Use Your Words

Let’s just be honest for a minute. Sometimes, communicating sucks. It’s hard to get people to listen to you, right? You may not know what to say or how to get them to understand what the hell you’re talking about. The hardest part is that most people communicate in completely different ways.

However, communication is key to pretty much all functioning in this world. Unfortunately, our society isn’t built on good communication skills. Parents often don’t use them with their children and neither do teachers, so the kids don’t learn them. We’re not taught in school how to communicate with our friends so we end up bickering over stupid shit. Even in workplace, communication skills are rarely discussed so managers end up pulling the “you-only-a-paycheck-because-of-me” card to get what they want and co-workers have difficulty divvying up responsibilities because no one really knows what’s going on.

Ironically, the foundation to good communication is quite simple. The keys are somehow well hidden from the world though (unless you’ve been in therapy and they just happened to talk to you about it). It’s also difficult to get started and get into the habit of it. And most challenging of all is using these skills on others when they have no idea how to have a reasonable conversation.

So here they are – the two keys to unlock your communication issues: listen and clarify.

Yup, it’s that straightforward. First and foremost, you have to be able to listen. Put the damn phone down, quit trying to figure out what you’re going to say next.. just shut up for a minute and LISTEN. Pay attention to what the person is saying and how it’s relevant.

The other half of this is clarification. A conversation is only effective if everyone involved knows *for a fact* what is actually being discussed. Once the person you’re talking to has made their statement, clearly and directly ask them if they meant __________ – and fill in that blank with whatever you understood them to be saying. If they say no, ask them to explain it again. Keep going with this until they confirm that you are understanding them correctly.

Many times, you’ll run in to other people who just don’t know this stuff. THAT’S OKAY. Don’t let it deter you from trying to keep up your good communication practices. If you ask your kid to clean his room and he says, “Okay,” (or “yes, ma’am” as it is in my house), make sure that your kid knows what that is supposed to look like. It is perfectly acceptable – no matter the age of the person to whom you’re speaking – to very that they understand. Here’s an example of what this might look like in an office environment:

Jill, I need you to send an email to our supplier about an order that hasn’t come in.
Okay, boss.
Do you know who the email needs to go to?
Sure, it needs to go to Cindy in the shipping department.
Great. Do you need any specifics from me about that particular order before I go back to my office?
Nope, it’s order #2005. I have the information right now.

So you know that Jill knows where to find the information needed for this. Work is sometimes the hardest place to do this because you can’t take up all of your time doing a back and forth. People have jobs to do, after all. But clear communication will take up far less time than having to fix a screw up because someone just didn’t understand.

Other good points to remember when communicating:
– acknowledge that the other person’s point, opinion, and feelings are all valid
– take a time out if things get heated, but always come back and finish up the conversation
– use “I feel” statements (“I feel like my opinion isn’t important when you don’t respond” instead of “you don’t ever fucking listen to me”)

Now, I’ll be honest. This is going to feel like it takes FOREVER to have a conversation while you get in the swing of doing this. It’s going to feel like it’ll just be easier to say what you need to say and move, and then just deal with anything that comes up afterward. It’s also going to feel hella awkward for a bit. I’m telling you, though… it’s worth it. You’ll reduce you own stress by knowing that you’re being heard, feeling more confident that you’re understanding others, and by not having so many fights about stupid shit. And trust me, most fights are stupid and most come from simple lack of communication.

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