“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is that we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” Roy T. Bennett
What is effective communication? Effective communication is achieved when two parties correctly understand and exchange information in a meaningful and respectful way. Effective communication is important because often individuals are not communicating what they intend or are not interpreting what is communicated correctly. In order to achieve the most effective communication, there must be consistency between the words used, the tone of voice, and the body language. Communication is a cornerstone in our lives, our relationships, and our interaction with the world.
The context and intended audience greatly affect our manner of communicating. When speaking with friends or family, one’s style is very different from when speaking with a superior at work or authority figure. Some communication styles are more effective than others.
Passive communication prioritizes another’s feelings, needs, and wants over one’s own. Individuals do not stand up for themselves, can appear to be soft spoken and quiet, may lack confidence, and often are not taken seriously. Aggressive communication prioritizes the speaker’s own feelings, needs, and wants above others’. This causes the listener to feel the speaker is disrespectful, judgmental, and unwilling to compromise.
Assertive communication or “balanced communication” is what we should strive for. When communicating assertively, the individual is valuing the needs of the other party as equal to their own. A respectful balance of listening and responding ensures effective and productive communication between two parties. Assertive communication does not come naturally to most people. We must work to develop these skills as they enable us to have authentic relationships, navigate differences and conflict, and ensure that what we are saying is what the listener is hearing.
Unhealthy communication often starts with negative thoughts or difficult emotions. People must recognize their own intent and contributing factors regarding why they are speaking, because speaking out of emotion without incorporating reason is often unproductive and hurtful. It is not wrong to have feelings motivate our speaking, though it is important they do not discolor the content.
Active listening is the better skill to practice than talking. Active listening is taking a genuine interest in the other person, a curiosity rather than an anticipative mind. It often involves full attention to the speaker, nonverbal involvement showing attentiveness, not judging, and tolerating silence.
Tips for more effective communication include:
- Listen and reflect.
- Give full attention to the speaker. (Put the phone down or turn off the tv.)
- Be direct but diplomatic.
- Pay attention to your body language.
- Respect the other individual’s space.
- Look them in the eyes.
- Maintain an open stance.
- Notice the tone of your voice. (Is it loud, tense, irritated, insecure, or fearful?)
Alison Curtis, MS, LPC Intern, provides individual, couple, and family therapy in our Sterling VA office. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation with Alison.