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Common communication mistakes almost everyone makes

posted 20 Jul 2013, 21:37 by Suzi Wallis   [ updated 25 Aug 2013, 23:49 ]
Many people make the common communication mistakes below, until they know better.
  • You think you're speaking the same language but are you? You've grown up in the same country or at least speaking a language in common with most other people you interact with. For some reason, this doesn't guarantee clear communication and a conflict-free life. There are some common reasons for this - the absence of active listening, respectful language, enabling the other person to feel 'heard' and using language that 'pushes buttons'.
  • Ask yourself if the topic you want to discuss is important enough to bring up with the other person. For example, if you are giving them feedback, is it really necessary? If you can let it go and remember all their good points, that may be the best option. If it is something that's creating conflict and does need to be cleared, forge ahead with care.
  • It's dangerous to assume that the person you are wanting to communicate with has the time right then and is in a headspace where they can listen. It's respectful to ask (and listen for the answer) whether the person has time now or later and give them an indication of how long you might need. Making an appointment lets them know you respect their time and yours. This applies to family and friends too, although you'd be less likely to get the diaries (or smartphones out) to compare.
  • Your tone, volume and posture can dramatically affect your listener's ability to hear what you're saying. Keep your voice at the lowest appropriate volume for the space you are in (you can always raise it if the person can't hear but they won't always tell you you're shouting). Use a balanced, gentle tone, even if the message you want to deliver is serious. Sit down or match the person physically - stand if they're standing, sit if they're sitting and try not to have a physical barrier between you like a desk or table if at all possible.
  • Give your listener the benefit of the doubt. Assumptions can get you into a whole lot of trouble (ever seen assume broken down into ass/u/me?) and the one that is useful to hold is "this person is doing their best, as am I." If they don't understand you, or you are not noticing non-verbal cues (head nodding, yeses, etc), you might need to rephrase what you're saying.
  • Any words that come after "you" can sound like a judgement or criticism. Words that are helpful to come after "you" are descriptions of behaviour. Describe the behaviour as if the person you are talking to wasn't in the room. For example, "When you raised your voice", "When you talked over me", "When you swore at me".
  • Be curious. Instead of assuming that you know what the other person is feeling or thinking, use phrases like "It seems like...", "It looks like...", "I'm guessing you might be..."
  • Take two (or three or four) attempts. If you don't get it right the first time (your message isn't clearly heard), ask for another chance. If you've dropped a verbal "bombshell', leaving the room then could do more harm than good. An attempt (if the listener is willing) to try again, may build some bridges. It's also important to respect the other person's right to be left alone if this is what they need.
  • Kindness can't be overdone. If you are genuine about your kind gestures - a hug, handshake, pat on the back or offer of help - it's impossible to be "too kind". Be nice - it's good for the soul.
Suzi Wallis | Oct 2011