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The 3 parts of good communication

What??? 3 parts? Yup, I bet you figured there were only 2 huh? Talking and Listening. I’m breaking it down to 3 parts here, in reality communication can be broken down into many many parts, but for simplicity sake we are going to concentrate on 3.

  • Listening
  • Processing
  • Responding

I will be breaking these down further also. It is important to note that proper communication takes effort, we as humans are not very good at it naturally. Most of us talk, then when the other person is talking we are thinking of our next statement instead of actually listening to what the other person is saying. So lets get into how to break this cycle.

Why is good communication so hard?

There are a couple of reasons, the biggest one is the fact that everyone is different, we have different experiences, different thoughts, were raised in different environments, and were taught different things. Even though we might technically speak the same language, there are regional differences in phrasing and meanings of different phrases as well. Case in point, in the south it is simply polite to refer to everyone as “sir” and “ma’am” where in other parts of the US using those terms can be seen as disrespectful.

What I think the biggest reason for poor communication is though, is our lack of honest SELF communication. How are we supposed to be able to relay what we want and need to someone else, if we don’t even really know what we want and need ourselves. I know I have had countless conversations where by the end of the conversation I am saying something completely different then when I started, part of that is listening to the other person, considering their point of view, but a lot of it is that while I was thinking about everything to do with the conversation I would discover more about myself, maybe even realize that my initial opinion or reaction was due to social conformity or learned behavior that I don’t actually agree with.

Listening

Another big reason why good communication is hard is that we are not really taught how to listen, I mean, REALLY listen. To really understand what someone is saying, you have to hear their words, notice their tone and inflection, and read their body language. Then, you need to consider where they are coming from, take into consideration what their experiences have been, what their emotional state is. Listening is so much more then just hearing the words that are being said. In today’s age of electronics, it makes it even harder, a text message only give you one small piece of what is being communicated, and not even the most important piece. A phone call is better, but I like to use an example of someone agreeing with you in words, tone and inflection, but on the other end of the phone, where you can’t see them, they are moving their hand in a jack off motion, the classic fingers crossed behind their back move.

To be a good listener, you need to be observant, you need to put aside what your response may be and concentrate on hearing what the other person is saying, from start to finish. Once they are done, take a breath, pause for just a moment, consider what they said, how they said it, what their body was saying, what their experiences are, and where they are coming from.

Another important part of listening is making sure you understood what was being said, if you have any doubt, instead of offering your retort, try and ask a clarifying question, or maybe restate what they just said in different words. This does a couple of things, it ensures that you have the right information to base your reply on, and it lets the other person know that you actually care about what they were saying. This goes a long way in ensuring that a conversation stays a conversation and doesn’t escalate.

Processing

So now they have said what they are going to say, you have ensured that you understood what they said and there was no miscommunication there. Now it’s time to process any new information that was given. This step is important for a couple of reasons, if you come back with a reply that doesn’t take what they said into consideration, you come off as someone who doesn’t listen and doesn’t care. Also, if you happen to not agree with what was said, processing the information allows you to formulate a response that come from a place of intelligent thought instead of callous jabs. Example: Johnny says the sky is blue because of the reflection off the ocean. Jenny happens to know that this is wrong since she just learned about how different material absorbs or reflects different spectrums of light and that blue light, with the shortest wave length gets through the atmosphere during the day easier then the other longer wave length colors. Jenny could simply retort to Johnny with a “your wrong and your dumb” or she could share her knowledge with Johnny and they can both be better for it.

Taking the time to process what the other person said is also a really good way to get out of the “I have to be right” way of thinking. Many conversations do not require one person to be right and the other to be wrong. Conversations of opinion most often are like this, some of the most polarizing conversational subjects known are those of political views or religious beliefs, these subjects are polarizing because each person believes their OPINION to be the only right answer when, in reality, there are often solid logical points on both sides. One of my best friends lies on the other end of the political spectrum as I do in many regards, but he and I can sit and have a conversation for hours, never agreeing with each other, never changing the others opinion, but still stand at the end, hug it out and still be friends. I have learned so much from these conversations and so has he. We have learned because we PROCESS what the other is saying, instead of arguing against it instantly.

Part of processing is also doing a quick deep dive into your own self, what are your real opinions on the matter? Not the ones taught to you by your parents, teachers, clergy, or the society you were brought up in. This takes some real consideration, you need to ask yourself WHY you feel or think the way you do. Make sure you are thinking for yourself before thinking of your response.

Responding

So, now we have listened and ensured clarity, we have paused to consider and process, now its time to respond. Just like with listening, you need to consider who you are talking to. Remember, you are trying to communicate with someone else, so it doesn’t matter if you know what your saying if the person your talking to doesn’t. To use an extreme example, you wouldn’t explain something to a 5 year old the same way you would a college professor. Most writing classes will tell you that you need to consider your audience, but this goes beyond just writing. Word choice, phrasing, use of slang, use of “bad words” must all be weighed against who it is you are speaking to.

One of the more important things to do when responding is to check your emotions too. The point is to communicate your thoughts and ideas, your wants and needs, to the other person, not to “be right” or “hurt them” or “prove a point”, ok maybe to prove a point, but not in a nasty way. Just like you needed to pay attention to not only the words being said, but the tone and inflection of the voice, and the body language, you must be mindful of these while you are responding.

Taking a few moments between statements to collect yourself, put serious thought into your choice of words, and the real message you are trying to get across will go a long way in ensuring that you are actually communicating what you want to communicate.

Important note

Even with all the contemplation, even if both you and the others you are communicating with are using these skills and tools, there is still a chance that there can be mis-communication. Remember at the start of this, I mentioned that everyone is different and we all bring different experiences and thought processes to the table. So the most important skill any good communicator can have is patience.