It is only through communication that human beings are able to convey their thoughts, ideas and opinions to others. Every successful relation is based upon how strong and effectively people in that relation reach each other. The failure to properly communicate with others lead to misunderstandings, distances and friction which cause weakening of relations.
Through this article, we will try to discuss factors that can help us communicate effectively to people.
Understanding the purpose of the conversation:
Think before you speak is the key to successful conversation. While you may think that will thinking every time before you speak will slow you down and may impact the flow of conversation, the good news is that you just need to think pretty much at the start of the conversation. What is the purpose of the conversation? Is it casual chat? Is it getting to know the other person? Do I want to share something that happened over the weekend or address a problem or a behaviour? Take a look at the pictures below to see how the focus of conversation shifts based on the purpose of the conversation and context.
Understand the listener’s frame of mind:
Evaluate how is your listener, communication partner feeling? Are they really in the frame of mind to listen to you? Is this the appropriate time? Determining the mood and frame of mind of your listener can help you set the tone of the conversation. It may also guide you to choose your words carefully. We all connect well with people with whom we can relate. Words play a very vital role in building the connection. Sometimes using the words that your communication partner uses can help build rapport. Similarly matching the pace of the conversation with your communication partner can also be helpful. Some people may take their time to respond, it might be that they need some additional processing time to think over what’s being said, giving them the needed time and slowing down the pace of your conversation can ensure that they are able to follow what you are saying.
Similarly if someone appears stressed or tired, it is better to keep the communication limited to short sentences and direct. It reduces the cognitive processing e.g. instead of saying “Will you mind going to the shops and getting milk as there is no milk for tea?”, use “Can you go to shops to get milk?”. Similarly direct communication; stating what you want, using more verbs can also add more clarity to your message and what you expect.
A balanced conversation includes asking questions, commenting, narrating and describing, complimenting others, expressing your opinion etc. If we largely lose only questioning or commenting for majority of our conversation, people may start to lose interest as the conversation does not remain interactive and 2 way traffic.
For some people, initiating conversation includes asking questions only. This might be due to many reasons; asking someone a question shifts the focus of the conversation on the other person as they have to answer-this is particularly true when people are often unfamiliar with each other or do not feel that they know what to talk about so they choose to ask questions, people with low self esteem or high anxiety levels may also ask a lot of questions as they think that it is important for the other person to feel important (like an interviewer taking an interview of a celebrity) or they need constant reassurance.
Being precisely clear in what you want to express is foremost essential step. Many times people say “Look there”, “Can you bring me that?”. These words “There” and “That” could mean any and many things to different people, especially people with communication difficulties and people on autism spectrum disorder. It is therefore the best to use specific names or terms instead of these general words. Remember no one is able to read your mind so you have to use proper words to reflect.
Sometimes people can go off the tangent, especially if they are detail oriented, because everything to them is important and needs to be quoted. One valuable tip is to consider the main point of conversation and think of the details as the branches/tributaries of the main topic.
Make your discussion intertwined with the main topic that you are discussing. Also you can say “So really what I feel is XYZ (main conclusion/highlight)” if you feel that you’ve gone off the tangent as it will help your communication partner to understand what you are really wanting to communicate.
Mode of communication:
Medium of communication can change the entire meaning of the same sentence. If you say anything to someone in person, it would mean different. If you say the same on phone, write it in email or text message, it may mean entirely different. For example ‘minute’ (time) and ‘minute’ (quantity) spell the same. “It’s a minute task” can mean both to people. The best communication is in person because the body language, emotions and voice augment the words while with other mediums of communication, the supplementary factors are often missing which can increase the chances of misunderstandings. Therefore when in doubt, seek clarification and confirmation from other person rather than following an assumption.
Be interested in what you want to say. Make your voice reflect your interest. If you feel bored talking about something, then your listeners would feel more bored too. Speak in a voice that is understandable by other people, if you speak too softly, people may have to constantly ask you again and again or they may make a word in their mind to complete the sense of sentence spoken by you which they couldn’t understand and didn’t bother asking you again.
A monotonous style with all the words said in a same tone will bring boredom to the listener and the other person may miss the point you want to emphasise. Bring variations in your speaking with special emphasis on the words you want to highlight. Variation and voice fluctuations are very important. A nice example to consider how voice fluctuations can change the meaning of what you are saying is presented below.
