Health Advocate Blog

Build communication skills; improve social connections

Whether you want to improve your connection with your spouse, kids, boss, coworkers, friends, family or neighbors, using positive communication skills can build greater respect, improve teamwork and problem-solving, and support your overall social and emotional health. Especially in situations where differing viewpoints may surface, using good communication skills requires more than just getting your point across—it’s about being a good listener, managing your emotions, asserting yourself in a respectful way and paying attention to nonverbal communication. Try putting these basic skills into practice:

Sit down together, if possible. Sitting down invites you and the other person to slow down, relax and perhaps open up a bit better to the conversation.

Focus fully on the speaker. Put down your phone and turn completely away from your computer, the TV or any other activity during the discussion. To help you stay focused on what the other person is saying, try repeating their words in your head.

Really listen to the other person, without simply waiting for your turn to talk. Avoid redirecting the conversation to your own concerns by saying something like, “If you think that’s bad, wait until I tell you what happened to me.”

Avoid interrupting—or talking over—the other person. Listen to everything that’s being said, even if you disagree with it and won’t change your mind.

Prepare respectful responses on sensitive subjects. Try to anticipate and plan for alternative viewpoints and plan how you will respond in a respectful way.

Don’t rush to judgment. Is your teen talking about changing her curfew? Or what foods he or she prefers to eat? Be willing to think about what the person is saying and show that you are taking what’s been said seriously.

Check your tone and body language. Notice if you sound calm and pleased or urgent, hesitant, angry, or belligerent, for example. Or perhaps you are avoiding eye contact, crossing your arms, fidgeting, or leaning too close to the listener? If so, you may not be sending an effective message.

Use tactics to remain calm if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Are your “emotional buttons” being pushed during the conversation? If so, it’s important to use some stalling strategies to give yourself time to think before you rush to respond. You can ask for a question to be repeated, for example, or simply take a pause to collect your thoughts.

When you’re angry, limit your discussion. Be willing to take time-outs, walk away, or engage in activities that help cool tempers before you engage in discussions that might become even more heated. Avoid accusations. Before you blurt out something hurtful, count to 10 to calm yourself and defuse your anger.