Michele Armani and Sally Meisenheimer
Dear Style & Substance:
Whenever I want to talk about something important with my boss, partner or children I get anxious. Sometimes I become so nervous I give up before I start.
I can’t organize my thoughts, they are left unspoken, or I come across as frustrated or aggressive.
How can I become a better communicator?
We call what you are searching for “the sweet spot” of communication, which is different for everyone. This “sweet spot” of communication won’t come all at once, but with work, introspection, and trial and error, these suggestions should help you become a better communicator.
— Try to address issues before a crisis occurs. This may seem like common sense, but difficult situations are often ignored or minimized and then, through inaction, lead to a breaking point and a crisis. Sincerity and direct communication are generally appreciated.
— When you have an inkling that something you said was misperceived, speak up. Say something such as, “I think what I said was misunderstood and what I really meant was …”
— Assess your values and your motivations. What do you want the conversation to result in?
— Begin with a positive thought. “I need your help solving a problem,” is a great way to open a conversation, because you are inviting another to help with the solution instead of focusing on the problem. This simple statement sets the tone for a conversation rather than a confrontation.
— Focus on finding an outcome that will satisfy everyone. You may have to be flexible and make changes to improve the situation or the relationship.
— Have regular conversations with friends, family, and colleagues whenever possible; getting into the routine of talking with someone will help when tough topics need to be addressed. Establishing healthy relationships during times of ease and comfort will give you the strength and skills to have more difficult conversations in the future.
— Watch how different people react or respond to your words and adjust accordingly. Even if you don’t intend your words to be threatening or disheartening, they may be perceived that way, which is what matters. Your goal is to have the people in your life receive your words the way you intend them to be understood.
Sometimes a relationship may be beyond repair and you must decide how far you want to pursue change, and sometimes you may have to “agree to disagree” — after you have each presented your views in a relaxed and accepting way.
Always “debrief” yourself when your conversations have gone wrong, as well as when they have gone well. This puts strategies in your “pocket” that work and it discards strategies that don’t.
Some situations and topics will always be uncomfortable, but with practice and purpose you can resolve them.
A S K
Style & Substance
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