Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Brief Guide to Effective Communication

A Brief Guide to Effective Communication
Michele Happe MA
September 8 2015

Being trained in effective communication can be the booby prize.  This means that in everyday life my training separates me from most people.  I must modify my standards and understand that most have not had this training.  I love teaching these principles to my clients but in all other arenas I am an outsider.  This little blog is my attempt to spread the word in the hopes that these principles may catch fire and ultimately change the world.

My Buddhist perspective demands that we must understand that we are all Buddhas, and that our shortcomings are just obstacles and obscurations which don’t allow us to express our clear Buddha-hood.  We all have the potential for clear and clean communication.   The task is to clear away the obstacles of poor training and egocentric desire to be right rather that to be clear.  Here are some of the principles I teach.

Speak clearly with enough volume

Many of us learn that we should not have a voice in childhood.  When we carry this into adulthood we may speak with low volume or we might slur our words together in order to not fully commit to what we are saying.  It is a way of avoiding getting into trouble.  This includes speaking under ones breath while walking away which is a form of passive aggressive attack. 

Make sure you are answering the question that was asked

When we don’t listen attentively and are more invested in being right we often muddle the message while formulating our response.  It is important to let go of all agendas and compassionately participate in empathetic listening.  My mom was famous for jumping ahead in the conversation and answering a question that she thought might be coming, completely ignoring the actual question or statement.  The ego will do this to us so when sitting down for a discussion meditate first on eliminating all ego from the conversation. 

Respond rather than react 

Avoid defensiveness while listening to the other.  Remember that there is nothing to defend.  We are adults, not children who are afraid of getting into trouble.  If you are aware of your own shortcomings you don't have to defend yourself over something you are already aware of.  When my husband points out my fussiness over detail I am generally able to respond by affirming his statement thus defusing a potential argument.

Use I statements and active listening

When having a discussion, state your case with I statements.  This eliminates the potential for blaming and labeling.  So you don't say “I feel that you are an idiot who never listens”.  You would rather say “I don’t feel heard or understood”.  This allows the other to actively and empathetically listen.  It is best for the responder to rephrase the statement such as “you are saying that when I don’t have eye contact with you and when I interrupt you, you don’t feel that I am listening to you”.  This is a very high level communication skill that whole books have been written about.  I suggest Getting the Love You Want by Harvel Hendricks for a deeper discussion on the subject. 

Refrain from tit for tat tactics

When the other has a problem with you, just let that be the problem that is discussed.  It is combative to respond with “well you do this or that”.  Pick another time to air your grievances in a direct and compassionate way, which brings us to the next principle.

Be direct with kindness:  eliminate hinting and loaded communication

Hints and innuendo are the death knell of effective communication.  A hint leaves us to our own imagination and if you are like me, I imagine the worst.  This can also fuel an angry response from the other because when one is passive the other can become aggressive.  Loaded communication also is passive aggressive.  Unpack everything you need to say and unload it with clarity and kindness. 

If you have an ultimatum be sure you are willing to follow through otherwise don’t make them

Never make a threat you have no intention of carrying out.  If you do this the other will learn to not take you seriously and will discount even a clear and heartfelt request.  Ultimatums will then be ignored. 

When entering any kind of  relationship communicate bottom line issues.

Essentially discuss the basic ground rules of the relationship such as monogamy, honesty, and the like.  If you never want children it might be a good idea to put this out early in the relationship so the other can exit gracefully before falling in love.  Many of these boundaries can be spelled out in the first weeks of dating just as you would get the  policies and procedures at the outset of a new job.

Use time outs effectively

Time outs are a wonderful tool when things get heated or you are in a stalemate with the other.  When calling a time out it is very important to negotiate the length of the time out.  This reassures the other that you are not exiting to avoid resolution.  When the time out is over it is equally important to readdress the issue at hand in a more calm manner.  Sometimes it is important to remember that it is ok to agree to disagree. 

In Summary:

Remember that relationships are born out of our innate need to connect.  This connection creates a synergy which renders that partnership so much more powerful.  We always must remember that we are on the same side, that it is you and me facing the rest of the world.  All of our relationships are opportunities to learn more about ourselves.  As we learn more we become better people and better partners.  This is how the world can be changed into a more peaceful welcoming place. 

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