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Family Files

Effective Communication Tips

As a Family Life Educator, I am asked to do many types of programs that cover the entire lifespan. This can become quite interesting when you find yourself teaching young mothers about separation anxiety, retired adults about motivation, and working families about balancing work and home life – all in one day! There is one topic that is commonly requested and applies to all ages and stages in life, and that is effective communication. Whether a person is communicating with professionals, supervisors, or even our family members and loved ones, difficult topics can make it a challenge to get our point across the way we intend to.

Here are some tips in speaking clearly:

  • Remember the goal of your conversation. Be specific and avoid going on tangents or bringing up old issues.
  • Resist urges to attack with words or actions such as sarcasm or put-downs. If you feel yourself losing control of your emotions, you may want to take a little break by getting a glass of water, leaving the room for a moment, or take a few deep breaths.
  • Try to see things from the other person's perspective. This will help you to be more empathetic and will promote mutual respect.
  • Use those "I" messages – when you communicate what you are thinking and feeling and not pointing the finger at the other person making them feel defensive.
  • Give constructive criticism by focusing on the behavior and not on the person.
  • Know what you want to say, and then stop once you've said it. Continuing to rehash your points over and over is not effective.

It is essential that you also be a good listener. Here are some tips in listening carefully:

  • Be an active listener by giving the person your full attention and eliminate any distractions.
  • Let the person know you are listening by changing expressions, nodding your head, asking clarifying questions and making brief comments.
  • Maintain eye contact and pay attention to your body language – don't give mixed messages.
  • Do not interrupt – hear them out.
  • Receive criticism with an open mind by filtering out the emotions and sticking with the facts.
  • Summarize in your own words what you think you heard from the speaker to eliminate any misunderstandings.
  • Acknowledge to the person that you appreciate them talking with you and you know it may not have been easy.
  • Also, acknowledge what the other person said, even if you don't agree with them.
Communication skills take time and effort to cultivate and refine, but have a great payoff when practiced correctly. Contact any of our family life educators for more information on effective communication.