  • Recognize 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.”
  • Understand 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, adapt yours to make conversations more productive.

Resource

Messages: The Communication Skills Book by Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning. New Harbinger Publications, 2009.

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 1 step forward and 2 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 minimize the frequency of these occurrences—and the accompanying headaches—simply 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 improved 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 arguments 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 the defensive and makes him less likely to see things from your perspective. 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 understands your point. Don’t just 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 arise.
  • Think about how your message may come across, called the metamessage. 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 perspective will help you to understand the intended meaning of what is said.
  • Show your respect for the speaker and a genuine desire to listen by making eye contact, maintaining body posture that is relaxed, and nodding or using expressions like “I see” and “uh-huh.”
  • Pay attention to the speaker. Try not to focus on your own opinions or formulate 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 certainly improve your odds for solving problems and avoiding misunderstanding. But hang-ups do occur. Keep these points in mind:

  • Avoid bad timing. Find a time to talk that is appropriate to the situation. Serious conversations should take place in a quiet place, free from distraction and interruption.
  • Cool off! Although it’s important to communicate your feelings, don’t let your emotions take over. If you’re upset, take time to cool off and collect your thoughts.
  • Recognize 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.”
  • Understand 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, adapt yours to make conversations more productive.

Resource

Messages: The Communication Skills Book by Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning. New Harbinger Publications, 2009.

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 1 step forward and 2 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 minimize the frequency of these occurrences—and the accompanying headaches—simply 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 improved 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 arguments 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 the defensive and makes him less likely to see things from your perspective. 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 understands your point. Don’t just 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 arise.
  • Think about how your message may come across, called the metamessage. 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 perspective will help you to understand the intended meaning of what is said.
  • Show your respect for the speaker and a genuine desire to listen by making eye contact, maintaining body posture that is relaxed, and nodding or using expressions like “I see” and “uh-huh.”
  • Pay attention to the speaker. Try not to focus on your own opinions or formulate 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 certainly improve your odds for solving problems and avoiding misunderstanding. But hang-ups do occur. Keep these points in mind:

  • Avoid bad timing. Find a time to talk that is appropriate to the situation. Serious conversations should take place in a quiet place, free from distraction and interruption.
  • Cool off! Although it’s important to communicate your feelings, don’t let your emotions take over. If you’re upset, take time to cool off and collect your thoughts.
  • Recognize 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.”
  • Understand 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, adapt yours to make conversations more productive.

Resource

Messages: The Communication Skills Book by Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning. New Harbinger Publications, 2009.

By Christine P. Martin

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