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"Say what you mean ... mean what you say." This phrase means different things, as the Mad Hatter points out to Alice in the story "Alice in Wonderland." Basic communication skills using words alone may not be enough to get your full meaning across. A successful two-way communication process depends on carefully conveying your message so that your listener understands exactly what you mean. Your non-verbal behavior may carry more meaning than your words.
Clarify your meaning with body language, facial expressions and voice to support your words. A handshake and a smile convey a friendly message. Frowning or using a loud voice and may intimidate your listener. Lean close for an intimate conversation, but stay back in formal situations. Use eye contact and a warm approach to encourage rapport as you begin to speak.
Find out how your listener thinks. According to Joseph O'Connor in "Introducing NLP, " the listener gives you clues with her eyes. If you notice that she often looks up, she may think in pictures. She prefers sound if she usually looks to the side and feelings if she glances down. Match your language to her preferences, perhaps by saying, “I see what you mean,” if she is a visual person. “I hear what you’re saying,” may work for an auditory approach. “I feel uncomfortable,” means more to a tactile person.
Keep an open mind, and avoid making or expressing assumptions about your listener. You cannot know whether he will be angry, bored, or interested before he has replied.
Active listening makes the communication process easier. Give your attention to the speaker, watch his face, and make eye contact. Let him finish before you respond, and check that you understand by paraphrasing or questioning, suggests experts at Edinburgh University. Notice his non-verbal behavior to see whether it matches his words.
Take time to frame your response, especially if the conversation is an emotional one. Experts at Northeastern University advise you to refer to what he said and respond to the message, not to any emotion you notice.
Tell him how you feel, through words rather than by acting out your feelings. Be aware that your emotions are your own, and take responsibility for them. Instead of saying, “You make me angry,” say, “I feel angry when you. ”
Check the environment, and remove distractions. You may need to turn off your phones if the communication is likely to be long or emotionally difficult.
Choose the best channel for your message. Face-to-face communication offers the best chance of full understanding, but the written word provides a more permanent record. A phone conversation restricts the effectiveness of body language, but you notice tone of voice and speed of delivery, allowing you to pick up anger or annoyance. Writing restricts you to words alone, so you should use clear and simple language.
Remember that you can use other channels, such as pictures or symbols, to clarify communication, especially if either the listener or speaker has a specific communication difficulty.
Use email and text with care. They limit the size of the message and remove nonverbal clues. Your reader expects quick, easy-to-read information. Avoid expressing emotion or explaining complex issues.
- "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"; C.S.Lewis; 1865
- "Introducing NLP"; J O'Connor; 1990
- University of Edinburgh: Conversation as Communication
- Northeastern University: The Importance of Effective Communication:
- Siri Stafford/DigitalVision/Getty Images