We’ve all experienced conversations that didn’t quite go according to plan. You probably thought things through, approached the conversation with good intentions and phrased things in a way you thought would make sense, so what went wrong?
Here’s the thing. Communication is deeper than words. Many things can impact our ability to effectively communicate, such as lack of self-awareness, negative feedback and cultural differences. Our messages are also impacted by our bodies and our tone. And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that communicating through social media, text and chat limits our ability to send the right message—we’ve all witnessed those misunderstandings at some point.
No matter the circumstance, we each must be committed to evaluating our own authenticity and emotional intelligence to bridge the gaps and create a more meaningful, connected conversation. Here are 12 tips to get you started on the path to more effective and true communication.
1. Be authentic with yourself first.
Evaluation begins with your own internal thoughts and beliefs about yourself. How can you have a meaningful, authentic conversation with someone else if you’re not authentic with yourself first?
2. Think about the other person.
Authentic communication happens when we become more thoughtful with our words and our responses to others. Here’s where emotional intelligence comes in. Emotional intelligence simply means understanding not only how our emotions and actions impacts ourselves, but also those around us. These two are so important in making sure the person you’re talking to feels heard, supported, seen and valued.
3. Recognize their differences.
Communication is also impacted by the world around us. Everything about our world is constantly evolving and changing. That’s also true in our personal lives and at work. We encounter people who look, believe and experience the world differently from us more often now than ever.
It’s also important to be open and respectful of the responses and messages from others who are different than you.
4. Don’t make assumptions.
Don’t assume a person knows about a topic or shares the same interests as you do.
Avoid: Ugh, I’m running out of ideas for dinner. Do you have any good recipes for chicken?
Try this: I’ve been looking for some new recipes for dinner. What are your favorite meals to eat for dinner?
5. Forget about “fake it till you make it.”
Authenticity is a great trait to put into use when communicating across diverse populations. This isn’t the time to “fake it until you make it.” It’s the time to speak with honesty about who you are and the message you are sharing.
6. Create a safe space for communication.
Avoid assumptions. Ask for clarity. Create a safe space for communication to live and people to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and needs with you. As you grow in both emotional intelligence and authenticity, you’ll not only unlock improved communication, but you’ll also experience a deeper connection to the diverse world you encounter every day.
7. State questions clearly.
When you ask a question, look directly at the person you’re speaking to and avoid unnecessary words. Speak straight to the point of the conversation.
Avoid: I really hate to ask you this because I know you’re busy, but I need some help. I have a really big meeting, and I can’t make it because my son has a doctor’s appointment.
Try this: Hi, I have a scheduling conflict next Monday at 2 p.m. Are you free to cover a meeting for this account?
8. Avoid closed ended questions.
If someone can answer “no,” they probably will. If you want more than a “no” or “yes,” ask questions that require them to share more of themselves with you.
Avoid: Did you have a good day?
Try this: Tell me about your day today, how did it go?
9. Listen actively.
Listen to understand the person—not just to respond. Paraphrase what was said to make sure you understand the message.
Avoid: What does that mean?
Try this: So, what I’m hearing you say is that you need to find more time in the evenings for self-care and you’d like me to help with the kids for 30 minutes. Is that correct?
10. Use the “sandwich method.”
In a perfect world, everything we had to share with each other would be easy and nice. That’s not always the case. Sometimes, you need to have a difficult conversation. Whatever you have to share that can be received as unpleasant or negative, sandwich it between complimentary statements. This will create a positive space for the listener to receive your message without becoming offended or shutting down completely.
Avoid: I’ve noticed you’ve been sitting around while everyone else is working. Do you need help finding something to do?
Try this: I really value your contributions to the team. I’ve noticed a slip in your work over the past few months. Let’s discuss how we can work together to get you back to working at a level I’ve seen in you before. What are your thoughts?
11. Follow up as needed.
Ask how things are going since the last conversation. Make sure you are on the same page and needs are being met following the conversation.
Avoid: We already covered that, so we’re good right?
Try this: I wanted to follow up with you. How have things improved for you since our conversation last week?
12. Choose your communication method wisely.
Texting and chat eliminate the opportunity for others to fully understand your message. Remember: we communicate not only with words but also with our tone, body language and facial expressions. The person receiving your text can’t see the smile on your face if you’re joking nor can the person hear the rise in your tone if you’re asking a question and not being sarcastic.
If you need to have an important conversation and can’t do it in person, consider picking up the phone. Have a video call. Reduce any opportunity for your message to be miscommunicated. Save the chats and texts for quick messages, sending a funny meme or sharing concrete information that can’t be misunderstood or taken the wrong way.
When it comes to having authentic, meaningful conversations, remember to stay true to who you are and be open to the truth of who others are without judgement. Whether you’re navigating the workplace, social media or a personal relationship, you’ll find that authenticity is the best guide to communicating effectively with others. Be honest. Be open. Be kind.
About the author
Stephanie Thompson, CPT, is a Wellness Coordinator for Baylor Scott and White Health. She graduated from Baylor University in 2008 and has worked toward providing health and wellness education for nearly eight years. She is passionate about helping others reach their full potential both physical and mentally through positive support and education.