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A WorkLife4You Guide

Communication Skills for

Healthy Relationships
Communication is vital in creating and communicate about a technical issue),
maintaining a relationship, whether it be an using colloquialisms or jargon, using
intimate relationship—such as with a partner, ambiguous word choices, etc.
child, or friend—or a professional relation-
• Emotional barriers. There is a greater
ship—such as with a co-worker, supervisor, or
potential for misunderstanding when
client. Your communication skills affect how
emotions are involved. For example, a
you solve problems, how you resolve conflict,
sender who is upset or angry may not
and the level of trust you generate in your
be able to effectively communicate his
relationships. A lack of communication may
or her feelings and ideas. A receiver in a
result in confusion, misunderstandings, and
similar state may ignore or distort what
the development of poor communication pat-
the other person is saying.
terns. This guide provides strategies to help
you foster effective communication skills. • Environmental barriers. This can
include a number of factors includ-
Barriers to Effective Communication ing, interruptions, distractions, physi-
cal environment issues (lighting, noise,
Barriers to communication are things that comfort), talking too softly, physical
prevent people from understanding a mes- distance, a physical barrier between
sage, or understanding it the same way. Some sender and recipient, etc.
common barriers to communication include:
• Timing barriers. The timing of a com-
• Poor listening skills. Many people munication can affect it’s ability to be
consider speaking the most important understood. For example, there may not
element of communication. However, be enough time to communicate the mes-
good listening skills are critical to effective sage fully, or it may be too early or too
communication. They help you better late in the day for someone to give the
understand the information other people communication his or her full attention.
are trying to convey, improve your rap-
port with others, and improve your prob- • Perceptual barriers. Each person experi-
lem solving skills. ences events—including communica-
tions—in a way that is unique to him or
• Language barriers. The words you her. A sender will communicate in a way
use to communicate may create a bar- that makes sense in his or her reality. A
rier to communication. This can be as receiver understands a communication
basic as communicating with someone in a similar manner. However, these two
who doesn’t speak the same language, realities may not be the same, so the mes-
or a subtle as interpreting the words sage may be perceived differently, hinder-
you use in a different way. It can also ing communication. Variables includ-
include poor use of language by the ing age, education, gender, social and
communicator (e.g., using words incor- economic status, cultural background,
rectly, poor grammar), a lack of under- temperament, health, religion, politi-
standing of the language or context cal beliefs, etc. can alter perceptions and
(e.g., a non-technical person trying to create barriers to communication.
• Filtering. Think of the child’s game of –– Avoid distracting behaviors, such as play-
telephone, where a message is passed ing with a pencil, drumming your fin-
from one person to another. In most gers, jingling change in your pocket, etc.
cases, the message, as finally received, Thesemake it difficult for you to listen
is very different from the one that and distract the speaker.
was originally sent. That is filtering. • Use acknowledging responses such
Filtering occurs in a variety of ways that as “uh-huh,” “I see,” “you don’t say,”
can be a barrier to effective communi- “okay,” etc. These encourage the other
cation, for example, when an assistant, person to speak and show that you are
co-worker or spouse takes a message on interested in what he or she is saying.
your behalf, how someone leaves a mes-
sage on an answering machine, etc. • Paraphrase what you believe the other
person has said. This will indicate that
you have been listening, and ensure that
your understanding is accurate. At the
Listening involves hearing and paying atten- end of the conversation you may wish to
tion to the speaker. However, hearing and summarize the discussion, as well.
effective listening are very different abili-
ties. Consider the following tips to help you • Ask questions. Don’t interrupt, but at
become a more effective listener: an opportune time clarify anything that
seems unclear to you.
• Clear your mind to avoid wandering
mentally. Your internal dialogue— • Pay attention to the speaker’s non-
deciding what you want to say, react- verbal messages, by observing tone
ing to something the other person said, of voice and body language. This can
other issues that may be on you mind— give clues as to what the other person is
can distract you from actively listening thinking and feeling and how he or she
to the other person. is responding to what you say.
• Focus on what the other person is • Respond constructively. Let the other
saying. Give the other person your full person know you value what he or she
attention and listen carefully to what is saying, even if you don’t agree. Try to
he or she is saying. Think of this as a avoid responding negatively or directively,
opportunity to learn something about for example criticizing, ridiculing, dis-
the other person. missing, diverting (talking about your-
• Don’t interrupt. Allow the other per- self rather than about what the other
son to talk without interruption until he person has said) or rejecting the other
or she gets to the point. person or what they are saying.
• Use body language to indicate your • Respond appropriately. Make sure you
interest and attention, and encourage clearly understand what the other person
the other person to speak: wants from you and respond appro-
priately. If you aren’t certain what the
–– Keep up good eye contact.
other person wants, ask for clarification.
