The way we communicate with others, especially in emotionally intense situations, contributes to our overall level of confidence. Years ago, I was in a relationship that was spiraling downward; one of the major catalysts was our ineffective communication. So eager to get our points across, even in everyday conversations, neither one of us heard the other. The end result left both of us feeling exhausted, disrespected and unappreciated.
I am sure that you too have been in situations where your ability to communicate feels stuck; perhaps with a boss, friend, or parent. When we can’t communicate effectively we are left with a lot of resentment, unhappiness, and many times we blame ourselves. Learning how to effectively communicate with others, especially in situations that can be emotionally triggering, is a skill.
Communication and confidence go hand and hand. When you are able to express feelings, your needs and, most importantly, feel heard, it builds internal trust. Even if the other person responds in a way that is disrespectful, you can walk away from the situation knowing you did your best. Without a little awareness and acceptance about how we may cause some communication mishaps, these frustrating experiences are likely to come up again and make us less confident in our ability to express ourselves.
Characteristics of Effective Communicators
Confident body language. Look others in the eye, call others by their name, generally smile or have a non-threatening look on their face, have good posture and an open stance. They appear at ease and are ready to talk to anyone. This comes across just by looking at them.
Avoid sarcasm. They know that it makes others feel disrespected, not to mention they appear insecure and defensive. Sarcasm tells others you can’t tolerate them or the conversation. While you may feel it diffuses uncomfortable feelings, in reality, it makes others frustrated, often wanting to avoid future interactions.
Keep their cool. No matter how heated the situation, they are able to stick to the facts and express their feelings with words rather than behaviors. No yelling, door slamming, threatening, or emotionally unregulated outbursts. They compartmentalize in hopes that they can be heard.
Listen and validate. They let the other person know they are being heard, giving them the same respect they hope to receive. Validation doesn’t mean you have to agree with the person; rather you are attempting to understand where they are coming from. I may not be able to understand what it feels like to have something happen, but I can be empathic with my words: “That must have been terrible. I’m sorry that happened.” It shows I am listening to them.
Effective Communicators Do These Things Before They Say a Word
Chill out. Get out of your tunnel vision of frustration and “I must be right” mentality and think about something completely off topic. Get mindful in the moment; even if you have to get mindful of how many tiles are on your floor (yes count), the lyrics to a song. Just stop thinking for one minute about the interaction you hope to have and the emotions that come with it. Obsessing about the outcome of a future event will only heighten your anxiety and make you less confident.
Be mindful of the other person. Trying to have a conversation during their favorite TV show or after what appears to be a tough day may not be the best timing. Interrupting, or being neglectful of others’ time, is a big button pusher for many people. It’s invalidating and can make others feel as though you don’t care about what they are doing or their mood. If you don’t know when a good time would be, ask.
Avoid the word “but”, instead use “and”. In any situation try to avoid “but” at all costs. It invalidates others and often causes the other person to feel defensive. “You did a great job on that project, but you should check your proofreading next time.” Wow, what a back-handed compliment! The listener doesn’t even hear the praise now. They are focused on what they did wrong. Using the word “and” instead forces you to change the outcome of the statement. “You did a great job on that presentation, and try to spell check a bit more if you can. I know it can be a hassle sometimes.”
Be Fair. Don’t monopolize the conversation. Let other people talk. Really, hear them out, too.
Avoid all or nothing thinking. The words, always and never, especially when accompanied by “you”, are generally not effective when trying to make a point. “He is always late or never on time” is not true. We are generalizing in an internal attempt to make them feel empathy for our frustration. It may be true that they are rarely on time. However, use a word that doesn’t have as much heat to it. Try “Often it feels like” or “Recently, I have noticed”. They are not all or nothing; they are more subjective, effective terms.
In potentially complicated or highly emotional situations, good, effective and confident communicators speak in-person. It is extremely important to remember this. Text message, instant messages, and email only complicate things more. Is it easier, sure, yet the tone can also be compromised and you are unable to read a person’s true emotions (emoticons don’t count). If you care about the other person, try to communicate in a way that allows both of you to be heard. In the long run, you will have more respect for yourself and confidence in your ability to communicate with anyone.
Emily is the author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are.You can visit Emily’s Guidance Girl website. You can also find her on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.