Effective communication is the key to making sure what you mean is what they hear and what they hear is what you mean.
Did your father, or caregiver, sit you down when you were a boy, or adolescent, and teach you the basics of communication? The majority of men that I have counseled at my private practice in Dallas, TX, disclose that they did not have conversations with their fathers about the 101’s of communication. Why don’t all fathers have these types of conversations with their sons? It is perplexing because we teach our sons about sports, sex, politics, religion, but we often leave out the most fundamental lesson of them all, how to communicate.
Many factors drive men and fathers to not share these basic skills with their sons and adolescents. During counseling appointments with men, I have asked them, “What keeps you from having deep conversations with your children about communication?” Many reported that the messages they learned growing up as a boy had a huge impact on their comfort level with these types of talks. Men reported that they learned barrier messages like: real men are to be strong, aggressive, tall, handsome, bold, courageous, rough, tough, emotionless, insensitive, fearless and practical. They should not be soft, submissive, or weak.
The 101’s To Communication
There are two fundamental skills that drive communication across the board. The first skill that you need to learn is how to become an excellent listener. This skill requires you to know how to give your full attention to the message-sender by taking in all aspects of the message. Capture What You Hear – by paying attention to the information being expressed. This is a crucial part of becoming an outstanding listener.
- Quiet the internal noise by forcing yourself to meet the other person’s gaze and turning to face the person. Remind yourself to slow down and really hear the actual words and verbal content of the message
- Do not begin to create counterarguments in your head while the other person is talking. Remember that the other person is not the enemy-you share common goals and the other person has a right to his or her feelings. Listen to the full content of the message without interrupting. Let the other person finish his or her complete thought and then respond to all parts of the message.
- Assess your energy level and ask yourself, “Is now a good time for a difficult conversation?”
- Eliminate distractions. Turn off things like the television, radio, computer and video games when you are beginning an important conversation.
- Courageously open yourself to hearing things you might not want to hear.
Capture Nonverbal Messages – Be aware of tone of voice, body posture, facial expressions, and gestures.
- Pay attention to volume.
- Notice the style and tone of communication.
- Watch for body posture.
- Examine facial expressions.
Capture Feelings – listen to the emotional content of the message with compassion.
- Decode the verbal message by hearing the feelings being conveyed from beneath the surface.
- What is the other person feeling?
- How might this situation bring up memories from this person’s past?
- Are there components in the person’s family history that can help you understand his or her feelings on a deeper level?
- Do you notice recurring themes in the messages sent that could give insight to what the person is feeling?
- Is there an added intensity to the person’s feelings because of issues you might not know about or understand yet?
The second skill that you need to learn is how to become an excellent sender. This skill requires you to know how to convey a message at all levels and become mindful of the effect the message has on the listener. Sending Spoken Messages – Articulate information in a clear, nonthreatening, and respectful way.
- Remember that it’s okay to have an opinion and to express it with clarity and respect.
- Stick to the main point. Stay in the present; don’t focus on the past.
- Be reasonably concise. Stay away from compound sentences-no ranting. Don’t spend hours overstating your point.
- Solicit feedback to ensure your message is being understood. Show the listener that his or her viewpoint matters to you.
- Maintain a conversational tone while sending your message.
- Refrain from screaming, yelling, or escalated volume.
- Refrain from using the words ‘should, ought, and must.’
- Be willing to create options and solutions when resolving a dispute.
Sending Nonverbal Messages – Communicate your message so that it will be received.
- Maintain an open body posture – face the person you’re talking to, don’t fold your arms, don’t cross your legs, and sit upright.
- Don’t roll your eyes.
- Don’t frown, grimace, or furrow your brow.
- Don’t use threatening gestures, such as pointing, fist clenching, door slamming, or getting in someone’s face.
Sending Feelings – Express the emotional element of your message in an open, honest, sensitive manner. Be in touch with your feelings.
- Take some time to explore your feelings and identify what the main feeling is.
- Be clear and honest about your feelings-own up to what you’re feeling without blaming, accusing, or attacking.
- Show empathy for the listener while expressing your own feelings. Be willing to compromise.
- Ask yourself, “Is the intensity of my feeling appropriate for the situation?”
Excerpts from the book Taming Your Temper by Nathaniel D. Smith have been included in this writing with permission.