Communication Skills for Everyone

Communication is such an important part of our world. Relationships are often made or broken due to communication. And yet, I so often find that people get caught up in communication struggles – miscommunication or not communicating effectively. Communication is made up of the speaker’s message and the listener’s understanding. Here are some tips to help facilitate this.

Assertive communication: Assertiveness means expressing your point of view in a way that is clear and direct, while still respecting others. Communicating in an assertive manner can help you to minimise conflict, control anger, have your needs better met, and to have more positive relationships with friends, family and others. Assertiveness is a style of communication which many people struggle to put into practice, often because of confusion around exactly what it means.

Communication is on a scale starting with Passive communication and on the other end is Aggressive communication. People often confuse assertiveness with aggression because it involves sticking up for yourself. But the two are quite different. Aggressive communication forces your needs onto another, in a bullying manner. People who communicate aggressively do not consider others’ needs and they don’t compromise. This is not good for relationships or in fact, for self-esteem.

Passive communication is the opposite – so, not speaking up for yourself, either because you think your views don’t matter or for reasons like trying to please everyone or to ‘keep the peace’. People who are passive put their needs last and often “allow” themselves to be bullied or ignored. Tone of voice might be quiet and body language might consist of looking at the floor or shrugging the shoulders. Phrases such as “only if you don’t mind” or “but it really doesn’t matter that much to me” come to mind. Passive communication is also not good for self-esteem and relationships. Also, being passive can lead to resentment and this is the feeling behind passive-aggressive communication – where a person who is normally passive becomes an aggressive communicator for a short time to try to be heard or get their needs met.

Assertiveness is between passive and aggressive communication. Being assertiveness means:

  • Stating your point of view or request clearly.
  • Telling the other person how you feel as honestly as you can (remember to listen to what they say as well).
  • Monitoring your tone and volume of voice: how you say it is as important as what you say. For example, speaking at a normal conversation volume, rather than a shout or whisper, and make sure that you sound firm but not aggressive.
  • Matching your body language – open body posture, standing tall by relaxed and making eye contact.
  • Using facts rather than exaggerated statements such as “You are always late!”
  • Consider “I” statements which avoid pointing the finger at the other person. For example, instead of “you are always so mean to me”, try “I get upset when you are unkind to me”. You can then add on your needs “I need you to speak to be nicely”.

Reflective communication: Allows for clarification of communication by reflecting back what you have heard the communicator say. There are several ways to do this:

  • Mirroring: Mirroring is a simple form of reflecting and involves repeating almost exactly what the speaker says.Mirroring should be short and simple. It is usually enough to just repeat key words or the last few words spoken. This shows you are trying to understand the speaker’s terms of reference and acts as a prompt for him or her to continue.
    • For example: Speaker “I am going to the shops this afternoon and will be back at 5pm”. Listener “Ok, I will see you around 5pm.” Be aware not to mirror too much or it might come across as condescending.
  • Paraphrasing: this involves using other words to reflect what the speaker has said. Paraphrasing shows that you are listening and also trying to understand what the speaker is saying. People often ‘hear what they expect to hear’ as they hear through their own lens, assumptions, generalisations, or prejudice. When paraphrasing, it is important to reflect just the speaker’s thoughts/content and not question the speaker’s thoughts, feelings or actions.  Your responses should be non-directive and non-judgemental. It can feel a bit awkward at first, but like all skills, practice makes it work smoothly over the longer time.
    • Here’s an example: Speaker “My boss told me I had done a good job on the filing but not on my customer service – I’m confused as I thought I was doing well in both areas”. Listener: “So it sounds like you are a bit puzzled about what your boss has said about your work”.
  • Reflecting Content, Feeling and Meaning: this extends on the skill above. When a speaker talks, often there may be more than just content in their message. Someone might say a simple message like “I had an argument with my boyfriend” – it is easy to see the content in this message, but there are likely to be feelings and emotions expressed within this message also. Reflecting the feelings or emotions that are expressed can help to understand the speaker and also validate the speaker, helping them to own and accept their feelings. This takes a little more skills as it needs to take into account the speaker’s body cues (non-verbal messages) as well as verbal messages. Strong emotions can be easy to identify such as anger, whilst other emotions can be subtle. Cues include body language and tone of voice etc. allowing the listener to pick up on the intensity of the emotion also.
    • For example: Speaker “I just don’t understand my boss.  One minute he says one thing and the next minute he says the opposite.” Listener “You feel very confused by him?”

Try to be natural in your response. If you get it wrong, the speaker will sometimes correct you.

  • For example: Speaker “I just don’t understand my boss.  One minute he says one thing and the next minute he says the opposite.” Listener “You feel very confused by him?” Speaker “No! He makes me really angry!”

Like all skills, communication takes practice. It is worth trying some of these techniques and building up your communication muscles!

Sources: Centre for Clinical Interventions

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Sharon Connell

Sharon Connell

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