This article was written by Suzy Geppert, former SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Partnerships Field Specialist.
Communication. Its definition sounds so simple; an act or instance of transmitting information. However, for many it can be a struggle just to get the words out. And once they do, the question becomes: ”Did I do it effectively?” Communication is used to convey information, to ask for help, to influence a listener or audience, and for entertainment. In addition, there are over three thousand languages and dialects in use worldwide. “We send from 100 to 300 messages a day. These include the message we intend to send; the message we actually send; the message as the hearer interprets it; the response of the hearer based on what he or she heard; and our reaction to the exchange of words, meaning and interpretation,” says Kathy Walker of Kansas State University (Kansas State University Extension 2002).
Communicating effectively is vital in the development of trust and respect when working with various groups of individuals. It helps to foster learning and achieve goals. Effective communicators have the ability to get their message across to a diverse group of people so that they are able to understand the issues and make decisions for positive change. Here are some tips for becoming an effective communicator:
Be an active listener.
Recognize the importance of listening and make it an integral part of your group’s culture.
- Acknowledge the thoughts, ideas, or feelings of the other person. Use nods and comments to recognize the importance of the speaker’s feelings.
- Say it in different words. Paraphrasing lets the other person know you are trying to understand.
- Ask open-ended questions. Ask for help if confusion sets in so that you may test your interpretation of what the speaker says.
- Summarize and clarify. Make sure that you understand the speaker’s intent.
- Give an opinion. Be cautious when choosing to do this and ask if the speaker is willing or wants to hear your opinion.
Use direct, assertive expression.
Express yourself in a clear, true, and non-defensive way so that listeners know what you want and what you are willing to give. When expressing yourself, use “I” statements. This allows you to make statements about what you think or feel without it sounding like you are attacking or blaming.
Be aware of the messages you send through body language. One way you can do this is through the observation of others. Take time to watch others speak and determine if the speaker’s body language matches up with the words they are trying to say. When speaking in front of others, practice the following body language techniques:
- Include an open stance when speaking. Wringing your hands and crossing arms in front of your chest can act as a barrier and block effective communication.
- Sit on the edge of your chair when speaking and listening to others during conversation.
- Maintain positive eye contact with others. Do not roll your eyes or look skyward during difficult points of the conversation. Do not turn eyes towards other focus areas within the room as it can make you look distracted and uninterested.
These situations often involve many different emotions that can be masked as anger; these can include fear, pain, despair, frustration, and confusion. It is important to take these emotions into consideration and remember to use “I” statements when expressing yourself and your feelings. Avoid judgment words such as “worst”, “better”, and “should” as they can immediately put people on the defensive. Being on the receiving end of someone else’s anger can also be a challenging aspect of communication. Consider the following:
- Take a moment to consider your own anger and emotions and how they might affect your response to the situation.
- Acknowledge the thoughts and feelings of the other person so that they know you are interested in finding a solution. Often times they will start to relax once interest is taken.
- Rephrase what you have heard so that the other person knows that you understand what they are saying and are taking those feelings into consideration.
- Come to an agreement with the other person on what the problem issue is.
- Invite the other person to join you in addressing the issue.
- Take action towards a solution and follow up on its effectiveness.
- If the other party is not willing or receptive to reaching an agreement or behaving in a civilized manner, it is time to let the matter go and disengage yourself from the interaction.
Effective communication starts with you. It is up to you to maintain a conversational dialogue by allowing others to finish their thoughts, respecting their points of view, and actively listening to what they have to say.
- Kansas State University Extension. (2002). LEADS Curriculum Notebook: Unit II, Module2-1. Manhattan, KS: Kansas State University.