Perhaps one of the most well-known quotes in modern cinema is uttered in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke: what we’ve got here is failure to communicate. This classic line resonates with so many people because of the shared human experience of the struggle to not only communicate our own thoughts and feelings but the difficulty in trying to understand the thoughts and feelings being communicated by others. Communication can be viewed as one of the pillars of not only interpersonal communication but society and civilization as a whole. Without being able to effectively share our ideas, needs, and worries with others, many of us see our relationships struggle and our self-confidence plummet. So, if communication is so essential to our lives, why do nearly all of us find it so hard to master? We have all been in situations where we feel that we are just not being understood by the other person despite our best efforts. And we have all experienced conflict because we have failed to understand what a friend or loved one is trying to tell us. Is there a way to become better communicators?
One of the most basic ways to break down communication styles is through the “aggressive-assertive-passive” continuum. Identifying these differences both within ourselves as well as others can help us start to ensure that we are communicating efficiently and effectively with others. Aggressive communicators express their emotions and opinions in a way that hurts other people; they may use physical or verbal assaults, will try and dominate others, using humiliation, blame or attacks to control them, which can lead to these individuals alienating others or themselves, being hated or feared, and unable to identify or conquer their issues1. The opposite of aggressive communicators are passive communicators, who tend to be quiet, speak softly, and allow others to infringe on their space, time, and even rights; they often have issues with a low sense of self-worth, low self-respect, and don’t think that their own needs have importance1. The final communication type, and the one that is most effective in communicating with others, is the assertive individual; specifically, they clearly state their opinions and feelings, advocate for themselves and their needs appropriately, create an environment of respect, set healthy boundaries, and are direct about their wants and needs while being considerate of the rights, needs, and wants of others1. It is important to work towards developing a greater understanding of how to identify each communication type and how they impact the quality of communication between people.
There are many skills that you can practice which may help you communicate better with the people around you as well as help you to increase your confidence in your communication abilities. Utilize active listening, which is a technique where you focus on listening more than talking, remain engaged and interested in what is being said, limit interruptions, and reflect back what you have heard2. Clarify, summarize, and ask questions about the information the other person is sharing; this not only demonstrates your commitment to the conversations, this also allows you to gain more information and reach a mutual understnading2. Be aware of your non-verbal communication signals, such as eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, and body posture, as all of these factors influence the ways you are perceived by others2. Finally, remember to approach communication with empathy and a genuine interest to learn about the other person’s perspective2. Remember to practice these skills as often as possible, as repetition helps to develop habits and good communication skills will certainly have a positive influence in your life.
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