Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Tips For Effective Communication

Use these to increase
your satisfactions

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/tools/tips.htm

Updated  01-11-2015

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availalble Spring 2003      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 2 - learn to use communication basics and seven powerful skills to get more daily needs met more often. Progress with this Lesson depends on simultaneous progress applying Lesson 1 - free your resident true Self to guide your personality in calm and conflictual times.

      The unique guidebook Satisfactions (Xlibris.com, 2nd ed., 2010) integrates the key Lesson-1 and Lesson-2 Web articles and resources in this nonprofit Web site, and provides many practical resources. 

This article assumes you've studied Lesson 1 and Lesson 2 thoroughly. You'll get even more benefits if you've studied all these Lessons!

      As you consider each of these tips, compare them to how you usually are in calm and conflictual situations. Take your time here, and imagine using these ideas in your key relationships. They'll only work for you if your true Self guides your other subselves (Lesson 1).

Effective-communication Tips

      Tip 1)  Adopt and keep a long-range attitude - e.g. the next 20 years. Be content with “progress, not perfection.” Stay aware of your long-term trends, vs. (say) the last three conflicts, like “Yeah, we definitely interrupt each other less and listen to each better since last summer.”

      2)  Evolve clear definitions of...

  • selected communication terms and concepts;

  • "A problem." Premise - innerpersonal and interpersonal "problems" are unfilled needs. A need is any current or long-term emotional, physical, or spiritual discomfort.

  • "Effective (vs. 'open and honest') communication,” and...

  • Effective problem-solving (conflict resolution).

Use these definitions to help assess and resolve communication problems (need-conflicts) to everyone's satisfaction.

      3)  Assess your current personal priorities honestly. If reducing psychological wounds and improving your thinking and communicating aren't consistently in your top five life priorities, (a) suspect that a false self controls you, and (b) expect minimal benefits from using Lesson-2 resources.

     4)  Adopt the open mind of a student, and expect to change some long-standing attitudes, behaviors, and maybe priorities as you apply these Lessons. Encourage other family members to do this too.

     Tip 5)  Help your family members stay aware of the vital difference between (a) surface and primary needs, and (b) superficial and core attitude changes.  Then help each other grow your awareness and dig-down skills to identify and assert your current primary needs.

     6)  Develop and promote (a) healthy self respect and (b) genuine mutual-respect attitudes among your family members and others. Doing this requires true Selves to guide each person's personality. Use awareness to monitor the R(espect) messages you give and receive in important conversations, and develop a way of responding to people who send you 1-up or 1-down R-messages.

     7)  Intentionally practice communication-process awareness and two-person "awareness bubbles," Develop a strategy for responding to people using a 1-person or no-person bubble in important communications.

     8)  Notice your preferred way of perceiving and describing the world - visual, auditory, tactile, or kinesthetic. Then become aware of the way important kids and adults perceive and describe their world. If their way differs from yours, try intentionally using words and phrases that match their linguistic "style." See this for more detail and examples. 

     9)  Periodically re-take this communication-basics quiz and review this Tips article, to "sharpen your saw.". 

     10)  Practice identifying why you’re communicating - i.e. identify which needs you and others are each trying to fill in key situations. Grow the reflex of getting clear on “What do I need from my partner now, besides feeling respected enough?"

    Tip 11)  When you and a communication-partner are conflicted, help each other do respectful “hearing checks - i.e. practice exchanging empathic listening to grow mutual feelings of being well-heard. Remember that “listening respectfully and attentively” does not necessarily mean “agreeing”!  

    12)  Practice identifying where your and your family members' "E(motion)-levels" are in calm and stressful situations. When an adult or child is "upset," (their E-level is “above their ears”), use or ask for respectful empathic listening to bring E-levels down and restore hearing.

      More effective-communication tips...

    13)  Practice noticing  your partner’s non-verbal communications (e.g. eye contact, face and body language, and voice dynamics), and how you decide what they mean, in conflict situations. Work to raise your comfort levels in talking about your non-verbals together: some communication experts estimate they represent the high majority of how we draw “meanings” from each other’s behavior, vs. from our words.

    14)  Help each other use awareness skill to differentiate between:

  • abstract conflicts (values, opinions, preferences, priorities);

  • concrete (“thing”) conflicts, like cars, checkbooks, food, and TVs; 

  • communication- need conflicts; and...

  • conflicts (a) among your subselves (inner-family disputes), and (b) with other people (interpersonal clashes).

Resolving each of these can be very different. Interpersonal problem-solving is much easier if each partner resolves any major inner conflicts first

    15)  View all emotions as useful guides to unfilled primary needs, and avoid judging any emotions as "negative." Distinguish between feeling an emotion - which is neurochemical and uncontrollable, and expressing it, which can (usually) be controlled. Help each other to use frustration and anger constructively. They feel the same, but are caused and reduced differently.

    Tip 16)  Use awareness to practice spotting...

  • ineffective problem-solving strategies (win-lose, lose-lose) and...

  • communication blocks occurring within and between you - without blame

Use metatalk terms and empathic listening to discuss and improve each of these.

