Improving Your Communication: Making It Easier for Others to Understand You
Recently, I had the privilege of conducting some communication training for a group in Northern California. We had done some previous communication training together on foundational issues of listening, so they were ready to work on some additional skills for building relationships with others. The skill set we worked on was the ways you can assist the person with whom you are talking to better understand you.
Providing the context of your thoughts was the skill we focused on. When we give each other the context of our thoughts — that is, the reason or purpose of our sharing — this greatly enhances others’ ability to understand us. And obviously, if we share the context prior to the start of the discussion, this is most helpful (rather than waiting to see the quizzical look on their face showing that they have no idea what we are talking about.)
One of the problems in talking together with others, is that you know “where you are coming from”, what you have been thinking about, and the purpose (in your mind) of the conversation. However, the other person often has no clue. So when you start talking, it can take the other person a while to figure out why you are sharing what you are and what you want from them in response.
So the more you can give them the context of the situation, the more likely they will understand you and the less likely they will misinterpret what you are trying to say.
Let’s look at six different contexts for communication (the list is not meant to be exhaustive.)
Different Contexts for Communication
1. Transferring information.
“I just want to share with you about something that happened to me.” “I wanted to let you know that . . .”
The purpose is just that — to share information with you that they would like you to know. There is no response needed or expected (except that you are listening.)
2. Connecting relationally.
“I’d like to share what I have been thinking about …”
The goal of this type of communication often is the desire that I want you to know me better. I want you to understand me. In this situation, a response is expected — that you demonstrate understanding by active listening (in some cases, paraphrasing what you have heard them say.)
3. Getting feedback.
“I’d like your input on something. Am I thinking clearly on this?”
There are times when we want input from others on how we are thinking and behaving. It is often helpful to get honest feedback from someone you trust. It is critical in this situation to make sure you understand the core issue before responding. Ask clarifying questions. “So are you concerned about .. or is … the issue?” Then you are ready to share your observations.
4. Asking for advice.
“I have a dilemma. Let me explain and then I’d like to hear your thoughts.”
The typical response is to give advice immediately, which often leads to problems. Rather, it is often best to gather additional information needed before responding. First, make sure you understand the situation and what part of it is of concern to them. Then ask who else they have gotten input from and what it was (or what have they already tried). This keeps your advice from getting “shot down” (“Oh, I already tried that and it didn’t work.”)
5. Making a request / Solving a Problem.
“I was wondering if you would … Last night, xyz happened. Could you …?”
Again, it is best to clarify exactly what is desired and the goal to be achieved first (even before agreeing to help). Then define the expectations regarding responsibility and timing (who is to do what? by when?). Finally, develop an action plan together and make sure it will accomplish the desired goal.
ASIDE: There is a common problem experienced with requests. Many people make indirect requests — they hint at what they want, rather than asking directly. This typically doesn’t go well because the other person doesn’t pick up on the “hint”.
6. Addressing issues in your relationship.
“I’m feeling _____ with you because _____.”
Let’s face it, this type of scenario usually accompanies a “negative” feeling (hurt, angry, frustrated), and it is the type of interaction most people dread. So, my advice is: try to have as many other types of interactions as possible, and use this interaction sparingly. When you are on the receiving end, try not to get defensive. Listen. The best response is to first make sure you understand both the feeling and the reason for the feeling. Then ask: “What would you like from me?” (which is different than “What would you like me to do?” It could be that the other person just wants you to understand their perspective to a situation that occurred.
Give it a try. See if providing a little introduction or context before your interactions with others helps smooth them out and makes the communication process go better. Or if you have some other suggestions, I’d love to hear those as well.
Tags: communication skills
Categories Communication, Leadership, Relationships