Clam up when asked what you think? Or say all sorts of things, only to later feel you didn't represent yourself well at all? Worse, quickly resort to snapping at others when under stress?
And when we learn how to communicate better, we feel less lonely and more understood. Plus we help others feel understood, too.
A research paper on improving communication in the workplace proposes that good communicating not only lowers conflict, it increases our productivity and means we feel more satisfied with our job.
You don't have to talk a lot to communicate well. In fact sometimes it's about anything but talking.
If someone is in front of you talking, but your mind is off planning what you’ll make for dinner? You are in the future, not the now. If you are blathering away, but at the same time worrying about something earlier in the day? You can easily say what you don't mean as you are distracted by the past.
Good communication involves being present in the here and now.
If being present and grounded is a struggle, then pick one thing about the other person to focus on and anchor you. The colour of their sweater, for example, or the smell of their cologne.
We don’t just communicate with words but also with the way we hold ourselves.
Standing hunched over, or with arms crossed? You are sabotaging your communication right out the gate as you are sending out the message you aren’t interested.
Relax your shoulders, straighten up, and adopt an open stance.
Five years ago they did something that upset you, sure. But if you can’t let that go and see the person for who they are today? If you can’t listen to what they are saying without seeing them through that past lens? The communication is tainted and can’t really advance because you can’t.
Assume you know what they will say or do?
Unless you are a famous psychic the only real guarantee is that people can be surprising.
If the other person can tell that you already assume they will let you down? They are far less likely to even bother trying not to.
One of the biggest talents good communicators have has nothing to do with speaking. But means learning proper listening skills.
This doesn’t mean vaguely listening as you secretly plan what you’ll say next. It means being fully focused on the other person. You can leave a pause when they stop to form your thoughts.
If it helps, repeat what they say in your head as they say it. Then reflect back so they know you heard.
They say, "I really don’t understand anything that was said in the meeting". Your reflection is, "Ah, okay. you didn’t understand the concepts being offered." This offers them a chance to explain or to clarify if, say, they meant because of a person's accent, not because the concepts were confusing.
If you really don’t understand what the other person has said? Ask, ask, ask. It doesn't make you stupid. It makes you interested.
But try to avoid asking "Why". Things like "Why did you say that?" just lead to rabbit holes of speculation. As for yes or no questions, they can make a person feel backed into a corner.
Focus on 'what' and 'how' questions instead. So not, "Why do you think it’s a bad idea for the presentation?". But, "How would you like to do it differently? What might work better for you instead ?"
Tempted to say, "But this is all your fault?" Or more going for manipulative, subtle blame, where all your sentences start with, "You did/ you said?" Or worse, "You made me feel..."? (How you react and feel is up to you, not someone else).
Learn how to communicate without blame by recognising you are a part of every situation you are in, and just outright asking, "What’s the solution here ? What’s the compromise?"
Then be honest about how you feel, while also not pushing your feelings into someone else’s problem. So "I feel this when you do that" is far better than "You made me feel this."
Can’t stay cool and out of blame and anger? Then excuse yourself and ask to speak another time.
Most conversations can wait. And better to speak when you have calmed down and reflected from the heat of destructive anger or upset.
Tend to find yourself agreeing even when you don’t? You are in good company. Many of us fall into pleasing mode when under stress, or asked to express an opinion or make a decision.
It becomes a question of slowing down and trying bit by bit to express yourself, and learning to say you don’t know if you simply aren’t sure.
Always in pleasing mode, and can't say no without feelings of fear you are are letting down or upsetting people? It might be time for counselling.
Yes, definitely. For starters, it helps you recognise who you really are, and what you think and feel. It's much easier to communicate when you actually know your own opinions.
Finally, if you have issues with explosive emotions, a therapy like dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) can teach you ways stay calm and step back before you say things you regret.
Time to stop reacting and start communicating? Use our easy booking tool now to find your perfect therapist today.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and writer who often writes about relationships. She also runs a consultancy helping people find their perfect therapy and therapist. Follow her on Instagram for useful life tips @am_darcy