Effective communication includes getting your message conveyed accurately, as well as being a good listener, both of which involve skills that people can learn as well as improve. First of all, when discussing ideas or feelings, take some time beforehand to organize your thoughts so that you have a clear understanding of the information you want to share. And then present those thoughts in a logical manner, so the other person gets a clear picture of what you want to explain. Don't just assume that the other person already understands.
Encourage an active dialogue by inviting the other person to respond, using questions such as "What do you think?" or "How do you feel about that?" Pick an appropriate time and place so that the other person can hear and respond without being distracted. If the information is personal for either or both of you, then find a private place for the conversation. Be aware of nonverbal communication as well. A person's tone of voice and body language also convey meaning, and can give a different impression than the verbal message.
Being a good listener is also an important part of effective communication. Too often, we hear only part of what the other person is saying because we are already thinking about our own response. Active listening involves giving your full attention to the person speaking by making eye contact, leaning forward, and acknowledging with short comments or nodding your head. Be non-judgmental; keep your opinions or personal stories to yourself, or until after the other person has had time to talk about everything they want to share.
Whether communication is written or spoken, or in a group or one-on-one, respecting the feelings and opinions of others is vital, whether you agree or disagree with what is being said. Proper timing, good listening skills, and sometimes a sense of humor are all necessary components of good communication.
Contributed by Karen D. Schueler, MS, LCPC, Director, PEO--Prevention, Education and Outreach Department.
Mail questions to: High Plains Mental Health Center, PLAIN SENSE, PEO-Prevention, Education and Outreach Department, 208 East 7th, Hays, KS 67601; or visit www.highplainsmentalhealth.com.
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