Commentary: Effective communication: A key to better relationships | Chanhassen Opinion

Have you noticed what has been happening with communication in the last few years? We’re concerned because there seems to be a decline in effective communication. Today, we see how it’s more and more difficult to find subjects that people can discuss without polarization. There are divisions in society, politics, and healthcare.

In doing some research, we came across Celeste Headlee, American journalist and radio host. We recently listened to a TED talk she did in 2015. We were surprised to hear that she felt the country had never been so divided. Now it has gotten even worse! As effective communication is deteriorating, it’s contributing to division in relationships. We see how important relationships are to personal and professional life. This affects communities, countries and even the world.

People used to know what subjects to avoid to “keep the peace.” Now it’s more difficult because each week there seems to be more rules we should follow so we are respectful and don’t offend anyone.

Also, as texting becomes more popular, especially with teens, it’s often preferred over in-person conversations. How many texts do you think teens send each day? Recent research reveals that one in three teens sends over 100 texts each day. In 2014, Paul Barnwell, a teacher, wrote that he noticed his students were not able to communicate well. He said, “Conversational competence might be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach.” Imagine how important it is today!

Yes, we agree. Teaching effective communication to students from an early age could help promote better relationships in their personal life and later in their professional life. And think what that could do for relationships in our communities and our country.

What does it mean to have effective communication? Effective communication occurs when people can understand each other. George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Let’s see what we can do to help communication take place in a more effective way.

Good communication involves talking and listening. We often describe that communication is like playing a game of catch. You throw your comment to someone. They catch it, and then they throw it back to you with their comment. It’s a back-and-forth exchange to reach communication and understanding. There are many things that contribute to effective communication. We’ll only be able to cover a few of them here but we’ll be sure to revisit this important topic.

First, look for the right time to connect. Ask people if it’s a good time to talk. If you approach them when they are focusing on a task, or even in the middle of a favorite TV show, you might not get a favorable response. We sometimes suggest that couples, families, and business partners set aside specific times to communicate. Doing this helps the conversations to include not only critical items that have to be addressed, and it also allows time for creatively exploring opportunities and getting to know and trust each other even more.

For effective, engaging communication, it’s important to be thoroughly present. Avoid multitasking and be able to look into the person’s eyes and observe breathing and body language. This is like hearing with your eyes because it will help you hear more than what the words are saying. Focus on them, rather than what you are going to say next. As our children were growing up, we wish we had spent less time multitasking when talking to them. When we are totally present with any conversation, we won’t miss meaningful moments in communication.

Approaching conversations with an open heart is as important as listening with an open ear. It means adopting an attitude of acceptance because we don’t know the path the other person has traveled. Also, if we disagree in a respectful manner, it goes a long way to opening lines of communication. It’s amazing what we can learn if we are open to hearing it.

Having an open heart means to assume a positive intent. We call this API for short. This helps us take a minute to process the conversation in a more positive way. Then we can ask for clarification, if necessary, by saying, “Help me understand.” Stephen Covey says, “When we listen with the intent to understand others, rather than with the intent to reply, we begin true communication and relationship building.”

What about you? Would better communication improve your life? We hope the suggestions here for effective communication give you a key to unlock the joy of even better relationships.


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