Learning how to be a better communicator is easier than you might imagine. When you think about it, life is one giant improv show. We don’t have our lines fed to us, so we have to make split-second decisions about our life’s script. The problem with this immediacy is that sometimes we let our emotions take over, and a conversation becomes more about winning or feeling vindicated than about accomplishing a goal or resolving conflict. While your rage might whisper, “Bring up the 20 times she’s done this before!” a clear head will remind you, “focus on the facts of the situation.

There are countless benefits when an individual is able to look past emotion and communicate the reality of a situation. Effective communicators enjoy higher self-esteem and less self-doubt. They are able to recognize their own emotions and those of others, as well as how emotional reactivity can influence thinking and decision-making. When you take the time to think before you speak, you might notice that your relationships with others will feel more real, honest, and rewarding. You’ll also be able to more genuinely enjoy your work and other roles in life.

Be Assertive

“Be aggressive!” might be a popular chant for sports teams, but it seldom works when you’re speaking to someone. Assertiveness is a valuable communication skill because it allows you to express your opinions and needs without bullying others. Assertive people are also less stressed because they feel empowered to say “no” to tasks and responsibilities that aren’t necessary. Passive people tend to agree to tasks for which they have neither time nor energy. Aggressive people seldom get their point across because they make people feel reactive and defensive towards them.

Stay Focused

When you get an opportunity to speak your mind to a coworker or a family member, it can feel incredibly tempting to bring up complaints or issues from past. Maybe you’ve accumulated a long list of reasons for your concerns or even your outrage, but try your best to focus on the current issue. Began by describing what you see or hear in a situation rather than what your opinion is about it. Be specific, and don’t generalize or exaggerate.

Avoid Emotionally-Charged Language

When we’re emotional we tend to exaggerate. We whip out words like “always” or “never” when something we don’t like has happened two or three times. We use accusatory language and begin sentences using the word  “you” in an accusatory way. For example, suppose your spouse leaves their dirty dishes in the sink one evening. You might feel tempted to say, “You never clean up after yourself!” Obviously, your partner will be able to provide at least one example when they tidied up after you. Rather than starting a debate, consider saying, “I felt frustrated when I saw the dishes in the sink. How can we fix this problem?” Focusing on solutions rather than winning an argument improves any relationship.

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Practice Self-Awareness

The best communicators take responsibility for their actions when they make mistakes. You won’t be seen as weak when you’re able to learn from your mistakes and share your intentions to make improvements to yourself.  Also, pay attention to your own reactivity when you are engaging in a difficult conversation. Reaching a decision or compromise may take multiple conversations, so don’t hesitate to take a break to feel calmer and more in control if you feel anger or other emotions grabbing for the steering wheel.

Ask for Help

Not every conflict can be solved by the people involved. Sometimes recruiting an unbiased third party is the best next step. A professional mediator, an HR representative, a mental health professional or a trusted mentor can assist you in navigating emotionally-charged conversations. Though it’s never easy, taking responsibility and acknowledging conflict is always a better choice than avoiding or cutting off from the problem.

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to improving your communication skills, start taking notes after you have a difficult conversation with someone. You might not make significant changes overnight, but you can start observing how you let emotion dictate your words and the times you’re tempted to exaggerate or “win” an argument.  The more space you carve out to pay attention to your speech, the more wiggle room you have to shape your point of view and a potential solution. You’ll earn the respect of others, and you’ll reduce your overall level of anxiety. So start paying attention, and see how you can change your script in life.


Last Updated: Feb 21, 2020