Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s headline ~ Walter Winchell
Whenever I think about communication I think about that old childhood game of telephone. Do you remember it? The one where one person whispers something into another person’s ear and then it is passed on and on and on. So many times by the time it reached the end of the group, the message had completely changed.
I think it’s relevant to start this conversation with looking how the dictionary defines communication. According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary communication is defined as: a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. The key portion to this definition, in my opinion, is that the information is exchanged. I also think we all would be benefitted by look at “common systems”. Typically, communication takes one or more of various mediums: verbal, written, or observed. The reality of the situation, from my perception, is that social media, texting, instant messaging, etc. have all altered (and in some ways) confused communication skills.
My personal preference is to typically handle most disagreements in writing. I have a few reasons why my preference for communication is in writing, including: typically there are so many conversations going on in my head, I want to make sure I communicate clearly and accurately; I have more chances of making sure what I’m communicating is what I desire to communicate; I can think about how my written response will be perceived from the person who’s receiving it’s perception, and the list goes on. However, my husband does not communicate well in writing. His preferred communication method is verbally and in person, so that creates some growing opportunities for me.
I have worked with countless individuals, couples, and families who have ended relationships over seemingly simple communication issues. Trust me when I tell you I am nowhere near perfect on this entire communication continuum, however I work to create as positive of an experience as possible. Following is a framework for positive communication experiences:
- Don’t make assumptions: If someone hurt your feelings, seemed harsh, or appeared to blow you off, it’s imperative to ask the difficult questions. When I send me husband a heartfelt text and I get a (perceived) harsh or cold response, I typically fact check it. I will send him another text that says, “That seemed harsh. Is everything okay?” 99% of the time the response I get back is something along the lines of: yes… but I’m busy/distracted/overwhelmed/etc
- Speak with intent: Specifically if you are a long winded person, make sure that your intent is very clear. Perhaps summarizing your point of view would be very beneficial to maintaining your relationship with others. If you are not sure what your intent is, then perhaps it would be a good opportunity for you to figure out exactly what you want to communicate before you begin.
- Clarification: One of the most powerful techniques I was ever taught was to clarify my perception of what I hear another person saying. An example is a client says something to me that I perceive as, I am the worst coach on earth. My responsibility is to clarify whether or not my perception is correct. Typically this looks like me saying, “What I hear you saying is I’m the worst coach on earth. Is that correct?” This provides the other person with an opportunity to clarify that this is exactly what they meant or not at all what they meant, or some variation in between.
- Own your emotions: If you are having emotions or feelings, and you are communicating with someone whose specialty is not feelings or emotions this can create a great divide. I typically communicate my feelings up front so that we can then set them aside. If my husband or a friend has hurt my feelings, I will simply address that in the beginning. And then we can move on. Recently, a friend of mine had hurt my feelings. I simply sent a quick text that said, “I’m sorry for the delay. My feelings were hurt when you said X.”
- Is this a good time: The vast majority of the time, this is how I start off any conversation that I need someone’s undivided attention. Otherwise if the person is in an argument with someone else, I could end up receiving some of that frustration. In some instances, if the person is only able to maintain single focus, I need to make sure that they are not in the middle of something else while I’m working on communicating with them. If I haven’t taken the opportunity to ask if someone is available to talk, then I hold the responsibility for the communication breakdown.
- Use appropriate Communication venues: I would never send my doctor an instant message on Facebook, unless they had consented to it. I would never text my banker a banking question. I would not email my pharmacist. As much as verbal communication is not my preference, there are times and places where it is necessary and right. If I’m going to approach someone in about a business issue, I’m going to conduct myself in the manner in which they have laid out. If they have given me permission to email or text them, that’s how I will communicate with them. If not, I will pick up the five million pound phone and place the call. The responsibility is mine, after all.
- Stop feeding the negative: If someone hurts my feelings and I care or am invested in the relationship, I will address it. Recently someone accused me of some things that were not accurate or correct over text. I responded once and then I let it go. I did the best I could and the reality is not everyone is going to like me. I did not post a huge rant about assumptions, communication drops, or personal responsibility on social media. I just moved on! When we keep telling the same (or worse) stories over and over and over we are creating issues for ourselves and the people involved.
- Give the benefit of the doubt: I will be the first to admit that my feelings are typically right out in front of me, so giving the benefit of the doubt is not always my skill set. However, if a person has historically been positive, supportive, and kind to me I will not terminate our relationship based on one less than positive response. Ending a relationship (or talking negatively about them to others) does not make sense when we have a foundation for friendship, encouragement, and support.
I’m sure there are five million other important and relevant things to say and be mindful of during conversation. These are just the 8 that appeared the top of my priority list in this current moment. I would love to hear from you! Where do you typically fall down in your communications with others? How do you address those issues? Feel free to let me know your thoughts and experiences at Jenn@JennBoveeLCSW.com
Jenn Bovee is a Psychotherapist and Shame Busting Life Coach. She empowers people all over the world to eliminate the shame that is blocking them from living the life of their dreams. Learn more about her here: https://jennbovee.com/