Communication is one of the most fundamental skills we possess as society-bound creatures. Modern communication at every level (in person, over the phone, and digital) is important. I’ve always had a keen interest in the psychology of communicating, and I believe that we have an obligation not only to practice good communication on a daily basis, but also to understand where we’ve fallen short. We should always make improvements to our communication methods to better ourselves. After all, why wouldn’t we want to get the best results from interactions with others?
The reason behind this current discussion comes from a personal place. Over the past decade, I’ve felt an overall loss of true connection with friends and loved ones. I know that part of the reason for this is due to the fact that I haven't stayed in the same city for more than three years at a time for the past 18 years. Distance and loss of physical connection can surely change relationships. Another reason for loss of connection is that I, along with so many others, experienced a rapid period of growth in my twenties. Taking on "adult life" after existing so long under the shelters provided by parents and the education system can be stressful on any relationship. It's very natural for people to drift apart when “life” happens - I get that. But what if I could have done something about those lost connections?
Over the past decade, I’ve felt an overall loss of true connection with friends and loved ones. I know that it's natural for people to drift apart when “life” happens -but what if I could have prevented at least some of those losses?
I know that I’m not alone in feeling out of sync with others after life changes. When we're thrown for a loop, it’s good to remind ourselves that each new change presents an opportunity for growth and a chance to question and evaluate responses to change, specifically in the ways we relate to others and the ways we relate to ourselves.
Commonly, when we feel rebuffed by others, we think – What's their problem? What’s wrong with my friends, family, coworkers, boss, etc? They are not responding to me in the way I deserve. Why don’t they seem to be listening to me when we are talking face-to-face? Why haven’t they replied to my phone calls, emails, texts, status updates, handwritten letters? What is their deal? We blame their behavior on the stars, mercury being in retrograde, the rise/fall of barometric pressure, or we simply write these people off and choose not to spend time with them (see: "ghosting").
In actuality, nothing is wrong with these people. We can’t and shouldn’t blame them for their perceived failure in communication. The fault actually lies with us and the ways we communicate.
It's not them, it's us.
I am not claiming to be some sort of communication expert. I am still learning and growing with every interaction. And, in my journey to improve myself, I’ve practiced a variety of techniques that seem to improve how I relate to people and how I react to others who relate to me. In this article, I discuss how to improve in two different areas of communication: self-talk and interpersonal communication.
Self-talk is the practice of talking to ourselves, either mentally or aloud. It can also be referred to as the ways we think about ourselves.
Take a moment and ask yourself if you engage in mostly positive or negative self-talk. Do you constantly build yourself up, or do you tend to let yourself down? Are you confident and self-assured, or are you scared, and self-doubting? If your style of self-talk is mostly negative, your negativity can be harmful to both you and others. You could be eliciting angry, needy, and insecure behaviors that will most like change the ways others communicate with you.
Negative self-talk can also prompt us to drag others down with us. We think, “I feel terrible, so everyone needs to feel as terrible as me.” No one wants to hang out with a negative person. Have you noticed how negativity can be contagious? Listen closely to how you talk to yourself. If you find yourself spiraling into a pit of despair, pause and consider how to change your way of thinking. Treat yourself as your own best friend, not as an enemy. Take a compassionate point of view when relating to yourself. After all, we must be able to positively connect with ourselves before we can successfully connect with others.
Interpersonal Communication is the term for the ways we exchange feelings, meaning, and information with others.
A basic rule for exchanging info with others (I shared this quite often with my tech-obsessed high school students) is to look people in the eye when we speak to them. Other basic rule is to face our bodies towards others when speaking to them and avoid crossing our arms, as this can be interpreted as being defensive.
Don’t be defensive — this is so important! I’ve learned that when mistakes are “never my fault,” they probably are my fault. I've also learned to shoulder the responsibilities of dealing with my mistakes. Oftentimes, we have the tendency to blame others for our own mistakes.
We should own up to our mistakes, learn from them, and move on.
If we think we’re not getting the results we expect out of interpersonal interactions or relationships, we should take some time to analyze our communication styles.
One way I’ve been doing this is to “check in.” I just go and ask the other person – How can I do better? Asking for feedback might feel weird or uncomfortable at first, but the other person will almost always appreciate the gesture and respect you for valuing the relationship.
We should "check in" with others as well as ourselves to improve our ways of communicating.
Other ways of "checking in" include asking ourselves:
1. Do I pry into people’s personal lives, spread gossip, or say mean things about people? Am I quick to judge people unfairly? If so, why might I be doing that?
2. Are my thoughts about specific people negative or positive? Do I complain a lot? If so, why am I complaining? Remember: no one wants to hang out with a complainer.
3. Do I raise my voice and talk over people in a conversation? Do I find myself trying to finish other people’s sentences? Why do I do this?
4. Do I talk down to people? Do I tell them what to do? Why am I being so bossy?
5. Do I talk “at” people instead of “to” them? Do I "talk back" to people? Why might I be doing that?
Checking in, digging deep, and asking ourselves "Why?" will really help us think about the ways we communicate and assist in our becoming better communicators.
6. Do I get upset when I receive criticism from others? Do I push people away who criticize me? Why can't I deal with criticism?
7. Am I able to tell people what I want or need in clear terms? Sometimes people want others to intuitively guess their needs. This often happens in married relationships or between family members. No matter how close people are, no one can intuitively guess a person's needs. Learn how to set clear expectations and communicate clearly about wants and needs to others.
8. Am I a good, active listener? Active listening includes paying attention and then demonstrating understanding by repeating key points later in the conversation. At the end of the day, people just want to feel like they are understood. Therefore, listening is actually much more important than talking.
9. Do I seek to benefit from a relationship without giving back? Why don't I reciprocate more often?
10. Am I constantly late? Lateness can be applied to many circumstances. A person can be late to a physical engagement or late in calling someone back. Chronically late people often have voicemail boxes that always seem to be full. If this sounds like you, ask yourself - Why can't I make others a priority?
Taking a step back and analyzing the ways we relate to others can help us have more positive interactions in the future. Checking in, digging deep, and asking ourselves "Why?" can really help us think about the ways we communicate and assist us in becoming better communicators.
Above all, in order to communicate in the clearest, most effective ways, we must first be willing to patiently listen to ourselves, as well as listen to others. When we truly listen, we don't just listen to parrot a reply. We listen with intention, we listen to understand, and we listen to be able to communicate effectively.