Improving Communication

When you think of improving your communication skills you may think of some of these things: learning to speak better, expressing yourself with less hesitancy and being more charismatic in your delivery. Indeed it is all those things but it also includes the skills of responsiveness — listening and responding to what has been said. The rewards of understanding and using these skills are great — making friends, getting jobs, being persuasive with others.

Whether you're expressing yourself in a formal speech before several hundred people or to an intimate friend or lover, what you say may be composed of content on four different levels. The first is facts. Let's say you're the manager of a small office — there is friction in the office and you're trying to resolve what you think is an important aspect of the problem: "There are five computers in this office but ten people need access to them." That's a fact — or actually two facts. These are not up for questions or doubts.

At this point you might express your feelings. You might say "I feel frustrated and sometimes angry that everyone in the office has come to accept that the computers belong to only five members of the staff." As you continue speaking, you would bring up the needs of other people in your office, too. "Other people, and that sometimes includes me, need to use the computers too." You may now get to the fourth aspect of most communications. Your thoughts on the subject. "I think it's important that we figure out a system that will enable everyone in the office to have access to a computer for their work."

To be successful this communication would either require an acceptable solution to the problem or the opportunity for others to air their thoughts and feelings. The eventual goal: resolution of the problem. It might start with, "I have figured out a schedule that I think will work. Of course, I am open to your ideas and we can modify the schedule if necessary. We can discuss it further now, or perhaps tomorrow."

Thus, expressing oneself most often includes facts, feelings, needs, and thoughts in the context of recognition that others may also have the need to express themselves on the subject.

How You Say It Counts Too

Analysis of this statement leads directly to another aspect of expressing yourself: The style of your communications. You can be assertive, aggressive, or passive in your style. In the statement we were discussing, you were assertive: "We need to do something about this and here's my plan. What do you think?" You could have been aggressive: "You people who hog the computers are selfish and inconsiderate and it has to stop, beginning today." You could have been passive: "I don't know what to do about this." Or you could have been silent, said nothing and communicated indirectly with facial expressions, body language or veiled implications.

Skills of Responsiveness are Important

Skills of responsiveness are the second aspect of communication. Successful listening does not mean just sitting there waiting for the other person to stop talking while you day- dream or try to figure out the one-up philosophy that will work best. It's active. It requires listening carefully, then using your skills of verbal expression by re-stating what you have just heard and asking questions for the purpose of clarification and responding.

As responsiveness skills become more a part of your everyday interactions, you will find that what other people say becomes more focussed both for you and for the person you're listening to. At this point you can offer feedback to what has been said. This means that you say what you feel and why you feel that way in a supportive manner that is also honest. If you think an idea that has been proposed will work but you have something to add, now is the time to say so. If you think that the idea proposed will not work, say that, tactfully and supportively. If you need time to think about what has been proposed that also needs to be said.