Friday, August 23, 2013

Communication 101

Like many who are involved in the field of education, I'm always looking for ways to make things more efficient and effective, and the number one thing I come back to that needs improvement, no matter what subject matter or field, is communication.

We often take for granted our ability to communicate with others, and can easily assume that because we can speak, write, and read, we've effectively learned what we need to in order to communicate. However, interactions that take place even in daily life can easily grow confusing or frustrating if you don't have effective communication skills. Thanks to phones and the internet, our communication skills are becoming more and more dependent on our ability to clearly type what's in our head, including the tone we want to convey with our message. This leaves a fair amount of room for errors when the message is interpreted by the reader(s) though, unless you are an adept communicator.

In order to help clear up communication issues across the board, I'll be posting some Communication 101 to help encourage clear and effective communication.

Today's Communication 101 has to do with how to handle conflict or disagreements, and takes a look at human psychology to offer some advice that you can easily apply when in a situation of conflict:

Humans, by nature, want to protect our egos. We want to believe that the way we act and live is right, and we are so invested in the protection of our SELF that our gut reaction when we are confronted is immediate denial. This has nothing to do with overall intelligence: when someone challenges your lifestyle, your interactions with others, your opinions, etc… you are going to immediately want to prove them wrong - after all, who wants to believe that they have been doing the wrong thing? And the funny thing is, that it probably won’t matter what facts, figures or statistics they throw out at you - it will all be perceived as an attack which you need to ward off, and your marvelous brain will help you think of a billion reasons why they are wrong and you are right.

This applies to everyone.

Think about this next time you want to change someone’s mind. Think about how you can present your case not as an attack, but as valuable information that might improve their life, and the lives of those around them. And next time someone confronts you, see if you can’t catch yourself throwing up your auto-defense and stop to consider what they’re trying to tell you.

Try using “I” statements to determine the difference between what you FEEL and what the facts are. It is okay to acknowledge that the things someone has said have made you upset. Remember that it is easier to put up your defenses or go on the attack if you feel emotionally compromised. Know when to take a break from an upsetting encounter so you can digest your emotions rather than letting your emotions rule your reactions.

Avoid "you," statements, and do not assume that you know how the other person feels or what they are thinking. In fact, you might even want to be forward and ASK how they feel or what they are thinking. Ask them to elaborate on points you may not be clear on, or to explain why or how they have come to that conclusion. Try to ensure that you have a full understanding of their perspective before you proceed. Do not dismiss anything they say - you wouldn't like it if someone dismissed something you said.

Be respectful, open-minded, and considerate. The golden rule most definitely applies - only speak to others the way which you would want to be spoken to.

For more information on why your brain works to protect your ego and sense of self, I recommend "A Mind of It's Own," by Cordelia Fine.

For high school level lesson plans on conflict resolution, I recommend this fantastic resource by the West Virginia Department of Education.

For more information on conflict resolution and other Communication 101, stay tuned...

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