Strong verbal communication skills help students at school in everything from getting better grades in class presentations to making a positive impression with teachers. These same skills also help students with their relationships in and out of school. At the learning and life skills summer camp, SuperCamp, students learn how important effective communication is in life and are given advice on how to improve their communication skills. Here are some of the tips they learn.
Don’t Be a Communication Killer
Beware! Some conversation responses-like reassurance, advice, and identification-that seem helpful on the surface can actually hinder positive communication, and may even end a conversation before it has a chance to become meaningful communication.
Don’t be a communication killer-be an active listener
Here are the three don’ts: don’t deny, don’t resolve, and don’t me-too.
Don’t deny: “You don’t need to lose weight, you look fine.”
When a friend shares an experience, a fear, or a feeling (”I’m so fat …”) and you respond with reassurance, you may mean to comfort her, but what you’re really doing is cutting off her sharing with the statement that she shouldn’t feel that way. You’re denying her feelings.
Don’t resolve: “If I were you …”
When someone tells you about a problem they’ve having, and you quickly hand them a solution, you shut them right down. Think about it. If you wanted to chat with a friend about a problem and maybe share some ideas and they quickly throw a solution at you, it wouldn’t feel very good. Their two-minute solution to a problem you’ve been struggling with for weeks would probably (a) be unlikely to work, (b) be something you already though of, and (c) be very likely to end the conversation.
Don’t me-too: “I know exactly what you mean; the same thing happened to me …”
When a friend begins to share something they’re going through and you cut them off with a “Me, too” and go into your “story”, you’ve killed the conversation. Your friend may never get to finish telling you about his experience, but he’ll know all about what happened to you.
None of these responses gives a conversation a chance. Often the best “conversations” are very one-sided as far as speaking is concerned. This is called active listening and it’s a vital ingredient in meaningful communication. The “listener” listens very intently and hardly says a word, only contributing enough to let the other person know they’re really hearing them. Think about the difference active listening would have made in the three don’ts examples above.
Don’t kill a conversation with reassurance, advice, or identification. Your goal is not to diagnose, pacify, or fix. Let your goal be to listen, and to let the speaker know he’s been heard.
Got a Minute?
Got a Minute? Have you ever had someone ask you this? Doesn’t it immediately send up a red flag in your mind: Why is he asking me this? Does he want me to have a cup of coffee with him? Does he want advice, or a favor? It’s an invisible question – you don’t know what he wants, you do know it probably won’t take just a minute, and you don’t know how to respond. Your honest answer is probably, “For what?” But you don’t feel comfortable being so blunt and you feel cornered.
If you get this a lot, handle it by reminding the person to be visible with “Why are you asking?” or “Tell me more.” This way, rather than uncomfortably saying, “Yes” without having any idea of what’s coming, you’re being direct in your communication and the final result will be better for both of you.
Another example of invisible communication is “What are you doing Friday night?” You wonder, Is she just curious? Does she want to invite me somewhere? Or maybe she wants me to babysit? What if she simply said, “I have an extra ticket for the concert on Friday night-would you like to come with me?” How easy is that to answer?
We all speak invisibly at times. When you catch yourself doing it, remind yourself to finish the sentence: “Do you have a minute to discuss …?” “What are you doing Friday night? I have concert tickets and I’m hoping you can join me.” When your intent is clear, people don’t feel as if they’re being manipulated or trapped-and they feel comfortable responding to you.
Visible communication strengthens relationships
Visible communication makes your purpose clear; invisible communication, as in the examples above, masks your purpose. When your intent is clear, people don’t feel as if they’re being tricked or manipulated. They feel safe and respected. And they feel comfortable responding to you. They’ll give your direct communication a direct answer. Communication is flowing and easy. Visible communication helps build stronger relationships. Make your intent visible, make your purpose clear, and strengthen your relationships.