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Communicate Better with Others
GOOD COMMUNICATION IS THOUGHTFUL
We have all probably seen or know of someone who seems to be able to communicate well with most people and to create goodwill or cooperation in different kinds of situations. We often assume that they are ‘born’ that way, or are ‘naturally’ good communicators who don’t have to work at communicating well. The fact is that good communicators usually do three things that the rest of us do not do, or do inconsistently:
- they identify clear goals for their communications
- they communicate with ‘straight talk’ and choose words that will most effectively convey the meaning they intend (they take steps to ensure that their message is understood as they intended).
- they actively listen to the other person (without thinking about what they are going to say in response) and reflect back the correct feeling and content heard.
These actions always require a degree of awareness and intent.
A great deal of our communication occurs without forethought. We respond to our feelings and thoughts, or react to situations and events, often, before we have stopped to think about what they mean, whether or not our interpretations (perceptions) are correct or even reasonable, or what we want to achieve through our reactions. Much of our communication, therefore, is not governed by our intentions – what we actually want to achieve – but by our repetition and duplicating of old automatic patterns.
A good communicator does, or tries to do the following:
- understand themselves, and establish what they really want to communicate and for what purpose
- focus on those communication goals and not be distracted from them
- find out what the other person’s main purpose is in communicating, and their priorities
- focus on communicating in a way that will help both parties achieve their goals, or a reasonable alternative.
A good communicator is, or tries to be aware of the following:
- the situation surrounding the communication (what has happened before, what is happening now)
- their own feelings and thoughts about the situation or other person
- what the other person is feeling and thinking (through listening reflectively)
- their own needs and goals in this situation
- the other person’s needs and goals (through questioning and checking)
- their own communication strengths and weaknesses
- the other person’s communication strengths and weaknesses.
It may sound like there are just too many aspects to think about at once, however like learning any new skill, you are highly aware of all that is involved at first (remember when you learnt to ride a bike or drive a car?), but then as you become familiar with it all, it becomes second nature (do you think about pressing the pedals, keeping balance, braking, or turning a bike anymore? Generally not! It becomes ‘natural’ with practice and over time).
Recognising reactive patterns
We tend to develop habits or patterns of response to certain people, or situations. For example, I might automatically react to a perceived threat with aggression and respond aggressively to a threatening situation even though it might be the least productive or least reasonable response. The reason for this is that reactive patterns are often established early in our development, and are often learned by modelling (that is, by imitating the behaviour of people we admire or respect, such as a parent or an older sibling).
When our behaviour is governed by reactive patterns, we will tend to justify it by blaming it on others (she made me mad) or by otherwise rationalising it (I have been under a lot of stress lately). However, if we take a closer, more honest look at our relationships, we can begin to see that our behaviour is not based on external events or factors, but primarily upon internal learned habits, attitudes and beliefs, which result in particular patterns of behaviour.
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