Communication is a Super Power

This week I have been thinking a lot about communication – when I am really good at it, when I am very ineffective and the effects of not communicating clearly.

This week I had an experience I have had many times. A parent came into my office upset over what they perceived to be me not listening to them. I try to be the kind of leader who listens far more than I speak. And I really did hear them and understood why they were upset. However, I also have procedures and policies I have to follow, and I genuinely believe that the actions my team took were the right ones to ensure a student’s safety and well-being. I did not anticipate the parent coming to my office to talk, and was ready to hear more of what I had heard on the phone – swearing, anger, interrupting me at every opportunity.

However, what that parent really needed was just some time to unload and to hear my team express love and concern for their child, and some assurance that what they were going through was not easy. Sometimes, the best communication is quiet. It is listening. It is saying “I hear you and I understand.” It is a connection – in this case from one parent to another – and an assurance that their concerns are valid and worth our time to dig a little deeper. That was the strength.

I also had the experience of a not so great interview. I was feeling quite anxious over this interview, and when I am feeling anxious or nervous, I have this terrible habit of just filling space with words. I had a moment where I could feel myself looking at myself and shouting “stop saying words!” Sometimes, communication needs to be filled with empty space, and shorter, more concise answers. I left feeling like there were things I wished I had said, and many things I wished I had not. Not that they were the wrong things to say, just too many things. That was the ineffective.

And the effects? Well, since I don’t yet know the result of that interview, I can’t speak to that. But I can speak to a situation I am trying to support some colleagues with. Teams require clear communication. Sometimes, when the communication is ignored or avoided, or when we try to soften the message, we can cause friction and misunderstanding.

I see it with my colleagues, all of whom are gifted in the work they do. I see the potential for greatness in them collectively. And I also see hurt and confusion arising from miscommunication.

In my own relationships, I sometimes struggle to be straightforward and clear. Mostly because I don’t want to hurt the other person. But I am learning that the work of good communication is finding a way to be both kind and clear, particularly if I feel hurt or triggered in some way. When I don’t speak up at all, or if I water down the message, I send the unintended message that the situation, problem or misunderstanding doesn’t matter to me. If I care enough about someone, I must be willing to get uncomfortable and have the tough talk. We all want to feel like we can be our truest, realest, most authentic selves with the people we love and respect most. And the best way to do that is to communicate exactly what we feel and think. We have to give the other person the trust that they will respond in alignment with their own most real and authentic self. Anything short of that leads to only surface level relationships.

Communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship, whether it’s a romantic partnership, a friendship, or a professional relationship. Yet, so many of us struggle with communicating effectively, which naturally leads to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and even damaged relationships. I am trying to practice being a better communicator. It’s funny, because I believe I can be a very clear and compassionate communicator with strangers, in this blog, at work, but when the relationships matter the most, I find it much harder. So, in an effort to learn to be a better, clearer communicator, here is a taste of what I am learning and practicing:

Tips for Being a Better Communicator

If we want to be better communicators, there are several things we can do to improve our skills.

  1. Listen actively

Active listening is an important part of effective communication. When we listen actively, we are fully present in the conversation and focused on what the other person is saying. This means putting aside distractions like our phone or other devices, and paying attention to the speaker. It also means asking questions and clarifying points to make sure we understand what the other person is saying…not only through their words, but through their tone and body language.

  1. Be clear and concise

Clear and concise communication is key to avoiding misunderstandings. When we communicate, we need to be clear about what we are saying and avoid using vague or ambiguous language. I need to make sure the message is concise and to the point, so that the other person can easily understand what I am saying. Often, out of a fear of hurting someone, or out of a fear of their disapproval, I will avoid being clear. And when I am feeling anxious, I am not always concise (see above regarding my interview).

  1. Use nonverbal cues

Nonverbal cues like facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language can all convey meaning in a conversation. It is just as important to pay attention to our own nonverbal cues, as it is to be aware of the nonverbal cues of the other person we are speaking with. This can help us to better understand what the other person is feeling or thinking, and can help us to adjust our own communication style accordingly.

  1. Practice empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. When we practice empathy, we put ourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see things from their perspective. This can help us to communicate more effectively, as we are better able to understand what the other person is feeling or thinking.

  1. Be open and honest

Open and honest communication is key to building trust and understanding in a relationship. When we communicate, we need to be honest about our thoughts and feelings, and be open to hearing the thoughts and feelings of others. This can help us to build a strong connection with the other person, and can make it easier to resolve conflicts or misunderstandings.

  1. Avoid blame and criticism

Blaming or criticizing others can be hurtful and damaging to a relationship. When communicating, we should try to avoid placing blame or criticizing the other person. Instead, focus on finding solutions to problems and working together to improve the relationship. This can be difficult when we are feeling activated and hurt, but when we try to be clear and straightforward from a place of anger or fear, it is easy to assign blame and to criticize others to take some of the feelings of guilt or shame or anger off of ourselves.

  1. Practice active problem-solving

When conflicts or misunderstandings arise, it’s important to work together to find a solution. Practice active problem-solving by identifying the issue, brainstorming possible solutions, and choosing a course of action that works for everyone involved. This can help to avoid further misunderstandings and can strengthen the relationship. One of the things I most appreciate in my professional world is when people come to see me with a problem, but rather than simply complaining, they come with concern and ideas to solve the problem. Starting the conversation with this mindset allows us to face the problem as a team, and reduces the temptation to blame or criticize. In my personal relationships, this is still a challenge, but as I practice, it is becoming easier.

  1. Seek feedback

Asking for feedback can be a powerful tool for improving our communication skills. Ask the other person for feedback on how we’re communicating, and be open to constructive criticism. This can help us to identify areas where we need to improve, and can help us to become more effective communicators.

Do you have areas in your life where you struggle to communicate? How do you navigate those situations? When do you feel you are most effective as a communicator? I think it is so important for us all to remember that we won’t always get this right. Many of us were not taught how to clearly and calmly communicate our feelings and some of us did not learn from example how to resolve conflicts in a healthy manner. So, as we move through the world, there will be times when we just are not equipped to communicate effectively. But if we keep at it, and acknowledge the times we get it wrong (and when we get it right) we will learn, and evolve, and improve.


One thought on “Communication is a Super Power

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  1. Nonverbal cues are the most subtle and yet the most crucial with one on one communication. If you take the time to observe others, you can improve your own communication by applying the very things you like or don’t like to your self. Example if you like it when others smile, then practice smiling yourself. If you don’t like them staring off into space, then make sure you don’t do it yourself. Not certain if that answers your question on “.. most effective as a communicator?” However it is what helps me to learn and improve the easiest. Enjoy your post. Have a great day.

    Liked by 1 person

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