Communication is one of the most powerful skills we can master. It is how we share our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It is how we connect with others. Effective communication is essential for creating healthy and fulfilling relationships. However, many people struggle with communicating effectively. This can be due to a lack of self-awareness, confrontation avoidance, or simply not knowing how to speak their truth. In this article, we will discuss the importance of effective communication and some tips for developing better communication skills.
Communication skills start with self-awareness
If you want to be a better communicator, you must first understand your own communication style. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Do certain people or situations trigger emotional reactions? Which forms of communication do you feel most comfortable with?
“Any journey must first begin with self-awareness,” explains professional communication coach Renée Marino, “And as a communication coach, in my trainings, in my talks, everything begins with that communication with ‘self’ first, because then everything else is based upon that.”
So how do we communicate with “self”? A good way to start your own self-to-self dialogue is to check in with yourself regularly. Ask, “How am I feeling right now?” and “Where might these feelings be coming from?” Try speaking out loud to yourself and perhaps while looking in a mirror. You can use this technique to bring awareness to your emotions, self-soothe, or even to coach yourself through situations.
Another effective tool for processing and understanding emotion is journaling. Getting your feelings out on paper is a great way to observe them objectively. As you work to peel back the layers of emotion, you might be surprised at what lies underneath. “If we’re not being really clear about who we are,” says Marino, “What our wants are, what our weaknesses are, what our strengths are, what we want in relationships, how could we possibly communicate with others in an honest, and effective, and clear way?”
So much of how we experience the world depends on our emotions, so the better we understand where they are coming from, the better we can communicate our needs and speak from a place of authenticity.
Identify your communication home
As you use self-awareness to develop your communication skills, a helpful starting place is identifying what Renée Marino calls your “communication home” – the approach to communication that feels most comfortable to you. Marino outlines three communication homes: The Peacekeeper, The Passion Player, and The Laid Back One. Within each communication home, she describes several speaking styles that someone with that approach might use.
The Peacekeeper’s main goal is to prevent confrontation, even if it means putting their own needs on hold or sacrificing their own happiness to keep the peace.
The Passion Player
The Passion Player is passionate about getting to the heart of the matter and speaking their truth.
The Laid Back One
The Laid Back One doesn’t put a lot of emotion into their communication. They prefer to discuss objective facts over personal perspective.
“Discovering your communication home is so, so important,” says Coach Marino, “Because it’s just a beautiful tool to be able to give us a starting point of understanding what our go-to communication style is.” She goes on to explain that while we tend to lean toward one communication home as our preferred approach, the way we communicate can certainly change over time, and from one situation to another. The way you confront your romantic partner for example, might be different than the style you use when confronting your boss.
As you bring awareness to how and when you are using one communication home over the other, it allows you to become more intentional about using them appropriately. Employing the right style with the right situation can be the difference between a productive conversation and a heated argument.
Choosing the right form of communication
In addition to communication styles, forms of communication matter in how our message is received. A text message for example, has a completely different feel than a hand-written letter.
Some common forms of communication are:
Texting – This is a great way to communicate when you want to be brief, or when you don’t have the time for a phone call or face-to-face conversation. It can also be an effective way to communicate with people who are abusive or manipulative. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential for miscommunication when using text.
Voice Memos – Voice memos are also quick and convenient, but you are able to convey more meaning with your tone of voice than with words alone. This can eliminate the kind of misinterpretation that can happen with text messaging.
Phone calls – Phone calls facilitate a back-and-forth conversation. They have a more personal feel than a voice memo and are more effective for discussing complex subject matter.
Face-to-face conversation – This is often considered the best form of communication, as it allows for nonverbal cues (facial expressions, body language) that can help to clarify what is being said. It can be an overwhelming way to communicate if emotions are running high, however.
Email – If you are engaging in an emotionally charged conversation, an email or hand-written letter might be most appropriate. This form of communication allows you to finish your thoughts without being interrupted. It also allows you to fully absorb what the other person is saying without letting your immediate emotional reaction dictate your reply.
Whether you are using more traditional forms of communication, like letters and face-to-face conversations, or newer forms like voice memos or texting, knowing when to use them is key. As you decide which form of communication to use, consider your audience, your message, and the intended goal of the conversation.
Communication break-downs happen
Sometimes, unfortunately despite our efforts to be an effective communicator we simply cannot get through to the other party. It’s important in these moments to recognize what we can and cannot control. While we have control over our intention, style, and form of communication, we cannot control how another person receives our message, no matter how carefully crafted it is.
“Those are the moments when you sit back and say, ‘Okay, I’m going to write about what I can take away from this experience,” Coach Marino’s advises, “Even though it didn’t turn out the way I expected or wanted, what can I pull out of this and use to inform my other relationships?’”
Every conversation is an opportunity to learn more about how to be a better communicator. When miscommunication happens it’s important to analyze not only what you said and how you said it, but how actively you were listening to the other person. Were you listening and responding to their concerns, or were focused solely on getting your point across? Did you ask the other person about their perspective, or were you making an assumption?
Assumptions are the root of miscommunication
Our brains naturally like to make assumptions for the sake of efficiency, but this doesn’t serve us when we’re having an important conversation with someone we care about. We often think we know the other person’s concerns without truly listening or asking for clarification.
To avoid making assumptions, we must first be aware of the stories we tell ourselves. This goes back to that self-awareness piece. Once we identify the thoughts and beliefs that might be causing us to jump to conclusions, we can start to question them. Only then can we begin to communicate from a place of truth, rather than from a place of assumptions.
“Once you are in communication with yourself, you are able to hear that quiet voice of your soul, which is your gut instinct,” says Renée Marino, “It’s the deepest, most honest, truest part of yourself.”
When you feel solid in your own truth and your own perspective it is easier to listen to the perspective of others. If we don’t open that dialogue, we have relationships built on assumptions – some of which may not be true – and then we take actions based on our assumptions. This can be an upsetting process that is easily cleared up with some openness and willingness to understand the other party. Especially when you are facing confrontation, seek first to understand, then to be understood. People are much more likely to hear you, when they feel heard.
Honest communication deepens relationships
Many of us shy away from having difficult conversations because we are afraid the other person will be angry with us, won’t like us, or will leave us. But the truth is, if we can’t be honest with the people we care about, our relationships will be superficial at best.
We need to have those tough conversations to grow closer to each other and deepen our relationships. It is only through being vulnerable and sharing our fears, concerns, and joys that we can create the closeness we crave. When we share openly, it facilitates a dynamic that allows those we care about to do the same.
Keep in mind that developing communication skills is a practice. Even when you are a skilled communicator, you can’t predict how every conversation will unfold, but as you practice it will get easier and more enjoyable. The joy you receive from asserting your boundaries and from gaining a new understanding of how to better care for those you love, will be worth every growing pain as you develop your skills.
Remember, confidence comes from experience. You can’t wait for the fear to subside before you start engaging in conscious communication. Coach Renée Marino says,
“If we want to make the strides in our life that we say we do, if we want to have the fulfilling relationships that we say we want, the career that we say we want, we must take action despite the fear. And when we do that, even if it’s messy, even if it doesn’t happen, or have the result we want, what it does is it shows us that we are able to ‘do’ even when we are scared. And then that develops the nuggets of confidence.”
When it comes to effective communication, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, by being aware of your own thoughts and feelings, and by communicating openly and honestly with those you care about, you can develop the skills you need to create healthy, lasting relationships. With practice, you will become more confident in your ability to communicate effectively, and you will find that the joy you receive from deeper, more meaningful relationships is worth every bit of effort.