Good communication is a skill set, not something you are born with. That’s good news! It means no matter who you are, you can learn to be good at interpersonal communication. Let’s look at the skills that go into good interpersonal communication.
Skills for Effective Interpersonal Communication
Reflective listening is THE basic skill in good communication. It’s simple, but not necessarily easy. There are three parts to reflective listening:
Speaker: The tough job of the speaker is knowing what’s going on inside of you. You can’t share with another person what you are thinking and feeling if you don’t know.
Listener: As listener, the tough job is staying focused on what the speaker is sharing. Inevitably, as the speaker begins to talk you are going to have numerous thoughts pop up: “That’s not how I remember it.” “That’s not what I said, and I know that’s not what I meant.” “Why do you think that?” etc.
Reflection: Reflection is the listener’s opportunity to confirm with the speaker that what they heard is in fact what the speaker was trying to say. It’s a brief synopsis of what the speaker communicated, focused primarily on the emotions (since those are often what gets lost). You reflect the FACTS (“so when you heard and saw…”), and the STORY (“you understood that to mean…”), then the FEELINGS (“which left you feeling…”).
Body language plays an important role in communication. It either communicates respect and an earnest desire to hear and understand the other, or a disinterested disrespect.
With today’s technology it can be really tempting to have serious conversations by way of text or messaging – DON’T DO IT. It does not set things up for success. Refuse to have emotionally charged conversations by text or email.
Choose a Helpful Time and Place
Trying to engage a serious conversation when either of you are hungry, stressed out, tired, or focused on something else where you can’t give your undivided attention – is a bad idea. Our mental fatigue does not put us or them in a position to have the best shot at a positive outcome.
Ask permission to engage a conversation – “I would like to talk with you about what happened with…, is now a good time or when would be?” This respects the other person, who may or may not be ready to engage the conversation in a healthy way.
Understand, then Understood
Seek first to understand, then to be understood. You always have a better chance of being heard and understood if you first endeavor to have the other person feel heard and understood.
Don’t Say “I Understand”
Saying “I understand” doesn’t communicate understanding. All it conveys is that you think you understand. Demonstrate that you truly understand by reflecting what you heard and asking for confirmation from the other person that what you believe you understand is indeed what they were trying to say.
Failure to prepare is preparing for failure. The wise person takes time to reflect on their path to action and to try to put themselves in the other’s shoes, prior to engaging the conversation.
God has placed people in your life with wisdom and perspective; don’t rob yourself of the benefit of it.
Avoid Triangulation and Gossip
Triangulation and gossip are different than seeking wise counsel. If you have a concern with Patty, you need to have a conversation with Patty. You might talk with Margaret about the matter, but only for the earnest intent of helping you have a better conversation with Patty.
Prayer, of course, is a must for effective communication around emotionally charged subjects. We need the Lord’s help and His help is available if we only ask. King Jesus wants us to show up, and we want to represent Him well in how we navigate difficult conversations. We can count on His help when we ask.
Overt vs Covert
Good communication requires you using your words to share your thoughts, feelings, and desires. Don’t buy into the lie/misbelief “If they really cared about me they would know or remember.” This only robs you and them of the joy of giving and receiving. It does not lose its meaning if you actually have to use your words instead of them reading your mind.
On the other side, if it seems like someone is trying to say something without actually saying it, just ask, “Are you trying to say…?” They may say no even if you think that is in fact what they are implying. It’s best to take what they say at face value, the words they actually say, rather than trying to read between the lines.
Know When to Take a Break
Time outs are for grown-ups too. It is your responsibility to a) know when you need to take a break because you are not able to show up at your best, b) recognize when it does not appear to you that the other person is able to show up well and take a break.
Understanding vs Agreement
Too often we confuse understanding with agreement. We can have this false belief that if someone really understood us, certainly they would agree with us.If you find yourself on the other side of one of these conversations, where the other person keeps repeating themselves, recognize they don’t feel understood. Use reflection to confirm whether or not you are in fact understanding what they are saying. Contrast your vantage point with theirs to see if it’s a matter of misunderstanding or a matter of disagreement.
Humbly Accept the Fallibility of Memory
The best we can do is honestly share, “This is what I remember,” accepting that our remembrance is not infallible. We “know” what we remember, not necessarily “what we saw,” or what actually happened. Our highest degree of confidence should be, “I am certain this is what I remember,” which may or may not be completely accurate to the facts. Humility requires we accept the fallibility of our memory.
Healthy, mature adults can be OK in relationship with people who are different than them. Unhealthy, undifferentiated individuals need agreement. They can’t be OK if the other person thinks, feels, or remembers differently about something that feels significant to them.
Avoid Inflammatory Words/Phrases
Be intentional about choosing words that don’t cloud the matter or derail the dialogue. Speak tentatively instead of in absolutes, especially around points that there might not be agreement.
When the Other Person Isn’t an Effective Communicator
Some people are difficult to have conversations with. Fortunately, good communication doesn’t have to be a two-way street. You can actually engage in good and even highly skilled, highly effective communication with a person who is not as effective as you are. The following are some specific strategies for doing so.
When others move to silence or violence, notice the condition of the conversation (vs the content), then step out and Make It Safe. When safety is restored, go back to the issue (content) at hand to continue the dialogue.
Tell the Rest of the Story
When you feel yourself sliding out of dialogue into silence or violence ask yourself…
Am I either pretending not to or stubbornly choosing not to notice my role in the problem?
Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent human being do what this person has?
What’s most important to me? What would I do right now if I really wanted what’s most important to me?
Apologize, Contrast, Create Mutual Purpose
Effective interpersonal communication is key in ministry, leadership, and any relationship involving other human beings. It takes intentional effort to be good at it, but it’s worth it.
Cheering you on!
Josh Spurlock, MA, LPC, CST Founder & Director of MyCounselor.Online