improve your communication skills
You have conversations every day. They can be with your children, your parents, family members and spouses; with colleagues, coworkers or with the boss; with friends and neighbors; with tenants, and landlords. Sometimes these conversations are about the big issues of race, religion, gender and politics. More often than not they are about common everyday concerns. At work, conversations involving feedback on poor performance are difficult for both managers and employees. In families, conversations about disciplining children and how household chores should be shared are often difficult. Neighbors get into damaging arguments about dogs, noise and parking problems, then go to court, or move. Most of people wish they could avoid the conversations about money that they sometimes face with your spouse, children parents, and siblings.
You may put these conversations off for as long as you can because you know they are likely to involve a heated argument, blame or accusations, often end up in an emotional outburst of tears or anger. It is simply not safe to get into them! The stakes are high. You might make a fool of yourself, damage a relationship forever, or make it impossible to work constructively with someone in the future. At the same time, you probably realize that swinging from a stony silence into an emotional rage and then back again, is not good in any relationship.
You can start to improve your communication skills by recognizing four of the most common mistakes you are likely to make that can make communication difficult.
1) You talk too much! When you talk about something that is sensitive, personal and difficult, you may talk around the subject, not being specific, trying to be polite, hoping the other person will somehow pick up the meaning. Plan what you need to say, then choose the most simple way of saying it. The fewer words you use to open a conversation and explain the problem as you see it, the safer you will be. However, you may talk so much that the person you are speaking with is unable to figure out what you are getting at. You only succeed in adding confusion to an already difficult conversation. You know when things aren’t going well. You may by accident, say something exaggerated or accusing, which causes the other person to take a defensive posture.
2) You think you know everything! When you feel strongly about something you are usually convinced that you have got all the facts at your finger tips and that you know exactly what is going on. You are also quite sure that you know who is right and who is wrong! So you go into a conversation primarily to get the other person to agree with you. You unconsciously say to yourself: If I can just get him/her to see, or: If they will just do. Then they will see I’m right.” So the more the other person resists, perhaps because they are trying to offer their own viewpoint, the harder you push to get your way. However, you rarely, if ever, know all the facts in a complex conversation, and you cannot always be right! You must go into difficult conversations about complex issues prepared to listen, and prepared to consider the viewpoint of the other person.
3) You blame everyone except yourself! It is tempting to see every problem as the fault of someone else. If they would perform to the agreed to your standards, if they would just stick to the rules, if they would do what they promised; then there would not be a problem. The fact is that if you are part of the situation, you are in some way also part of the problem. Are you sure you made your instructions clear? Did you clarify priorities? Did you set clear standards? Did you get commitment to these standards? You need to remember that you may be as much part of the problem as anyone else.
4) You go straight to action! It is tempting to offer an immediate solution to the problem in a difficult conversation, so you can end it quickly. Avoid this temptation! Slow down. You need to hear all sides of the story, and the other person needs to know that their opinions and feelings have been heard. If you push too quickly for your own solution it is likely that others will not be committed to the outcome. You will think you have solved the problem only to find that nothing changes and you are back to square one after the conversation.
These four mistakes account for many of the problems you face in difficult conversations. If you can avoid them you will find that your communication skills will improve noticeably.