–– Lean forward, nod your head, make Try to avoid giving unwanted diagnosis,
encouraging gestures. advice or direction unless the person
–– Keep your body relaxed, open and specifically requests it from you. For
focused on the speaker. Avoid crossed example, if a friend or co-worker simply
arms and legs, clenched fists, turning wants to vent about an incident that
the eyes/head/body away or being easily frustrated him, he may not appreciate
distracted; this indicates disinterest or you giving unwanted advice about how
opposition. you feel he or she should have handled
the situation.
Speaking • Be positive. Focus on the other person’s
The goal in speaking is to convey a message positive points. Be specific, generous and
to another person so that the other person public with your praise. Make sure that
understands it exactly as you intended it. The positive feedback outweighs criticism.
following strategies can help you sharpen • Respond, but don’t react. Be respect-
your verbal communication skills. ful, calm and positive. If the discussion
• Make certain you have the other per- is escalating into anger, take a short
son’s attention. When you have some- break from it. Agree on a set time to
thing important to say to somebody, resume the discussion and be sure that
make sure you have his or her attention you do.
(call him or her by name, make eye con- • Ask for a summary. Find a polite way
tact) before you begin talking. of ensuring that people have understood
• Be organized. Have an objective and you. “Could you summarize what we’ve
structure your speaking towards that discussed to make sure we are on the
goal. Think before you speak and pres- same page?” “Could you review the
ent your thoughts/information in an major deliverables to make sure that I’m
organized manner. going in the right direction.”
• Use “I” phrases such as “I feel ...,” • Try to resolve conflicts, not to win
“I need ...,” or “I would like ...” as them. If you are unable to initially
opposed to “you did ...,” “you are ....” come to an agreement, take a break and
“I” statements focus on your feelings, set a time to try again. Try to develop a
are less accusatory, create less defensive- solution to the problem but remember,
ness, and help the other person under- occassionally you may have to agree to
stand your point of view rather than disagree.
feeling attacked.
Assertive Communication
• Speak so the listener will understand.
Avoid jargon, colloquialism, overcom- Assertive communication is an communica-
plicated terminology, etc. Speak in a tion style that is built on mutual respect.
way that is appropriate for the age, sex Communicating assertively means that you
and emotional state of the other person. speak up for yourself, while respecting the
right of others to do the same. Being assertive
• Encourage open-ended conversation. demonstrates self-respect because you are will-
Use open-ended questions that promote ing to stand up for your rights and interests,
a response, such as “tell me about …” and express your thoughts and feelings. It also
“how do you feel about....” Avoid ques- demonstrates that you are sensitive to the rights
tions that encourage a one word answer. of others and willing to work constructively to
• Be open. Share your feelings truthfully reach a mutually agreeable outcome.
… but respectfully. Approach the dis- Assertiveness is sometimes confused with
cussion as an opportunity for the other agression. Assertive behavior promotes mutual
person to learn something about you. respect and results in trust, acceptance and
• Be specific and objective. Identify the cooperation. Aggressive behavior promotes
specific issue at hand and how it makes self interest at the expense of others and
you feel. Avoid generalizing statements results in hostility, mistrust, disrespect and
such as “always,” “ever” or “never.” obstructiveness.
Stick to the subject; try not to digress
into broad personality issues or revive
past issues.
Being assertive enables you to: Communicating About Tough Issues
• Act in your own best interests—includ- Effective communication skills are particularly
ing refusing a request critical when dealing with difficult issues.
• Stand up for yourself by clearly express- Consider the following strategies for commu-
ing your rights, interests, thoughts, feel- nicating about tough issues.
ings and personal boundaries • Talk early. People—especially children—
• Demonstrate self-respect by exercising often become aware of an issue sooner
your rights and expecting respect from than you think. By dealing with an issue
others sooner rather than later, it is easier to
maintain your objectivity and self-
• Demonstrate respect for others by con- control, prevent the issue from escalat-
sidering their needs and rights—includ- ing, and avoid frustration, stress, and
ing the right to refuse a request misinformation.
• Develop and expect trust and equality • Talk privately. Set up a time to talk
in relationships in a private place, where you won’t be
• Negotiate to a mutually acceptable overheard or interrupted.
compromise • Initiate the conversation. You may
Assertive communication includes both verbal need to be the one to start the conver-
and non-verbal communications. The follow- sation. This can be uncomfortable for
ing tips can help you communicate assertively. many people. Consider saying some-
thing such as “I’d like to get your input
• Use confident, positive body lan- on something that I think will help us
guage. Make eye contact, smile, main- work together more effectively,” or “I
tain an upright, relaxed, open posture need your help with something. Can we
and use smooth movements. talk about it (soon)?”
