By Margherite Cermak
Everybody knows how to speak, but most people find it difficult to communicate sometimes. Miscommunications happen via text messages and emails, misunderstandings happen between people who are arguing or debating. People who care about each other get messages crossed and sometimes never get to the truth. All sorts of things go wrong when people don’t communicate properly. Not knowing how to communicate makes it difficult if not impossible to learn and it can damage relationships and opportunities.
Some key elements of communicating are examining what it is you wish to express, knowing how to speak specifically to an individual, and understanding how they may feel in response to your words. Mastering these things means being able to speak and be heard. By being able to communicate properly you can make the same point presented twenty different ways and be received by everyone in your path, even if they disagree.
First of all, the platforms on which we communicate need to be looked at. Communicating is a back and forth exchange of information and reactions to that information. If you don’t want to get a bad reaction from people, you have to be aware of the platform you’re using to communicate with them. Before text messaging, if you wanted to speak to someone who is a distance away from you you’d have to call them. If you called them in the middle of the night or in the early morning for an unimportant reason you would receive a very bad reaction from them.
This reaction is what keeps people from calling each other at unreasonable hours. But with text messaging, irresponsibility has increased tremendously and timing consideration has plummeted. Since we don’t have to experience a person’s reaction when their message notification wakes them up it’s much easier to find the courage to entertain our impulse to communicate. The person on the other end is still reacting with anger and frustration but since texting is difficult to do while sleepy they probably won’t express themselves as quickly or as directly and feelings of discontent may come out in other ways that you might not understand.
Same goes for emails, if you have a difficult topic to discuss be conscious of the platform you use. Breaking up with someone is a much different conversation in person, over the phone, or via email. Communicating how you feel without giving the other party or parties an opportunity to respond easily can be frustrating, hurtful and perceived as disrespectful. With that type of an attitude towards you, you’ll never be able to get your point across and your efforts would be wasted. That’s why it’s so important to evaluate what it is you’re trying to communicate and get accomplished with your words.
Before you speak, evaluate what it is you’re trying to get done. Ask yourself what you’re feeling, and why you want to talk about it. Ask yourself what it is you want to happen after you say what you need to say, and then ask yourself how you think you can best accomplish that task. If you want someone to correct a mistake they’ve made, ordering them to do so may not be as effective as telling them what you believe they did wrong and how it made you feel. Telling someone how you feel as a result of their actions is more likely to strike empathy in them as well as give them an idea as to how to rectify the problem, and if not, at that point they will be much more open to hearing suggestions as to what they can do to please you then if you shouted at them. You’re much more likely to get your way by calmly and thoughtfully expressing how you feel and what you want.
As people, we are naturally defensive and emotional. We don’t like to be wrong so we don’t like to be confronted. For the most part, we also don’t like to be responsible for hurting or upsetting somebody so our natural defense is to prove that we’re justified and not wrong. Stopping that reaction before it starts is more often than not as easy as saying I feel this way because of this, instead of phrasing it as You did this thing and so I feel this way. Removing blame and just stating facts puts you in a much stronger position than allowing your emotions to speak.
It’s also important to recognize what a person is responsive to on an individual and personal level. Expressing systemic racism and police brutality to a sherif is a different conversation than expressing it to a civil rights activist. You have to know your audience before you present a point. If you speak to everyone in the same tone, by the same words, with the same attitude you’ll be dismissed by half the population. But if you comprehend who you’re speaking to and gauge how they might react, you can alter the conversation so that it is received in your favor. That doesn’t mean you can convince everyone of everything, but it does mean you can get your point across.
The language you use is critical in making sure someone understands you. Consider a conversation between you and an adult verses you and a child. Asking an adult to set the dinner table is much different than asking a small child to do it isn’t it? An adult you can simply ask please set the table, while a child you’ll have to tell them how many plates, forks and glasses to get and you’ll probably have to show them how to fold the napkins. The same concept applies to everyone. We’re all very unique, we have different levels of education, experience, and emotional responsiveness. Knowing the level your audience is at will enable you to choose your words properly.
Now you won’t always get the reactions you’re looking for, but understanding the reactions you receive can make a conversation transition more smoothly. When we don’t get the responses we desire it’s very easy for a calm discussion to turn into a heated argument. That really only happens because we lack understanding of each other. That is why it is so important to absorb a person’s response and the information they’re giving you, and truly try and understand where it’s coming from. If you respond to what someone is saying to you by deflecting or defending then you won't get far but if you absorb it and ask yourself or them what it means, you’ll be able to move forward.
For instance you might tell someone that you love them and get a negative response. That kind of thing might be very confusing for you but if you take a step back and try to see things from their perspective your choices may become a lot easier. Having a deep conversation before someone is ready to or bringing something up too often puts pressure on people and causes them anxiety. Again, ask yourself why you said it. If you tell a person you love them because you think they need to hear it, your choice is probably correct and you'll get a good response. But if you’re telling that same person you love them because you want to hear it in return you’re most likely setting yourself up for disappointment.
A statement like I love you is heavy because it comes with a lot of responsibility. If you’re saying it to a person for you’re own sake then what you’re really saying is Be careful with me but if you’re saying it for their sake then you’re really saying I’ll be careful with you. That’s a huge difference. Nobody wants to be lured into a conversation and we can sense what others are feeling and trying to do, so understanding how a person’s going to feel about your choices makes for better decision making. So try to be considerate of how the other person is going to feel about your words.
Also, ask yourself if what you’re about to say is necessary. If you know a person is going to respond awkwardly to something and it’s not something that needs to be said, is it really important enough to you to say it at the expense of someone else? If the answer is yes, then of course find a way to say it but if the answer is no, perhaps keep it to yourself.
Conversations, even simple ones, can make a person feel like you’re taking something from them, they can be draining. And that’s because many times we are. If you ask a person a question, you’re requesting that they give you information. Asking a person a question means that they have to stop, think about what you’re saying and finally make a decision about how they’re going to respond. However if you make a statement, you're giving a person information. They then have the choice to ignore you, or, acknowledge you and respond. You’re giving them as opposed to taking from them.
If you ask a person something like, are you going to finish your dinner? they may feel the need to respond with a question, or an explanation. They might feel like they are being rushed, or wonder why you asked, perhaps you want the food on their plate. But if you make a statement such as, If you’re done with your dinner, I’m going to put what’s left in the in the fridge then you’ve just given them the information they need to make a decision as to how to respond.
If you see someone is flustered and you keep asking them questions, and they snap at you in response, even if you were trying to help, you instead make the confusion worse. So it’s necessary to understand their reaction and best to take responsibility for it. Simply telling people what you want, how you feel and what you’re willing to offer will completely change a conversation, offering a positive response. Being conscious of giving people opportunities and choices verses forcing them to respond to you is going to make them much more comfortable and receptive to communicating with you properly.
Allowing a person to grow in a conversation always proves valuable. Some people respond best to simple, straight forward, concise direction while other’s need to know the whys and hows behind a message. So when you communicate with a person be open to their response. If you said something to offend someone, or if you’re misunderstood, apologize. Take responsibility for your half of the conversation. Understand that people might be taken off guard when you confront them with something. Even if they react poorly, if you remain calm and understanding of the fact that your words will strike emotion in them then you will maintain the upper hand.
When you speak to a person, speak to who they are and never at them. Be clear about what you want to say and why you want to say it. Communicate with purpose and understanding. And recognize that none of us are the same, but that we are all people experiencing valid emotions. Once you have a handle on all this, you’ll be able to communicate in a healthy, effective manner with anyone and you’ll be a happier, stronger person for it.