What is “communication” anyway?

Almost every moment of our lives, we are communicating something to someone. You may be talking with your children, yelling at your employees, or sitting quietly with your aging parent. We communicate by sharing information, expressing emotions, and simply by being present with someone.

Communication happens on many levels, and includes more than just talking and listening.

Verbal communication is what we typically think of first. We talk, laugh, yell, and joke around. And it is very true that the words we say matter. Our words impact other people. But listening is a key part of communication too! Our ability to hear people well depends on how we are listening (to hear them, or to respond to them?) and also on our own filter of emotions, history, and mood in that moment.

Non-verbal communication is almost more important than the actual words that we say. This includes our body language, tone of voice, or physical proximity to someone. Just think about the words “I’m sorry.” You can say them sincerely, you can yell them at someone, you can roll your eyes and be sarcastic. These are very different expressions of the same words! You may say them with tears in your eyes, leaning in for a hug – or with your parent or boss standing behind you with their arms crossed, waiting for you to say it. Our non-verbals are meaningful.

So, how do we communicate well? Here are 3 tips for good communication:

  • Think before you speak. Do you know what you’re going to say, why you’re saying it, and how you want to say it? Is it something worth saying, that will add value to the other person’s life or to your own in a meaningful way?
  • Listen with a goal of understanding the other person well, not for deciding on what you want to say in response. Consider their words, tone, and body language. If you aren’t sure what they mean, ask them to explain it more. It may help to summarize for them afterward: “What I hear you saying is…” It is a powerful thing to truly feel heard by another person.
  • Know that mis-communication is normal, but it shouldn’t be ignored. You will say the wrong thing sometimes. So will everyone else. You will cringe when your friend goes to hug you, but perhaps this is due to a shoulder injury rather than disgust at them. The key to miscommunication is recognizing it, apologizing, and explaining or re-delivering the information.