• Verbalize a clear, confident message. • Think ahead of time about what you
Use “I” statements, be specific, be objec- want to say and how you want to say
tive, be positive, be calm, be consistent it. Be specific about what the issue is
• Learn to say no. Use the word “no” and give concrete examples of things
and offer an explanation if you choose you have observed and the impact they
to. Do not apologize and do not make have had. If you feel uncomfortable dis-
up excuses. cussing an issue, you may want to prac-
tice what you would like to say ahead of
• Use a firm, pleasant, clear and audi- time or even role play the conversation
ble tone of voice. with a trusted friend or colleague.
• State the issue and the outcome you • Explore the other person’s thoughts,
would like to achieve. feelings and beliefs. This will help
• Stay focused, don’t digress—or allow you understand how the other person
the other person to deflect you by perceives the issue, which can help you
digressing—into other issues, blame or address your concerns in a way that
judgment. takes into account his or her perspec-
tive. In addition, allowing the other
• Validate the other person’s feelings and person to express his or her point of
issues. view and be heard will help him or her
• Summarize or restate the other person’s feel valued, reduce feelings of defensive-
point of view. ness, and encourage the other person
to reciprocate by being open to hearing
Assertive communication is a learned skill. what you have to say.
The more you practice it, the easier it will
become and the better you will be at it.
• Talk about your own feelings and • Be prepared for a negative response.
be personal. Statements such as, “I’m Remember that the issue may be dif-
worried or concerned,” “I would like” ficult for the other person to deal with.
and “I feel,” can ease tension and help You cannot control the other person’s
the other person learn more about your reactions, but you can anticipate them,
point of view. and be emotionally ready.
• Be open. It is critical to develop a rela- • Take a step back. If the discussion is
tionship in which the other person feels escalating into hostility, take a short
comfortable expressing his or her feelings break from it. Agree on a set time to
and concerns and asking questions freely. resume the discussion and be sure that
• Tailor the message. Different people you do.
need different information, have differ-
ent sensitivities and require a different Developing Opportunities for Face-to-
vocabulary. In most cases, however, it’s Face Communication
usually best to keep explanations short, Finding opportunities for in-person commu-
simple and straightforward. nication can be a challenge. In some cases,
• Be encouraging, supportive and however, it is important to set aside quality,
positive. Don’t try to avoid topics face-to-face time together to promote com-
because you are uncomfortable, unsure munication. Consider the following:
of the answer or don’t have time to dis- • Be available. Keep the lines of commu-
cuss them. If you can’t address a ques- nication open. Make sure those who may
tion or if you don’t have an answer, be need to contact you know how to reach
honest about it, but say you’ll try to find you, e.g. work phone, cell phone, etc.
out, and make certain to follow through. When you are together take time out to
• Listen. Listening, and responding to talk, ask questions and have meaningful
what the other person is saying, can help conversations.
you get a feel for what he or she thinks • Make a commitment to your relation-
or feels about an issue, what he or she ships. Make your relationships a priority.
knows and can be a path to discussion. A relationship is a work in progress. It
• Be honest. Give straightforward and needs attention and effort to grow. No
honest information and address all the matter how busy you are, make time to
issues. Honesty builds trust. Avoidance, spend quality time together, even if you
in whole or in part, may lead to con- have to schedule specific time slots on
tinued—or escalated—problems or to your calendars.
the person having to seek information • Build structure. Part of being able to
elsewhere and being misinformed. You communicate effectively is making time
don’t have to give every single detail, for meaningful conversations in a set-
but cover the important points. ting free of distractions. Schedule time
• Be patient. Allow the other person to set for face-to-face communication. Set
a pace that’s comfortable for him or her, a regular weekly meeting to catch-up
formulate his or her thoughts and put and discuss any issues that have arisen.
those thoughts into words. In some cases, Consider making at least one dinner a
the other person may need some time week mandatory for all family members,
to absorb and reflect on what he or she allowing no telephone interruptions or
has learned. In this case you may need to visits from friends. This gives family
continue the discussion later and address members a chance to talk about what’s
any lingering questions or issues. going on and to focus on each other.
• Seize the moment. Catch up with
whenever you have an opportunity,
though this may require some sponta-
neity. Being in a car together is almost
always a good chance to talk; ordering
a pizza to share when you have a quiet
night at home is another way to catch
• Eliminate distractions. Cutting down
on distractions, such as the computer,
the phone, radio and television, sets
the stage for conversation. Try not to
bury yourself in e-mail, the paper or
a book when it’s possible to have real
• Reschedule and follow through. If
someone wants to discuss something
at a time when you can’t give your full
attention, explain why you can’t talk,
set a time to talk later, and then carry
This publication is for general informational purposes only and is not intended
to provide any reader with specific authority, advice or recommendations.

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