The Ripple Effect
Life and Business Coaching
10 Tips for Effective Personal Communication
Julie Meyer, M. S., MFT, CPC
Connect with the person you are speaking to. It's the first step to effective communication. You can tell when you've connected because your partner is actively listening to you and is interested in what you have to say. Acknowledge the person with a comment that shows that you are interested in what she/he is talking about. An example might be, "Jason, it sounds like you really have a lot of experience with sailing." The conversation will begin to flow and that person will be more likely to listen to what you have to say as well!
People tend to mirror each other during a conversation both verbally and non-verbally. How well you listen to the person you are speaking to will determine how well they listen to you. There are two types of listening skills, passive and active. You demonstrate passive listening merely by looking at your partner, not interrupting, and giving small signs that you are following the conversation (i.e., nodding or saying "Um, hmm.") Active listening requires a bit more of the listener. Here, you check in with your partner from time to time by making sure you understood what she/he said. (i.e., "So, I think I heard you say that you plan to talk to your boss about this conflict, after which you plan to resign. Is that correct?") Passive listening shows respect for the speaking, and active listening reduces mis-communications and assumptions.
Are you looking in your partner's eyes during the conversation? People connect with you better if you connect with them, and a BIG part of that is making eye contact, both while speaking and listening. Of course, you don't want to stare them down, and looking off while you are thinking from time to time is appropriate and reduces any discomfort in your partner that may be created by constant eye contact.
Asking questions during a conversation with someone helps you confirm that you understand what they've said, and it shows interest in the subject. Questions also allow the person you are speaking with to think about the subject and to interact with you. This increases her/his interest and enthusiasm about what you're talking about. Also, sometimes you might want to ask the person if she/he has a question about what you've said, or has any confusion. This will reduce the chance of miscommunication or argument.
Body language, or non-verbal communication is the biggest part of the conversation! While not expressed in words, your stance, movements, eye contact, and posture speak volumes. Make sure you face your partner and maintain an open stance (arms and legs uncrossed, body facing rather than turned away). If your words are engaging, but your eyes and body aren't, the other party may get distracted, uncomfortable, or feel that you are irritated, bored, etc. This can lead to missing the point and the person ending the conversation abruptly with you, due to feeling discomfort.
The sound of your voice and the ups and downs of it keep interest and enthusiasm going in the conversation. Make sure that you are not speaking too loudly or softly. The former may distract or irritate your partner (or those around you). If you speak too softly, your words may get lost or misunderstood, or your partner may have to ask you to repeat yourself often. Enunciating your speech (i.e., "biting" your consonants) is more effective and clearer for the listener than raising your voice. Monotone (one tone throughout) and one level of speech, tends to put people to sleep, and they may become distracted and not hear what you've said. This can lead to miscommunication or disagreements. By modulating your speech, you give energy to it and show that you are interested in what you are saying. Modulating your voice takes practice, so be aware of it when you speak and practice often!
As the old saying goes, "timing is everything." When you are truly engaged with your partner in the conversation you are listening to them and less likely to interrupt or possible blurt out something you wish you'd rather not have said. Also, the timing of your response to something your partner says shows that you were listening and understanding them. When it's your turn to speak, timing is important when making an important point or using humor. Also, there is the timing of when to discuss or bring up a subject. Try to be sensitive to your partner's feelings if it is a delicate subject, to prevent hurting her/his feelings or causing embarrassment. Take your time before responding or speaking, and allow yourself to gather your thoughts first. Make sure that you say only what you truly want to say and no more. Sometimes, it's better to not say anything at all!
Ask questions of your partner during the conversation. This allows them to interact with you and helps you determine whether or not they understand what you've said. It also gives you the opportunity to get information that you might not otherwise know, and it reduces assumptions -- the killer of good communication. Check in with your partner on any assumptions you've made from what they've said -- you might have made the wrong assumption and can take that information away, leading to problems later in the relationship.
At the end of a conversation it's a good idea to do a little summarizing to make sure that both parties are on the same page. This doesn't require any formality, but can be as simple as, "So, I'll see you tomorrow at 6, and you're going to call me in the morning to confirm, right?" Or, it can be a longer paragraph that summarizes a discussion, such as, "So, I now understand your point of view better about the importance of parenting Josh consistently. Part of it is that we agree to support each other's parenting choices made 'in the moment', when we are not available to discuss it with each other first and a decision must be made. Also, we're going to have a weekly meeting with each other to make sure we agree about how we'll handle specific issues as they arise. That way, Josh won't feel like he's getting mixed messages from us."
10. Be Available
When you talk with someone you will often want to follow up with them in the future, either to continue the conversation, or to exchange additional information. Make sure you keep paper and pen with you, or your phone or pda, so that you can get contact information for that person. It would be a shame to not be able to connect with them again if you wanted to!