Effective communication is an essential component of human relationships, whether in the workplace, at school, among friends, between couples or within a household. Highly functional, successful family groups tend to be those that communicate effectively, while the lack of such communication is frequently found in troubled families, according to the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Learning and practicing effective communication techniques is well worth the time and effort, resulting in stronger interpersonal ties and greater relationship and familial satisfaction.
Think First, Speak Later
Few people would stand before an audience or class and present a speech without advance preparation. Gathering thoughts, ideas and information are critical for communicating in an organized and effective way. Similarly, it pays to take some time before broaching an important or emotional topic with a loved one. Setting priorities can be helpful, especially when preparing to discuss a complex or emotionally charged issue. Furthermore, stepping away from a problem before discussing it allows time to gain objectivity, as well as empathy for the other person or persons involved.
The “I’s” Have It
One of the most basic components of effective communication is the ability to communicate needs and feelings clearly without creating defensiveness in the other party. One way to achieve this is to use “I messages” and “I feel” statements, according to clinical psychologist and family therapist Larry Alan Nadig on his website. “I am having trouble dealing with my anxiety about our family’s spending habits and my worries are keeping me awake at night” is an “I message” in which the speaker describes the problem without accusing or placing blame. “I feel taken for granted when I find dirty dishes on the table and wet towels on the bathroom floor” is an “I feel” statement, simple and straightforward.
Be Fully Present
Effective communication is possible only in the present moment. Bringing past conflicts into the current discussion serves only to heighten negative emotions and derail productive conversation. A sharp focus on the topic at hand is essential for clear and effective communication, and it is also helpful to keep outside distractions to a minimum. Text messages, phone calls and emails can all wait until a later time, and worries about work, school or other issues can be put on hold as well.
Nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, body language and hand gestures play an important role in effective communication. Just as a badly chosen word or a raised voice can upset a listener and close the door to further dialogue, so too can an unintentionally aggressive nonverbal cue. One way to ensure that nonverbal signals don’t undermine verbal communication is to remain calm and avoid becoming overly stressed during a discussion, according to Help Guide.org, a nonprofit mental health organization affiliated with Harvard Health Publications. Staying calm and maintaining a comfortable amount of eye contact while respecting personal space can increase receptivity and encourage reciprocity.
Effective communication includes the ability to listen well. In addition to avoiding obvious distractions such as cell phones and using body language to demonstrate attentiveness, it is also important to allow the other person to finish speaking before formulating our own response. Paraphrasing what the other person has said to make sure we have understood correctly and refraining from offering advice unless asked to do so are two more ways to listen effectively, says University of Delaware Extension family and human development specialist Pat Tanner Nelson.
- Virginia Cooperative Extension: Families First-Keys to Successful Family Functioning—Communication
- Larry Alan Nadig, Ph.D.: How to Express Difficult Feelings
- Help Guide: Nonverbal Communication—Improving Your Nonverbal Skills and Reading Body Language
- University of Delaware Cooperative Extension: Communication Skills for You and Your Family
- David Sacks/Digital Vision/Getty Images