Sometimes verbal communication may seem so simple, but it’s actually more complicated than most of us realize. This is because we spend a lot of time processing and filtering information when we are communicating which often causes information to be left unsaid, left unheard, or both.
The reason why many people have issues communicating is because they may have a hard time articulating or properly expressing what they want to say, are unaware of themselves, and are interpreting information based on their individual perspectives and insecurities.
Here’s a good example. A couple, let’s name them “Bill” and “Sally” often have communication issues. In this scenario, Sally just tried on a new dress that she recently purchased and she shows it off to Bill, and Bill says “Nice dress.” Sally filters Bill's comment and says “So what are you trying to say…the dress looks nice, but not me!?” Bill becomes defensive, and responds with “What are you talking about!?”
This is a matter of Bill’s intention vs. what Sally heard. Bill intended to complement Sally, and Sally feels insecure about how she looks in her clothes so when Bill gave the compliment she actually heard criticism.
We can argue that Sally assumed Bill was criticizing her, or Bill should have worded his complement differently. The real problem is how they process information; Sally is insecure and insecurities lead to information being misinterpreted. In turn, Bill automatically became defensive. Trying to understand the reason for Sally’s response may have helped prevent a possible argument.
When communicating, what is often left unsaid are primary emotions that impact how we process information. Primary emotions (i.e. shame, guilt, sadness, fear) are often masked by secondary emotions, and the secondary emotions (i.e. anger, frustration, resentment) are what we communicate to others. Primary emotions are triggered by certain keywords, Tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, sarcasm, and making condescending comments.
Another part of communicating is active listening. Active listening is a skill and it is when one person fully attunes to what another person is saying. They are not thinking of what to say next and they are not projecting their insecurities. With active listening there is no pressure to respond, it only requires the listener to be mindful.
Many times, people are not fully listening when communicating; this is especially true when two people are arguing.
When that happens, the people communicating miss out on important information making communication difficult, confusing, and chaotic.
If you are reading this wanting to learn how to start better communicating with friends and family, start with active listening. Don’t be afraid to ask questions If you don’t understand something and communicate your thoughts and feelings instead of making assumptions. Most importantly be mindful of yourself when communicating. Observe your patterns of communication, Is it effective? Or does it often end in conflict? Self-awareness is also an important factor to consider when communicating and can make a world of difference.