I've always considered communication to be one of the gems in human abilities. In truth, it may often appear to be a very rough and unpolished stone, while for some other individuals and instances it is a precisely-cut, elegantly faceted brilliance. Although the majority of us often strive for the latter, the former happens to us with frequency.
Let's face it, good communication is a prize. When articulated well, even if agreement is not achieved, some sense of understanding may still be accomplished by the effort of communication. Great movements have been fired and inspired by great speeches. Hostile and dangerous situations have been defused by skilled communication geared to bring the participants back from the brink. Effective advertising, therapy, diplomacy, and a host of other endeavors we are exposed to are based on good communication skills. We all engage in communication throughout our daily lives, with our friends, family, co-workers, the cashier at the grocery store, ad infinitum.
Although communication is such a vital mainstay in our lives, the majority of us don't engage in much thought about it. We just do it. Well, I'm of the school that believes that may not be the best way to go about it. For me, I realize that many of the conflicts that I have been engaged in throughout my life arose from less than sterling communication at the outset. Being human, sure, I'm prone to speak first and think later; therefore, there are some things I try to remember.
First, if I'm in the mood to expel unfiltered, stream of thought, or the equivilent of verbal vomitus, a journal is the perfect medium. Other than that, there is a receiver to my communication and, most probably, that receiver is another person with thoughts, feelings, sensitivities and needs of their own. The moment another person is involved, I now have an obligation to consider them unless my goal is to risk having this communication devolve into a non-productive conflict. I try to remember before speaking (or typing,) what my purpose is with this communication. If my desired result is merely to unleash my frustrations, off to my trusty journal I shall go. However, the overwhelming majority of the time, my goal in communicating means I have to engage with another person, so what follows pertains to that.
I try to remember to stop and think before communicating. What point am I really trying to convey? Who is my audience? How would I feel as the receiver of this gem? Am I willing to actually hear the receiver's response to my point?
I try to remember that my receiver's response will be calibrated not by what I say, but by how I say it. If I wield the equivilent of a verbal club, my receiver will respond in kind, most likely. When my point is framed offensively, it's an almost certain thing that my receiver will take the defensive manuver of verbal attack. If my communication is fair and measured, there is a high probability that my receiver will address me in a similar fashion.
I try to remember to set aside absolutes. "Never" and "always" were not intended to further a discussion, but rather make the receiver feel as if a door has been closed in their face. They are also very hard to defend, as typically someone can find an exception to nearly everything.
I try to remember to separate fact from opinion. Just because I believe it, feel it emphatically, well, that does not make it a fact, it is still my opinion. When I confuse the two, I am in danger of risking my credibility and diminishing my receiver's right to form and hold their own opinion.
I try to remember that my receiver is a living, breathing, feeling, human being. This leaves no room for personal attacks, which are destructive. Communication should be constructive. Besides, if my point is so weak that I must inflict harm on someone else to make it "valid," I need to rethink its value.
I try to remember to step into the shoes of my receiver. This reminds me to debate policy and fact, aids in avoiding personal attacks, and urges me to stop and think "how would I feel if that were said to me?" If I would feel hurt or defensive, I need to find a better way to phrase it. Once a receiver is put on the defensive, communication is basically at an end. It is important to me to remember that one can be kind and thoughtful, and still speak the truth.
I try to remember that it is perfectly acceptable to agree to disagree. If I cannot convince someone with measured logic and respectful tones, then I cannot convince them. Since my receiver is a thinking, breathing, feeling, intelligent person, at some point I must just accept that they are capable of pondering through to their own conclusions.
I try to remember that my receiver's feelings and beliefs are just as important to them as mine are to me. No one is superior here. We are each entitled to our beliefs and feelings, which are typically a complex summation of our life experiences. To belittle them is to belittle the person that holds them. Making my receiver feel badly about themself does not make my point valid.
I try to remember that there are some people that find the verbal "drawing of blood" to be entertaining or derive a sense of self-esteem from it. For those rare few, I can learn to disengage and peacefully move away from the conflict. Just because they desire it does not mean I have to be a party to something I find destructive. Nor do I have to be insulting in my manner of disengagement, which would only lend itself to furthering that destructive end.
Most importantly, I try to remember that as part of the communication process, I too must be a receiver. I must actively listen. Everyone wants to be heard. Talking at someone is not constructive and is a pitfall easily slipped into, particularly when impassioned by the topic.
Yes, it takes a sometimes inconvenient moment to stop and think before communication and, being imperfectly human, I can be impatient and fail at my best intentions. The results in those instances are not always attractive. It's a habit I'm spending my life learning and an on-going work in process. I think it is worth the effort.
I mean, really, there is so much hurt in the world I cannot do anything about, but what I can control, what I can own, is the message I impart to others. If that message is delivered in a hurtful way, I own that too.