Communication was an area I struggled with up until the beginning of my graduate program back in 2014. Difficult conversations were exactly that: difficult. I avoided them at all costs. I would shut down, close myself off emotionally, hold grudges against people who disagreed with me, and I would typically be left feeling alone, depressed, and frustrated. I realized the importance of communication during one of my classes, when communication was the topic discussed. In “The Five Side Effects of Bad Communication,” Paul Joliecoeur says, “Improper communication can lead to a lack of production, broken relationships, less understanding, and an increase in negative emotions, such as frustration and anxiety.”
If you have the time, grab two friends, coworkers, or family members and try this activity: first, each of you must choose a role: artist, messenger, or instructor. There should be one of each. Next, the instructor chooses an image to draw without letting the other two know what the image is. The goal of this activity is for the instructor to communicate through the messenger what image the artist should draw. The instructor can only communicate with the messenger about what is to be drawn; the messenger can only communicate with the artist using information received from the instructor, and the artist is only allowed to draw based on the information received from the messenger. Try this activity, see how well you can replicate the picture, and see how communication plays such an important role.
Proper communication builds trust, improves teamwork, and increases the likelihood of completing a task in a team-setting. During my class in 2014, discussing the topic also helped me to understand that holding in your emotions, and the way you express those emotions, will have a detrimental impact on yourself and others more often than not.
There are four keys to improve communication: being an engaged listener, keeping your stress in check, asserting yourself, and using “I” statements. the first key refers to focusing your attention on the person speaking. For example, looking at your phone or at the television shows your disinterest in what is being communicated. You should show interest in what someone is saying by nodding, saying “mhm,” or paraphrasing what was just said to provide affirmation and give feedback. Secondly, it is necessary to keep your stress in check. Be aware of your emotions and how you are feeling, whether it be influenced by the person you are speaking to, or things that may have happened to you earlier in the day. Being in a relaxed state increases your decision-making process and helps you communicate what is necessary. Next, being able to assert yourself in a non-confrontational manner - you do not have to agree with others’ opinions, but you must remain respectful and acknowledge that others may not feel as you do. However, as a part of asserting yourself, feedback should not be received critically. Whether you agree with it or not, understand that they are trying to provide help: this will reduce potential conflicts and help make everyone feel listened to. Finally, using “I” statements can help the expression of thoughts or feelings in an open, honest, non-hostile way. When we talk about using “I” statements, we want to use the formula: “I feel __ when you __ because…” Using “I” statements in this manner represents accountability and responsibility for your actions and feelings, instead of coming off as accusing. Stating “you make me feel bad” puts the recipient on the defensive, whereas stating “I feel bad when you...” allows for a more facilitative conversation because you are informing the recipient how their action impacts you.
It may be difficult to be consciously aware of our communication habits, good or bad, as we’re used to simply getting our point across. However, following these tips for mindful communication helps deepen your connection with others, aids teamwork, improves decision-making and problem-solving, and also enables you to communicate difficult messages without creating conflict. Improve your communication skills and watch how your personal relationships grow!