    17)  Learn the normal differences in how females and males handle relationships and conflicts. Affirm and accept how these differences regularly manifest in your key relationships - e.g. he needs to act: (to fix her problem); she mainly needs to be listened to and accepted now - not “fixed.” Strive to use your complementary gender differences together, rather than competing, judging, or trying to revise each other to be more like you. See...

  • Brain Sex - The Real Difference Between Men and Women, by Anne Moir, Ph.D., and David Jessel; and...

  • You Just Don't Understand - Women and Men in Conversation; by Deborah Tannen, Ph.D.

    18)  Help each other learn how to diagram (map) your present communication sequences - specially conflicts - to understand, not to blame. Option: Do this, say, annually, to learn if and how your communication skills are growing.

    19)  Help each other learn how to give each other effective feedback. Do this when partners are ready to hear it - i.e. when their E-levels are "below their ears" (tip 11) and they're not distracted. Stay aware of why you're offering feedback, specially in emotional situations; and how you're giving it. Grow fluency with assertive "I" messages as an effective way of combining feedback with stating your needs.

    20)  Identify the spoken and unspoken “rules” (“shoulds and oughts”) your caregivers used in handling conflict in your childhood homes. Examples: ""Demand rather than request;" "Men can get angry and yell, but women can't;" and "It's OK to interrupt each other, but not complain about it."

      This can help you avoid unconsciously using any ineffective conflict-resolution strategies and techniques that your caregivers did - or the polar opposites. Those people probably had no training in what you're learning in Lesson 2, and were often ineffective communicators. 

      Reflect on “How did Mom and Dad (or whoever) try to get their core needs met with each other, and what did they do when their needs conflicted or didn’t get met well enough?” Consider using sibs and kin - and your original caregivers, if living - as resources in this research.

      Diagram their problem-solving process (Tip 18) and compare it to yours now. Option: use the communication blocks worksheet, and focus on your caregivers, to see which of them you may have unconsciously inherited.

    Tip 21)  Help each other tailor these useful communication phrases to fit you, and use  them to prevent or resolve conflicts.

    22)  Train yourself to notice and avoid vague or ambiguous words and phrases in important communications. See this brief YouTube video for examples.

    23)  Evolve and use a Personal Bill of Rights in growing your assertion skills and “promoting your-self to equal.” Help each other build the attitude "Your needs and mine are equally important," except in emergencies.

    24)  Help each other distinguish between things you can control, and things you can't. Consider posting these wise inspirations where you can see them every day, and model and teach them to your kids.

    25)  Study, discuss, and tailor these key attitudes and premises about relationship problems with important people.

    26)  Affirm your individual and joint conflict-resolution successes promptly, and learn from your “mistakes” without undue guilt or shame. Grow the habit of asking "What can I learn from (some problem or event)?"

    27)  Develop a set of hand-signals and verbal “trigger” words and phrases - a kind of communication shorthand to simplify your conflict resolution process, over time. For example, if one of you is feeling flooded (overwhelmed with feelings and/or information), you might put your fingers in your ears, or the edge of your hand under your nose, to symbolize “Whoa! I need a time-out here.”

      A circled thumb and forefinger, or a thumbs-up gesture, can mean “Right on!” or “I feel really well-heard by you now. Thanks!” Some people are more kinesthetic (action and touch oriented) than others, so these kinds of gestures may or may not fit you. Experiment, and see what helps.

   Tip  26)  If you're a visual/auditory learner, view the YouTube videos in this playlist.

+ + +

      Notice the themes of these 28 effective-communication tips: awareness, needs, self and mutual respect, knowledge, and teamwork. Build on these to invent your own tips! Go back over this collection and pick out a few you want to try out. Option - try one or two new tips a week for four months, and see what happens!  

Status Check

      Unless you try these practical options for better communication outcomes, they won't help. Stretch, breathe, and see how you stand with this now: T = true, F = false, and ? = "I'm ambivalent now."

  • Intentionally learning to think and communicate clearly is the most powerful tool I and my descendents will ever have to meet our personal and social needs.  (T  F  ?)

  • Improving my communication effectiveness is among my top five life priorities now  (T  F  ?)

  • I'm clear now on how to measure the effectiveness of my communications  (T  F  ?)

  • On a scale of 1 (I have no interest in trying these tips) to 10 (I'm very motivated to try selected tips with my subselves and social relationships now), I am a ___. 

  • I'm currently studying the articles and using the worksheets in Lesson 2 here, or if not, I clearly know why.  (T  F  ?)

  • My true Self is responding to this status check, or I know which subselves are.  (T  F  ?)

What did you just learn?


      This article summarizes 28 practical tips for improving your communication outcomes and relationships - with other people, and among your dynamic subselves. These tips use the key concepts in self-improvement Lesson 2 here, and come from over 40 years' research and clinical practice. They build on these suggestions for improving communication with adults and kids.

 Option - teach and model these tips to the young people in your life, and encourage other adults to do the same!

Keep studying and applying Lesson 2

      Pause, breathe, and reflect: why did you read this? If you got what you needed, what do you need to do now? If you didn't, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self or ''someone else''?

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