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July, 2003, Vol. 03, Issue 07

What Did You Say?

By Perry Isenberg

Have you ever been in a conversation and felt your message didn't get across the way you wanted it to? Did it come across the wrong way? If so, you may want to see if you are sending mixed signals.

The ability to communicate can be one of the most difficult skills to acquire.

The ability to communicate touches every aspect of our lives and is something we most often take for granted. There are thousands of books, tapes and educators that focus on communication skills, yet few of us take the skill seriously. (I admit I am not very good at communicating, but I am working on it!)

This article, compiled from various articles I have read on the topic, will offer suggestions on improving communication. I hope you find this information useful.

Communication experts say that words in a conversation account for only a small percentage of how people perceive you; the rest is what you don't say, including facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. Many people think that if they know what to say, they have achieved the hard part. However, in reality, knowing what to leave out delivers a clear message, supported by appropriate body language. Clear communication involves conveying your message in "short and sweet" language to avoid overload. Skilled communicators get to the point quickly by presenting " just the facts," without the fluff.

Perception is everything; what one person says may not be what another person hears. Personal beliefs may cloud what we hear and how we communicate. Being a good listener and communicator takes practice. Communication is an exchange and can become difficult if we are not skilled, or let ourselves get caught up in emotions and judgments. Some people may think they are good listeners, but, in reality, people may only hear half of what you are saying. Good communicators are good listeners; good listeners ask the right questions; The result is clear conversation. I try to avoid bad conversation habits, such as getting off the subject, confusing the listener with disjointed conversation or talking too fast.

A person who is upset might begin taking his or her anger out on me. When this happens, I try not to take it personally and have a negative reaction. Instead, I find out why the person is upset and the steps we can take to correct the situation. Most of the time, I let people "talk themselves out." They can usually communicate calmly after that. I then focus on some pertinent information so that I can recap and respond to their complaint. I might share a similar personal experience; however, I won't give direct advice. Rather, I might make gentle suggestions, especially if I think it will help the person see another perspective. I might say something like: "This helped me when I did so and so," instead of saying, "You need to do such and such." The tip here is to find common ground and rationale to keep the communication open and flowing.

When I listen, I keep a positive and open mind, and try to reserve judgment, even if I don't agree with the person's point of view. If I am not sure of his or her position, I will ask questions and repeat some points of the conversation. This tells the person that I listened, which helps diffuse the situation and adds perspective for our mutual benefit.

Of course, not all exchanges of communication are that tenuous. However If you keep a positive and open mind, do not take things personally, and stay free of judgment, you can ask the right questions to get to the real issue, even in the toughest situations. Respond only to the facts, not emotions; your body language needs to support your words.

Effective communication is an exchange and an art that needs to be practiced. Remember, clear, positive communication will get a clear, positive response for an informative beneficial conversation.

In the meantime, be healthy, be good and stay focused and motivated.

Click here for previous articles by Perry Isenberg.


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