I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that effective communication is the key to healthy relationships.
When we become stronger communicators, we undoubtedly become better partners, better parents, better co-workers, better everything.
And as our communication skills improve, so do our relationships—with our spouses, our children, our bosses, our friends (and even our mothers-in-law!).
Basically, there are a thousand good reasons to try to become a better communicator, and not a single good reason not to.
Have I convinced you to give it a go? Then here’s how to make it happen—in ten simple steps, no less!
Become a Better Communicator in 10 Days
Day 1: Determine your communication style.
The very first step is to develop an awareness of the way you usually communicate so that you can become more intentional in your style.
For example, you might be the type of person who likes to get right to the point in as few words as possible. No chit chat, no small talk, just dive right into the facts. (A conference I recently attended called this the “Land the Plane” style of communication.)
Or you might be the opposite (appropriately called the “Enjoy the Ride” style), preferring to share your feelings, tell stories with lots of colorful details, and lead up to your main point with plenty of background information.
It’s important to be aware of these various styles so that you can utilize them effectively—playing them up or toning them down as the situation calls for.
What’s more, there’s a good chance that whatever style is yours, your partner and close friends possess the other (opposites attract and all that). This makes it equally important to recognize that other communication styles are not wrong or lesser than yours; they’re just different.
You’ll communicate better when you learn to accept and respect those differences.
Day 2: Say what you mean.
Next, observe your communication for any hints or “games”—in the words you say, the tone of voice you take, and your body language—and promptly eliminate them.
In almost all cases, it’s not enough to hint at or imply something. All that does is cause confusion and hurt for all parties involved.
So if you want your spouse to help more with the laundry, ask him to (respectfully). If your feelings are hurt because he didn’t make a big fuss over your birthday, express that hurt (tactfully). No more passive aggression or hoping other people get the hint—because chances are, they won’t.
Day 3: Mean what you say.
There’s power in being true to your word.
When you show others by example that when you say something, you mean it, you develop a relationship of trust with that person—and increase the chances of them reciprocating that honesty.
So if you promised your co-worker you’d have that report to her by Monday morning, don’t wait until noon to get around to it just because you know she’ll be forgiving.
Or if you told your neighbor you’d return those garden tools you borrowed as soon as possible, don’t let them get lost in your garage for the next three months.
Or—on a much deeper level—when you tell someone you love them, say it with all the passion and authenticity you can muster (and look them in the eyes while you’re at it).
Day 4: Use “I statements.”
You’ve probably heard before that “I statements” are more effective than “you statements” when it comes to communicating your feelings about a situation.
With good reason: Switching up the pronouns can make a world of difference in how someone reacts to you. That’s because “I statements” are less likely to make the listener feel defensive or resentful, and more likely to open up a productive dialogue.
A good “I statement” focuses on the emotion you’re feeling, the behavior that caused that emotion (notice I said the behavior, not the person), and an explanation of why that behavior leads to that emotion.
So when you’re tempted to yell at your mom, “Why are you always so judgmental of me?!?!?” instead try something like, “I feel upset when you make certain comments because I want you to accept me the way I am.”
It might feel a little cheesy at first, but that will pass when you see how well it works.
Day 5: Think first, speak second.
Some of us naturally communicate by thinking out loud. We tend to think quickly and speak just as fast, and then get frustrated when others can’t seem to keep up. (Yes, I’m speaking from firsthand experience here…)
The problem with asking questions or making comments as they come to you, of course, is that you’re more likely to say something you’ll later regret—maybe because you phrased it poorly or because you didn’t consider its implications when it flew out of your mouth.
It also means you’re probably guilty of interrupting others quite often, which doesn’t exactly lead to productive communication.
So try taking a breath, intentionally deciding what you want to say, and then saying it.
Day 6: Listen to understand—not to reply.
Along the same lines, many of us lack of the basic skill the listening well.
What does it mean to listen well? It means listening to understand rather than listening to reply.
Good communicators don’t formulate their responses to another person while he or she is still speaking. When we do that, we can’t be fully tuned into what that other person is saying since our mind is already elsewhere: on ourselves.
Good communicators actively listen to others first, think through their response second, and speak third.
Day 7: Choose the right channel.
With so many modes of communication available to us these days, it’s all too easy to choose one that’s not exactly appropriate for the situation—which can send the exact opposite message of what we’re going for.
Want your partner to pick up milk on the way home from work? Texting is fine.
Need to have a serious conversation with him or her about the children? Texting can cause confusion and encourages rushed responses, so wait until you can have an in-person conversation.
Need to tell your boss you’re running a little late for work that day? For most people, a quick email is adequate.
Need to tell your boss you’re running quite a bit behind on a project? Set up an in-person meeting to discuss.
Sounds simple, I know, but too often people choose the wrong channel, not recognizing that serious issues should usually not be handled behind a computer or cell phone.
Day 8: Start positive.
Asking your superior at work for some assistance on a project (or better yet, a raise!)? Start by thanking him or her for their time, which you know is valuable. Or ask about some common interest or hobby you have to develop a positive rapport.
Calling a fellow mom to set up a playdate? Start by asking how her week is going or thanking her for that potty training tip she shared with you previously. Then launch into logistics.
Broaching a difficult subject—like finances or work-life balance—with your spouse? Begin by pointing out something that’s going well in these areas before diving into your complaints or fears.
Starting a conversation on a positive note is a no-brainer way to set a constructive tone that hopefully continues throughout the dialogue.
Day 9: Ask questions.
A hallmark of poor communication is a one-sided conversation.
If you’re the type of person who tends to talk a lot and dominate discussions, try intentionally pausing every now and then to ask a question of your listener. Something as simple as, “Am I explaining this well?” or “Do you have any experience with this?” invites the other person to contribute in an inclusive way.
On the other hand, if you’re the type who rarely speaks up, try interjecting simple questions into the conversation to ensure you don’t get left behind. If the other person isn’t quite making sense, go ahead and ask for clarification. Or if you need to take the conversation in a different direction, a basic, “I see what you’re saying, but have you ever thought about…?” usually does the trick.
Day 10: Determine your desired result.
Strong communicators know exactly what they want to get out of a conversation before it even begins.
Ask yourself this question: What needs to happen by the end of the discussion for you to feel like it went well?
Are you seeking a concrete solution to a problem? Are you simply wanting to share something interesting or exciting? Or do you just need to vent your frustrations a bit and feel heard and validated?
All of those are perfectly acceptable outcomes, but not identifying them ahead of time can lead to disappointment. For example, when you just want to share your feelings and hear the words, “I understand,” it’s extremely frustrating to have the other person suggest a million fixes to your problem that you never even asked for.
Which of these communication skills do you have down pat? And where could you stand to improve?
image via Yeko Photo Studio/Dollar Photo Club