Are you struggling to get your point across? Are you not always successful in talking to your partner, friends or work colleagues? Do you sometimes feel no-one is listening? Well, communication skills might seem simple for some people, but they're not always so easy for everyone. What makes a good communicator? Many things do, but the prime factor is the ability to listen actively and effectively, while being able to communicate clearly, consistently and calmly. Let's break that down differently then. Good communication skills in relationships have the following characteristics:
- Compromise – the aim should be to find a way to agree so that both parties are able to live with the situation. Communicating well simply to get your own way is abusive; it's not effective as a form of communication.
- Respect – having some respect for the other person's point of view and being able to hear that point of view as being equal to your own facilitates smoother compromise and a dual interaction in which both people will feel heard and valued.
- Individualism – everyone thinks differently and has a different point of view. It is essential to understand the other person's opinion, principle, belief or value from their point of view. For example, it is more respectful to understand a religious Catholic's view on abortion from a Catholic point of view as that person holds it. The art of listening is an active act of participation in which you have to make an effort to 'get it' and have no assumptions at all about another person's position or world view.
- Equality and autonomy – always err on the side that your partner has the right to decide for himself and that his right is equal to yours. This is a fundamental part of effective communication as it relates to understanding the other person's needs and to recognising that their needs are no less or more important than your own.
- Attentiveness – listen to what your partner is saying, not to what you want to hear. Be open to his point of view and to the content of what he is saying. Open body language and a willingness to listen are themselves communication that the other person will pick up. Turning your back while someone talks says more then you might think. Face someone and make eye contact and make it clear that you are willing to listen and to understand.
- Active listening – find the thread of what your partner is saying and ask questions about it in order to understand it, not to judge it. Listen with the view of exploring your partner's position. Be curious.
- No judgment - there is rarely a right or wrong when it comes to an opinion. If you're curious and concerned about your partner, then judging his argument becomes harder.
- Clarity and consistency – say what you mean and mean what you say. Be gentle in what and how you say it. Just because you might think that blatant truth works for you, does not translate into it working for him. If you hear someone say "I'm just telling the truth" or "It's just how I am" in response to insensitive and cruel behaviour and conversation, reconsider how well you know him. Often these kinds of phrases are ways of covering over what is blatantly cruel and insensitive.
- Empathy – understanding is not agreeing or approving. Empathy is a way of understanding your partner's point of view even if you disagree or disapprove.
Communication is a delicate dance in which both partners lead at different times.