How to Communicate: Getting Your Partner to Hear What You Say

It is common to feel unprepared to cope with miscommunication. When we don’t know what to do to promote effective communication, we have an unfortunate tendency to make up our own interventions. This DIY approach is usually counter-productive and ineffective.

Barriers to good communications are always present. For instance, the language itself can be a barrier—unclear wording, slang, jargon, the tone. Another barrier is the failure of the sender to realize that his or her body language might contradict the spoken message.

Poor listening skills can also constitute a barrier. It’s not easy to listen fully. The environment interferes, along with unrelated thoughts about the speaker and about daily life. Perhaps the speaker is distractingly attractive, or isn’t as articulate as he or she might be, or misses an important point that the listener is eager to mention. Each of those possibilities takes the listener’s attention away from the speaker’s words.

Effective communication occurs when your actions and words match. This requires an awareness of your feelings, words, body language, and how we communicate them to others. Effective communicators take responsibility for being certain that others understand what they are saying. They recognize that barriers to good communications exist so they speak in simple, grammatical, and understandable terms. Here are some suggestions on how to communicate more effectively:

Ask questions.
If the speaker seems hesitant or stalled, ask a related question to encourage them to continue.
•“What’s the worst part about it?” (repeat)
•“How does that make you feel?”
•”What happened to make you so (insert feeling)?”
•“What is the threat?”
•“What would you prefer instead?”

Good communicators pay attention to the tone of the words and the nonverbal cues of the speaker. Sometimes, these things undermine the actual meanings of the words themselves.

For instance, someone might be telling you that he or she is not upset, but the tone or the body language might tell you otherwise. Be mindful of what you are saying with your tone, posture, hand gestures, head positioning, eye contact, breathing, facial expressions and movements.
Nodding, smiling, laughing, frowning and verbalizing (for example, “I see” or “mm-hmm”) show the speaker that you’re tuned in to their words.

When the speaker has finished speaking, rephrase key points of what they said. For example, “Help me understand. You are saying is…” and then mention an important point in your own words. The purpose of paraphrasing is not simply to parrot back what your partner has said, but to create communication and dialogue. It also improves remembering!

You cannot learn anything from others if you try to do all the talking. Therefore, let speakers finish out their own sentences. Don’t interrupt them to interject your own thoughts.

Avoid starting sentence with “You” and “Why”: These statements put people on the defensive. Replace “You” with “I feel….” and replace “Why” with “I’m confused.” These suggestions are assertive statements that promote insight into how you are reacting to another’s behavior.

Avoid using “Always” and “Never”: These words are not literal facts, but are figurative or feeling words. They lead the listener to argue the fact by pointing out exceptions, rather then seek understanding for how you feel based on their pattern of behavior. Rephrase them by saying, “It feel like you always…” or “It feels like you never…”

Couple talking photo available from Shutterstock

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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