We Just Don’t Communicate!


Communication. When it goes well, we feel fulfilled, valued, respected. We understand the task at hand. We may feel that we "just click" with that other person. But when it doesn’t go so well, we may feel frustrated, discouraged, confused, invisible, hurt and even angry. So whether it is at work or at home where communication may be difficult, here are a few things to think about.

1. Listen. It sounds easy enough. If we can hear, we can listen, right? Well, it’s just not always that easy. But listening is a skill that can be developed. Admittedly we may not be able to force another person to listen to us, but when we start to model this skill ourselves, others may follow suit. People want to share their thoughts, but if they know that you will listen to them, they often lose some of that sense of urgency. So how do you listen better?

• Stop talking – and don’t interrupt.

• Pay attention. Don’t try to listen to your child, start dinner and balance the checkbook all at the same time. Focus.

• Give appropriate feedback. Have eye contact, nod, say "uh huh" once in a while so that they know you are with them. But don’t fake this. It’s obvious.

• Ask appropriate questions – not to show how smart you are, but for your, or their, clarification.

• Listen for feelings, as well as to the words.

• Don’t be planning your response instead of listening.

• Don’t give advice unless it is requested – and if you can’t stand that, ask if they want your advice. If they don’t want it, back off. Now I know some of you are thinking, "Well, why are they telling me this if they don’t want my advice?" Sometimes people just need to talk, tell someone or even figure it out themselves by organizing their thoughts well enough to tell another person.

2. Don’t expect other people to read your mind. Most of us aren’t mind readers. Even if we can read minds on occasion, it’s just not something you should count on. If it is important to you that someone know or do something, tell them. Tell them when they aren’t preoccupied watching the big game or talking to someone else on the phone. If you know the other person doesn’t always remember, remind them. But if they have a pretty good memory, or if you’ve really talked about it, not just hinted, then don’t nag.

I often hear "If he loves me, he should (fill in the blank)." For example, one woman I was working with was visibly upset when her husband hadn’t acknowledged her birthday that morning. When I asked more questions, she admitted that she had told him that birthdays weren’t a big deal. I pointed out the discrepancy and encouraged her to tell him how she felt about birthdays. She did, and they ended up going out later for ice cream. Nothing huge, but the birthday was acknowledged!

3. Just because you think it, it doesn’t need to fall out of your mouth. I often hear people say things that are mean or unnecessary. If confronted, they often say, "I was just being honest." But being honest doesn’t mean you have to say everything. It may be best to say nothing. For example, one woman had a (not so) perfect stranger who was sitting next to her ask, "Have you ever considered going on a diet?" What was the purpose of such a question? Did it need to be said – out loud?

Whenever we communicate, we have multiple goals that we are trying to accomplish. There may be a task that needs to be done. But there is also a relationship to maintain or strengthen. Or maybe you are trying to get or keep respect or credibility. But lashing out in anger, or resorting to name calling is rarely effective.

Communication isn’t always easy, but using skills like listening, being assertive and thinking about what you say before you say it can help you communicate effectively, whether at home or at work. A life coach can help you develop these skills. Happy communicating!

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