Communicating with others effectively

Communication, we use it every day to accomplish both simple and complex tasks.  We use it on a personal level with family, friends and work colleagues and also out in public while driving, shopping, etc,.  We learn how to get our needs met and how to function in society properly by communicating effectively with those around us.  Even though, for the most part, we are good at communicating with others, it is easy to see where misunderstandings occur.  There can be several reasons for this.

From our past experience and knowledge, we will apply meaning to the things we hear and see.  We come to know what certain things mean over time, for example red lights on a road mean stop, if someone smiles and says hi they are giving us a friendly greeting.  These obvious things are not what usually cause us problems though, it is the more unfamiliar nuances of individual people’s behaviour and the language and expressions they use that can lead us to misunderstanding their message.

When someone intends one message, but the person receiving the message picks it up differently than it was intended, this will lead to confusion, anger or conflict. Before allowing yourself to become indignant, angry or upset, it makes sense to clarify what the message actually was.  This could involve, delicately saying it back to the person as you understand it and ask them if that is what they meant.

You must also take great care that your message is actually being understood in the manner you intended it.  Look for reactions that will tell you if your message has been taken out of context or just simply not understood as you anticipated. I have found often that this can be the case and I can see when I’m being misunderstood and so try to explain my message in more detail.  Unfortunately, even with lots of further explanations the message can still not always get through as intended. The reason for this seems to be from pre-judgments on things we find familiar.

Our minds work like filters, processing countless images, words and behaviours we encounter so that we can make sense of them.  A way for our minds to cope with all of this is to recognise when something has happened before and look for a judgement we have already made and can apply to the current situation.  People can do this too with the people they encounter on a regular basis as you get used to the interactions and so don’t put forward the same amount of effort in understanding and figuring them out.  It is easy to see then, how we can make snap judgements that are unfair and where the message we received was not actually meant by the other person.  It is important to remember that when a conflict arises, we should not just presume that we understood correctly what the other person meant.  We should attempt to clarify it before we decide on how we feel about it.

It is rare that a person will intentionally insult, demean or invalidate you on purpose, though of course there are people like that. It is more usual that people do this without thinking, or without the ability to see the effect their words or actions have on another person.  They can also be stressed, upset or angry themselves and lose the ability to communicate effectively with you.  We are all guilty of things like this occasionally.

Knowing this, we can change the way we think about our communication with others to avoid if possible, or fix if necessary, any conflicts or arguments that may arise.

The most important thing, as always, is to stay as calm as possible, try to really listen to the other person and request that they also listen to you. Really try to express yourself honestly and calmly and without assigning blame to the other person. Remember, that if you are full of emotions about something, that they may also be too and if it is hard for you to keep your emotions and anger in check, they too are also trying to manage a similar battle.

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