We’ve all heard the nursery rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” But we know better.
In fact, we know all too well that words can hurt and so does the interpretation of our nonverbal behaviours (like not paying attention, interrupting or day dreaming when someone is speaking).
We’ve all encountered situations made worse by poor communication. It’s virtually unavoidable.
We’re social animals and communication is a big part of our daily lives. Every interaction we have – face to face, over the phone, chatting online or texting – is an opportunity for communication to go extremely well or horribly haywire.
I pride myself on communicating clearly. I can firmly hold a boundary without being too pushy and I have the presence of mind to remember to “assume good intent” when working on a team challenge. However, certain personalities can trigger an erosion of my skills and attitude. Whenever I feel disrespected or thrown under the bus, my desire to collaborate falters and I begin to wonder if I need this much complication in my life.
If this happens to you, how can you improve your odds of maintaining effective communication?
The first (and probably toughest) step is to honestly identify what type of communicator you tend to be: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive or assertive.
Passive individuals exhibit poor eye contact and slumped body posture. They tend to speak softly or apologetically. They feel invisible and believe no one will hear them, so why bother speaking out.
Aggressive people display a low tolerance for frustration, use humiliation, interrupt frequently, and use criticism or blame to attack others. They use piercing eye contact and are not good listeners despite arguing that they are.
Passive-aggressive individuals appear passive but are really acting out anger in subtle, indirect or behind-the-scenes ways. Known to recruit others to their point of view, they can pose real challenges to group consensus. Passive-aggressive people usually feel powerless, stuck and resentful.
Assertive people feel in control of their thoughts and emotions. Tending to speak in calm and clear tones, they are good listeners and maintain solid eye contact.
It’s important to note that how you perceive your communication style may not be how others perceive you. So invest time in evaluating your style with individuals you know, like and trust to discover how you come across.
Whether you tend to communicate passively and let others walk over you, or you tend to bully others with aggressive pushy communication, you’re probably not the best communicator you can be when your boundaries are being pushed.
How do you know when your boundaries are being tested? You’ll likely begin to experience discomfort and resentment.
Resentment shows up when you feel taken advantage of or not appreciated for your time and effort. Sometimes it results from others imposing an uninformed judgment, view or value on you.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to control how other people will decide to communicate with you.
The good news is that you choose how you respond.
Stay calm and project confidence. Even if you feel skittish, try to hide your anxiety. Nervous and timid people can’t be assertive and will struggle to hold the line.
Disagree respectfully. You don’t have to be rude to express disagreement. You can simply say: “I respect your opinions but they’re not same as mine.” Never expect that everyone will agree with you every time – sometimes the group will move in another direction despite your desire.
The challenge most of us face in group communication is that we become so encompassed by personal history and how that intersects with the other person that we have no idea how we sound when we dig in our heels.
By taking the time to break away, reflect and really check in, we can reset our intentions and move forward with dignity.
And then we can make certain that our words are effective rather than hurtful.
Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.