How to communicate EffectivelyLack of communication is one of the most frequent complaints I hear from patients. They feel unheard or ignored and, in consequence, frustrated. How to communicate effectively is a challenging topic. Very often the problem here is that effective communication requires thoughtful transmission as well as thoughtful reception. What you say may very often be not what the other person hears. And if they do not hear the essence of your message they are not going to respond. This lack of response is in itself a message to you that your concerns are unimportant. It will either make you shut off any further communication attempts leading to increasing levels of frustration, or leave you feeling uncared-for and isolated. In either case, effective communication has been cut off.

How To Communicate Effectively

There are steps to reclaiming your voice and making yourself understood. One exercise that I often use with patients is role reversal. I ask the patient to think about what they want to say to someone and then put themselves in the other person’s place. 

  • How would you want someone to communicate this topic with you? 
  • What tone would be most effective? 
  • What questions would you want the communicator to ask you to ensure the message has been received and understood.?

This is a start to effective communication because it helps you understand, in your own words and tone, how you would prefer to be spoken to so that there is a clearer understanding. For deeper conversations, I encourage patients to think it through beforehand. If you are speaking to someone close to you, think about what they may feel when you are speaking to them. Prepare yourself for “worst-case” conversation scenarios and discover answers that will offer a kind response that does not sound defensive. 

In more sensitive conversations, periodically check- in with the other person. This allows the person to feel they are being spoken with and not to. So what does that mean – being spoken with and not to? When speaking with someone, it is a back and forth conversation that includes both opinions and objectives. Although these conversations can begin to feel heated, each person feels free to state their feelings and opinion because it is a two-way road. People in these conversations feel more appreciated. When one is spoken to, they feel lectured, and unsafe to state what they need out of fear of rejection increased conflict or being dismissed. Which conversation would you prefer?

Forms of Communication

Imagine you are in a conversation but you notice the other person raising eyebrows, rolling their eyes, perhaps sighing, etc. This would be considered non-verbal communication and it can be pretty damaging to a conversation. Nonverbal communication can speak volumes and cause a person to feel dismissed or shut down. When listening, a very important component of communication is to be present, that is, to actually listen to what is being said. Do not spend the time preparing your response,  but concentrate on understanding what is being said. If you are already cultivating a response and the communicator is still talking, you are not giving the speaker the attention that you should be. This is no less than you would be entitled to expect were you speaking.

Communication can be difficult, but you can make small changes that will make a difference. Working with a therapist can help tremendously.  Therapy is a space where a non-biased person trained to communicate effectively can help you discover points in your conversation that can be altered and enhanced. This means when you do communicate with others, not only do you communicate effectively but you are also listening with intent.