As a psychologist, I get asked about how to improve communication skills at least once a day. This is because communication is a fundamental rolling stone in many mental health issues and concerns.
It plays a key role in relationships, workplaces, studies, every day interactions, and our perception of our self. We rely heavily on communication because humans are social beings, so I guess it makes it important to communicate effectively.
This article will explore the various barriers to effective communication and we will discuss ten helpful strategies for better communication that I always talk about with my clients and practice myself daily. Effective communication is a set of skills that needs to be practised and nurtured over time.
Starting from infancy, humans learn to communicate with others through verbal and non-verbal skills. We learn to speak, use facial expressions, hand motions, use a set of actions to represent an emotion (eg. hugging someone who is sad) and we use posture and body language to communicate to others.
So, if we have spent most of our lives trying to learn effective communication, what gets in our way?
Barriers to Effective Communication
- Not being attentive or present: How many have been asked a question but when they answered, they felt that the other person wasn’t actually listening? Reasons include: people being on electronic devices when engaging with others, not listening to other people’s points of view, thoughts, or feelings, looking in another direction, and/or being distracted by other people or things.
- Giving advice or solving other people’s problems: When people come to vent their feelings, rather than being listened to and validated they are quickly offered solutions to their concerns. This can seem as if their emotions are being brushed off and they are encouraged to “move on by doing something about it”.
- Invalidating others: Not recognising or validating a person’s feelings as important. An example can be telling people to “get over it” if they are feeling down or “I don’t know why you are so mad”. This can demonstrate a lack of empathy and understanding about the other person’s view.
- Being judgemental: Judging others during interactions can lead to negativity and criticism.It can also impede your ability to use empathy and helpful social skills.
- Using jargon– using language that others may not understand can lead to people disengaging and halting conversations as they are no longer personally meaningful.
If we become aware of these barriers to effective communication, we can become better communicators . You will find these ten effective communication skills highly practical and easy to follow.
Ten effective communication skills
Stop whatever you are doing when someone is talking and listen with your entire being. Be present for them. Show them that you care and are listening. This will allow them to feel important, which may in itself de-escalate in the case of a tense situation.It also helps to build rapport and a meaningful relationship from even one interaction. Avoid using devices or multi-tasking. Sit down alongside a person and be present within their experience.
Active listening is more than just hearing what is said. Active listening is listening with your entire body. It is trying to take in as much information while understanding the information and how it fits in with this person’s experience. It is about listening actively, using interjections, nodding, or making short bursts of facial expressions and saying a word or two.
This shows the other person that you are fully alongside them in the conversation, taking in what they are saying. It allows them to feel engaged with you and makes them feel heard and understood. This can reduce tension within relationships and build stronger, more cohesive bonds.
Let your body talk
Communication is a lot more than just what is said. Speaking with our body is so important. Attempt to have an open body posture. Avoid crossing arms or legs or facing away from the person. Also, avoid squinting or displaying an unpleasant facial expression. Remain calm when speaking by maintaining normal tone and volume and maintain eye contact with others to effectively communicate.
When you are conversing with someone, it may be helpful to ask them questions about their story. Asking questions will show them that you are interested. Ask questions curiously and attempt to keep the questions open ended (what, where, how, why, and when).
Talk clearly and honestly
Being clear and succinct in conversations allows you to get your point of view across in a respectful and appropriate way. When communicating needs and wants, less is more and speaking in plain terms is very helpful. Attempt to remain assertive and respectful.
Clarify and summarize
To ensure that you are hearing what the other person is saying correctly, you can summarise what they have said and ask them if that is accurate. This allows them to feel heard and to clarify any misunderstandings. This ensures that the message that they are trying to get across is relayed effectively.
If you are in a close relationship with others, giving and receiving feedback about one’s communication can be very helpful to fine tuning effective communication skills. Yes, it may be daunting asking for feedback or giving feedback, but it may help you on your road to greater communication skills.
Show that you care by displaying your understanding of others’ feelings and emotions. Try to place yourself in their situation and see how they would feel. Remain attentive and empathetic towards their difficulties.
Validate, validate, validate!
This cannot be stressed enough. Validate other’s experiences. Ensure you let others know that you hear what they are saying and attempt to understand the reason behind their current emotional experience. Validating means acknowledging and affirming a person’s thoughts, feelings, wants or needs.
You may validate a person’s emotional experience without validating their behaviour. For example, validating someone who was very angry but punched someone in the face- “I can see why you were so angry, it’s frustrating when people insult you and your family. However, is there another, more helpful way of showing your anger?”
Develop a trustworthy relationship
Spend time with others building trustworthy relationships. Ensure relationships are two sided whereby both individuals feel like they are giving and taking from the relationship equally.
After reading the above list, have a think about what barriers may be getting in your way for effective communication and when or in which relationship/s those barriers come up more often and write them down.
After you have done this, read through the tips for effective communication again and see if you can pick one or two to practice daily over the next week.