“Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair trigger balances, when a false or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act.” — James Thurber
I am constantly shocked and reminded just how easy it is to hurt or be hurt by our loved ones due to faulty communication. What are some of the most common mistakes all of us make?
One of the most universal communication errors in our relationships with our parents, partners, and children is that we are tempted to speak without thinking first. This is understandable because we are typically less guarded with people we feel close to. The downside of having this increased freedom of expression is that we often blurt things that we would never even dream of saying out loud to a friend or colleague. And then, to make matters worse, after having said something hurtful, tactless or even downright mean, we often make the further mistake of justifying what we’ve said rather than apologizing and owning up to the fact that we misspoke.
Hence, Rule #1: Engage your brain before you open your mouth, and ask yourself if anyone will really be served by what you are about to say. The old adage “some things are better left unsaid” happens to be true. Healthy families are lavish when it comes to sharing positive words and more restrained and deliberate when it comes to delivering negative feedback.
The second most common error is that we assume that the other person actually understands precisely what we have communicated. Unfortunately, this is very often not the case. The best remedy for this (besides making your communications short and to the point) is to learn how to paraphrase and make a habit of asking the listener what they heard. This is especially useful when something important is being shared. If you are a parent and you want to make sure your child was listening, this is the remedy. Adults in our busy, multi-tasking complicated world also benefit from this practice. I know that this may sound incredibly tedious, boring, and unnatural–which it will be until you get better at it. Difficult as this may be at first, the great news is that it really works.
Paraphrasing or “active listening” is an amazing tool that can prevent misunderstandings from blowing up into big fights or painful exchanges. If you are the speaker, and from the look on your wife’s face, you can tell something has gone wrong, you can simply ask her what she just heard you say. This gives you a chance to correct things. If you are the receiver of a message, you can check out what you have heard by starting with “In other words, what you just said is…. or what you are wanting is…”
Hence, Rule #2: The more important the information being communicated, the more we need to slow down, taking ample time to make sure that the message we are sending is the same one that our loved one is receiving.