Ineffective communication is one of the most common barriers to productive relationships. As a Licensed Professional Counselor, the nature of my work brings me up close and personal to the impact poor communication skills can have on interpersonal relationships. As one can imagine or may have experienced, poor communication skills can be the difference between having a productive healthy marriage, and a more effective and competent work environment. In its simplest form communication is defined as the act of sending and receiving information between two or more individuals. Communication can be verbal, nonverbal, or written. All three forms of communication are of major importance and need to be established. Especially, if a leadership role, career advancement, or all-around success as a spouse or parent is a personal development goal for you.
The act of receiving or listening is the most important aspect of communication when it comes to interpersonal relationships. Whether you are talking to your spouse, child, or a coworker the most important thing you can do to facilitate a productive relationship with them is to listen. Sounds easy right? Absolutely not, sustained and engaged listening is the hardest communication skill for a person to master. During the next important conversation that comes up at work, try to observe the short amount of time it takes before your mind starts wondering, and you begin to listen to your own thoughts. Instead of the information that is shared with you. Also note the minimal time it takes before you start to anticipate the person's next thought or talking point or observe how long it takes before you start to disengage from your coworker by picking up the phone to check emails or texts. We are all guilty of this from time to time, and often justify our disengagement by calling it multitasking or being good managers of our time. In our employment space, this type of disengagement can be the difference maker between clearly receiving and processing our objectives for that week or specific tasks that must be completed. Over time, those small oversights can add up and be the difference maker for who receives a promotion or general satisfaction on the job.
Couples, if we are not proactive, we can get in the habit of not listening altogether. Our familiarity with one another lends itself to not being fully engaged when we talk. After several years under our belts, it is easy to slip into the habit of anticipating each other's conversation. And unlike work, couples often engage in environments that are not always conducive for clear uninterrupted verbal communication to take place. It is not uncommon for couples to engage at the dinner table right after long days at work, amidst our children (who are interrupting), and all the while the television is drawing our attention. If we are upset at each other, our own emotions can impede our ability to listen much less be actively engaged in what our spouse is saying.
Pertaining to our children one of the major barriers we must overcome for active and engaged listening is the inherent power imbalance in the parent/child relationship. Parents’ ability to dictate to children instead of listening, can lend itself to becoming an obstacle over time. Don't get me wrong, directing our children when they are toddlers and adolescence is necessary. But, as they mature into young men and women we should attempt to be sensitive to their input and perspective when we engage them. Honoring their perspective shows them that we care and respect them. Having that respect increases the likelihood that we as parents listen when they seek advice and consultation, which is a healthier and more productive approach to implement as your child matures into young adulthood.
We now understand that active and engaged listening is vital to productive communication with others. This means that we must be proactive in turning off distractors such as cell phones and other electronic devices. Most of all we need to clear our minds to be effective listeners. For couples who would like to improve their communication, you should set aside uninterrupted time to discuss important matters. Lastly, we know that when there is a significant power difference in the relationship it can be a challenge for the person who holds the most weight to be an active and engaged listener. That said there is hope for those who are struggling in this area. Practicing active and engaged listening skills will improve your ability to effectively communicate in your work, life, and family spaces. When someone is speaking, you will improve your listening skills when you can repeat, paraphrase, and reflect what is said to you.
Repeating- is not just recounting every word a person says to you, it is a mental commitment to be focused on what the person is saying. If you want to impress your supervisor or spouse, be able to recall the last three or four words they said if they get lost in their conversation. If you can rescue them when they ask, "Where was I, or what was I saying?". Your stock will surely go up with that individual. Mentally repeating what is said to you is a skill that will allow you to be able to pick up where that individual left off. Most importantly it keeps you focused on what is said when people are talking to you.
Paraphrasing- As a listener when you paraphrase what is said to you, you actively think on, process, and reason out the information you have received. When done well, a listener should be able to summarize the speaker's main points in her own words. This skill helps to maintain a mental guardrail to avoid misunderstandings and keep misperceptions from forming.
Reflecting- Here you are taking paraphrasing a step further. Reflecting involves having empathy, withholding judgment, and seeing the world from the speaker's point of view. This is the case even when you disagree with what the speaker has to say or what they say draws an emotional reaction from you as the listener. Reflection requires that you keep those reactions to a minimum, understanding the speaker is the focus when you are reflecting. To do otherwise impedes our ability to listen and honor the perspective of the person speaking. By reflecting and placing ourselves in the shoes of the speaker we are intentionally cutting off our need to see communication as a zero-sum game with a winner and a loser. Reflecting helps the listener to understand the other person's perspective even when we might disagree with them.
Try to improve your listening skills by becoming an engaged and active listener. Doing so will improve your communication skills professionally and at home. In intimate or familial relationships where emotional discord or conflict is present, professional help may be needed to address underlying issues that are negatively impacting communication. It is not uncommon for marriages experiencing distress to have lack of communication between spouses as an indicator of more serious underlying issues in the relationship. When raising preteenagers or teenagers our challenges with this age group, to our disappointment, is often apparent through our inability to effectively communicate with them. As adults, we are not handed instructions on how to effectively communicate with our children as they mature and develop nor are we instructed on how to effectively communicate with each other. Nevertheless, it is up to us to acknowledge when we as spouses are talking over, tuning out, or drawing into our own corners and staying there. And as parents, it is okay to acknowledge that we may need to reach out to a professional if we are having challenges with our children. If you think that poor communication in your family or intimate relationships is a barrier for you, please know that True Impact Counseling Services, PLLC is here for you. As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I have been trained to help individuals who would like to increase their ability to effectively communicate. True Impact Counseling Services, PLLC provides confidential counseling services in a private, no judgment space. Our counseling services take place in an office setting, evening and weekend appointment times are available.
Travis E. Williams M.Ed., LPC, CRC is Lead Counselor and Owner of True Impact Counseling Services, PLLC. Travis is a licensed professional counselor and a nationally certified rehabilitation counselor. Travis is a solution-focused counselor that specializes in men's issues, couples therapy, and individual therapy. Travis also provides career and vocational counseling. In his spare time Travis enjoys walking in local parks, greenway bike rides in Wake and Johnston Counties and spending quality time with his wife of eighteen years and his son.