Being an Effective Communicator
Communication is one of the basic elements in resilience. Effective communication is one of the keys to building resilience and maintaining balance in your life. If we do not communicate clearly and directly with others, we will not understand and we will not be understood. If people are to talk with you and share information, especially if they are to say things that may be difficult to say or for you to hear, they need to know that they are connecting with you. They need encouragement. If you meet their attempts to communicate with silence, or if you assume the attitude of interrogator, you will not put other people at ease and you will not encourage them to tell you what you need to know.
To be effective in understanding another’s perspective and helping them through a difficult time, you need to do things which show interest and genuine concern. In the last blog, we discussed four of these: Using neutral expressions, such as “I see,” “Go on,” “I understand,” etc., nodding your head or smiling, echoing back or simply rephrasing what the person has said and asking good questions of people, questions that are open-ended and that encourage people to talk.
Here are two more ways of encouraging people to talk and improving your effectiveness as a communicator:
Get down to details. If, for example, on a medical crisis you are trying to find out what is happening, be specific. One of the major blocks to communicating in a crisis is the inability of people to describe exactly what was said or done by another person. Being able to accurately describe what happened is often essential to being able to understand a very tense and complex situation.
Being specific requires that you focus on observable actions of others without making value judgments or interpretations of what they meant. As a society, we love to talk in generalities. We often accuse people of behaving in a certain way because of a motive or a value that we believe is hidden behind their behavior. It can be important to look at people’s motives, but at this point in the process, that is not your goal. Your goal is to try to understand what is happening and what people did and said.
Reflect back to others what they are saying. This is a technique frequently used by counselors. It is a very effective way of helping people hear themselves and understand what they are saying. Very often, people need to say things out loud, and they need to hear other people’s reactions.
When you reflect back what a person is saying, you are not simply trying to say the same thing with different words. It is not a slick use of language that you are trying to achieve. You say back to the person what his or her statement meant to you. This gives the person you are talking with an opportunity to hear themselves, to hear your impressions of what they are saying and to correct you if the impression that they are giving is not accurate. It is also another way of letting people know that you care about what they are saying and that they matter to you.
Here is an example. Your friend may make a general statement that you respond to with a specific statement. For example, she may say, “I can’t eat anything I like since I was diagnosed with diabetes.” And you may respond by saying, “You like certain vegetables? You mean you can’t even eat those now?” Sometimes your specific statement may be humorous and may encourage your friend to look more realistically at the situation that she is confronting and to not exaggerate or generalize.
The reverse may also be true. Your friend may list the things that she hates about her new diet, and you may respond by making a general statement, like, “It sounds like there’s not much on your diet that you really like.”
What your friend is saying may also bring to mind an example that you believe reflects what she is trying to say. For example, your friend is saying that she has been hesitant to go out to restaurants since she was diagnosed with diabetes. You recall that she turned down an invitation from you and your family to try a new restaurant that had just opened. You may want to mention this as an example.
Ron Breazeale Ph.D.