“I didn’t tell her you were stupid.” (Somebody else told her.)
“I didn’t tell her you were stupid.” (I emphatically did not.)
“I didn’t tell her you were stupid.” (I implied it.)
“I didn’t tell her you were stupid.” (I told someone else.)
“I didn’t tell her you were stupid.” (I told her someone else was stupid.)
“I didn’t tell her you were stupid.” (I told her you’re still stupid.)
“I didn’t tell her you were stupid.” (I told her something else about you.)
When communicating electronically, you can use the capitals, quotation marks or underline to highlight what you are saying.
More ‘WE”, less “ME”:
The more a conversation is about ‘me, myself & I’ the more easily listeners would lose interest. Try taking other people’s opinion so they remain interested and active. For example if you want to take any opinion, instead of asking “What should I do?” try saying “What should we do about it?” or “What would you have done if you were in a similar situation like this?” Mind power published by Readers Digest stated that when people feel unhealthy and sick, they start using “I” word more and when they are recovering towards health, they start using the “You” word more.
Our attention span is on average 9 seconds, with most people unable to pay attention to same thought for more than 20 minutes. It is natural for people to lose interest and focus if the conversation goes for too long, unless both parties are genuinely interested in it. The good news is that people can often re-focus on the thought.
To make sure that your communication partner stays interested in conversation, time your communication. Take breaks, let the other person do the talking, so the listener mind can start the second cycle of attention and concentration span. If you talk for long without taking breaks, people would forget and not pay more attention to what you are saying.
In “Men are from Mars women are from Venus” John Gray mentions that men do not like to listen to long conversations compared to females who like to have long conversations. He suggests that to tell a detailed story to a man, tell him the conclusion first and then move backwards towards the start. To make a female listen with all her ears on, start with the beginning and then proceed to conclusion.
Let the other person speak complete what they want to say:
Try not to interrupt or cut the other person till he/she hasn’t finished describing their point of view at least once. A person asked a student standing outside the school gate “Do you have time?” and the student replied immediately “No” as he was going to sit in his school bus. The person asking the question was referring to if the student could tell them the time, but the student interpreted it as being asked if they had time for something.
Positive words , minimum use of negative words and neutral words:
Every word carries an impact, like an electric charge. Imagine reading a newspaper that presents the result of a match played between two teams. One heading is team A defeated team B, other is team A won the match. Which of the two headlines makes you feel ‘less negative’? The more positive words you will use, the more people will like to listen to you and enjoy your company. Try using lesser negative, lesser severe words. You can also change the “charge” of the conversation by using alternative words. For example instead of saying “I hate it when you’re running late and there is traffic block”, try saying “Wouldn’t it be nice to have less traffic especially when you’re running late?” Likewise do not ask the questions that cannot be answered honestly. For example people would never give honest answer to “Isn’t my cooking best”? . They can be more open if you ask them “Suggest me on how to improve my cooking?”
Avoid beginning your answer or conversation with “no” like “I don’t agree”. People at times may become defensive and start taking things personally once they feel that they are proven wrong. Alternatively ask them “Ok what would be your opinion if we can do it this way?” and suggest your way if you don’t agree to the speaker at first place. The use of neutral words can also bridge the gap and difference of opinions such as “I can see your point”, “I understand what you’re saying”, “I hear you”, “It’s an interesting way of looking at it”, “I appreciate it that you have thought about it” etc. In all these sentences, you are not agreeing, nor negating the person but reassuring and acknowledging what they are saying. Many conflicts and arguments arise when people feel that they are not being listened to.
Similarly finishing the conversation on a positive note can ensure that your communication partners feel happy and look forward to catching up with you again.
A bit similar to the point above; the more vocabulary you have, the more easier it would be for you to explain and communicate yourself to others in direct, precise and concise words. Communication and cognition are interlinked and the more word knowledge we have, the more world knowledge we acquire. However it is important to not overwhelm the communication partners with difficult words that they have to use dictionary every 2-3 minutes.
Supportive body language:
Show genuine interest through your body language, facial expressions, tone of voice according to the type of conversation you are having. Use these to determine if a topic of conversation is getting too boring for the communication partner.
If you speak something contradictory to what your body language is signalling, the other person will not understand you well and will remain confused and in doubts.
Written by Muhammad Wasif Haq (2012)
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