Do you ever find yourself in a conversation that feels more like two different discussions happening simultaneously? Have you ever tried to express an important idea, but ended up feeling frustrated because your audience “missed the point?” Have you been in a conversation where you and a colleague dance around the topic without ever seeing eye-to-eye? I’m guessing the answer is “yes,” because we’ve all been there.
Luckily, you can say goodbye to those misunderstandings and unnecessary frustrations today. How? By using these 10 easy strategies for effective communication.
10 Strategies for Effective Communication
Time and place:
You’ve heard the saying, “This is neither the time nor the place,” right? Keep this simple statement in mind when you want to have an important conversation. Make sure you are in an environment free of distraction, and that you have enough time to fully discuss the topic.
For example, trying to simultaneously discuss budgeting issues with your partner while getting the kids ready for school, and knowing that you have work in 15 minutes is probably not the best time or place.
Instead, give your partner a heads up: “Hey, after the kids go to sleep tonight, can we plan our budget for next month?” This way, you are giving them time to think about the topic, and you’re also setting aside a specific time when you are both available.
Free yourself from distractions:
For better or worse, we live in a society that runs on distractions. Our phones chime with every Facebook notification, text, tweet, and Instagram post. Our watches ping when we receive a new email and vibrate if we’ve been sitting too long. Our inboxes fill with work emails, calendar notifications, and so. many. store. advertisements (seriously, how many times do I have to unsubscribe??)
So when you sit down for a conversation, banish those distractions. Turn off the television. Shut down your computer. Leave your phone in another room. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a partially-engaged listener, someone checking their newsfeed, responding to an email, or going over their calendar during your conversation, you know how it feels to be “second” in importance. It hurts. So if you want to practice effective communication, leave those distractions out, and fully engage in the now.
Okay – you’ve established a proper time and place and you are both distraction free. Steps one and two… check! Now it’s time to talk.
Probably the most important thing to remember during this conversation is that effective communication is a two-way street. It involves both talking and listening. Let’s look at some key strategies for success in both:
Take your time:
Occasionally, when people have a new idea that they cannot wait to share, or they are discussing something in which they are deeply invested, their speech increases tenfold. They race through their ideas without thinking specifically about what they want to say or how they want to say it. Have you ever been there before? I know I have.
In a best-case scenario, this results in confusion, and you end up spending additional time trying to fully explain your idea. In a worst-case scenario (a heated argument, for example), tempers flare, ideas get muddled, and you might end up saying something that you later regret. Obviously, neither one of these options are ideal situations.
So next time you’re sitting down to have a conversation, take your time. Think about what you want to say, and remember that it’s okay to pause and choose your words carefully. In the end, it will save a lot of time, confusion, and potential hurt feelings.
Use “I” rather than “you”:
This is an especially important strategy when discussing a problem or issue that you want to see resolved. If you’re talking with a friend about her habit of canceling plans at the last minute, for example, avoid saying, “Why do you always cancel on me?”
Why is this question problematic? It has two trigger words. (Can you spot them?)
The problem is the combination of “you” and “always.” With an emphasis on “you,” the sentence gets accusatory, while “always” puts unnecessary stress in the comment. In other words, it makes the accusation feel more like an attack.
Instead, try flipping the statement around and focus on how her behavior makes you feel. Why is her behavior a problem for you? Perhaps you might say, “I often feel hurt/let down when our plans get canceled so last minute, because I’m so excited to see you. What can we do to make next week work?”
With just this slight shift in tone, you successfully tell your friend why her behavior is hurtful without accusation, and you work together to figure out a solution. Easy, right?
With whatever topic you are discussing, remain focused on the main idea. It is so easy to branch off on a tangent or focus on minute details. Don’t get me wrong, details are good; just make sure you and the other person are on the same page about the big stuff, first.
Observe non-verbal cues:
There are many different statistics out there about the importance of body language in communication. Some people argue as much as 93% of communication is non-verbal. (Read more here). Regardless of the specific percentage, the big takeaway is that words only convey a slice of the information.
So pay attention to the body language of your partner. What is their face telling you? Are they smiling? Frowning? Rolling their eyes? Are their arms crossed in front of them? Are they fidgeting? All of these different behaviors can tell you more about how they are reacting to your ideas, which in turn, gives you clues on how to proceed.
Provide your own non-verbal cues of engagement:
Just as you can learn a lot from your partner’s body language, they can also learn a lot from yours. So when you are having a conversation, maintain eye contact to show your engagement. Uncross your arms and let them know you are open to other ideas. Lean forward slightly and indicate your interest in what they have to say. Nod your head to show signs of understanding. All of these small actions add up quickly to a healthy and productive discussion.
Listen for tone of voice:
Tone of voice is so important in a conversation. Let me give you a simple example to demonstrate my point. Think of all the different meanings the word “sure” might suggest. It could be a simple agreement said in a light, upbeat voice. “Sure!” It could be a curt, clipped response of frustration. “SURE.” It could be a long, drawn-out “suuuuuure” suggesting suspicion or disbelief.
As another example to which my husband will quickly attest: the importance of tone in the harmless phrase, “I’m fine.” Because let’s face it – “I’m fine” does not always mean, “I’m fine.” Are you with me?
So as your conversation unfolds, keep your tone of voice – for both you and your partner – in mind. It adds so much meaning to the words.
At all times:
Keep an open mind:
Whether you are speaking or listening, keeping an open and flexible mindset allows for a much more productive conversation. While you may not agree on an issue or idea, keeping an open mind helps you understand and empathize with the other person’s perspective. What’s more, if you both enter the conversation in this way, it is much easier to strike a compromise.
Let’s face it, sometimes conversations are frustrating. And while it is difficult to maintain your patience during these moments, it is also critical for success. How can you accomplish this seemingly impossible task? Remind yourself that you both want to solve the same problem. You both care about the topic enough to have strong opinions on it, which means that you share some common ground. Focus on that commonality. You both may need to bend a bit to find a compromise, but by keeping that bigger goal in mind, you will find a solution.
At the same time, you may need to take a break from the conversation in order to maintain that patience. That’s absolutely okay, too. Decide on a specific time and place when you can return to the topic refreshed. This approach allows you time to think about your partner’s perspective. That way when you reconvene, you can continue implementing the above strategies of effective conversation, and reach your end goal of understanding, acceptance, and compromise.
So that’s it! 10 easy strategies for effective communication. Totally doable, right?
Do you have any additional tips? What do you find most effective when communicating with those in your life? Let me know below!
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