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Are You Failing to Effectively Communicate?


Rusty is a writer, proofreader, editor, and designer living along Lake Michigan's coast with her supportive, nerdy husband.

Why Effective Communication Matters

Having the ability to properly communicate with one another is incredibly important. Effective communication helps us connect with one another, resolve differences, build bridges, and efficiently solve problems.

We all know someone (or maybe we are someone) who is frustrating to talk to for whatever reason. Maybe they dominate a conversation, or invade personal space, creating an uncomfortable atmosphere that pushes the listener away rather than engaging them. Maybe the communicator avoids eye contact at all costs, or just blindly agrees with whatever someone else says thus hindering any meaningful discussion.

I have a friend whose idea of a conversation involves her doing all of the talking and me doing all of the listening. When I do finally manage to get a word in I can actually see her body leaning forward as if she is ready to launch herself back in at my slightest pause. There are times when it looks like she is about to explode with the effort she is using to hold back her words. I'd like to say that I am exaggerating for effect, but I really do think she would pass out if I didn't let her continue. As a mercy I usually let her get back to it and then find a way out of the conversation as soon as possible. Why is this an example of bad communication? Because she is not being a good listener. I can tell that she isn't actually comprehending anything I say and as a result it makes me less inclined to talk to her.

In order to effectively communicate, there needs to be a balance of give and take in a conversation. You should, not only, share your thoughts and opinions, but also actively listen when someone speaks to you.

The best discussions and conversations involve each person listening and feeding off what the other is saying. Conversations should grow organically and leave each contributor feeling as though they were heard. If someone wants to be spoken to about a topic they would attend a lecture, not start up a discussion with another person.

Written Communication is Just as Important

Effective communication doesn't end at the spoken word. Email, texting, and social media correspondence are also very important to relationships and careers nowadays. It's entirely possible to over communicate or under communicate in a written format as well as verbal.

People don't like to read a wall of text in an email, or online and being bombarded by multiple texts from the same person can be exhausting. When it comes to effective written communication, crisp sentences, or bullet points that detail the topic without getting too lengthy or wordy are where it's at.

We've all more than likely scanned a coworker's email thinking, "get to the point!" or we've read a friend's Facebook post and made a "WTF" face at the screen. And I'm sure we all have that friend who needs to tell you a really long story in multiple text messages sent in quick succession. You know the friend I'm talking about, where you get that first "OMG" text in the morning and you know you have time to put your phone down, brush your teeth, brew your coffee, take a shower, and get dressed before she's done. I know this because...I am that friend (we all have our weaknesses, after all. I promise I'm working on it).

So how can you tell if you're over communicating or under communicating? What are the consequences of each style? How do you correct the behavior?

Over Communicating: Symptoms, Consequences, and Corrections

Over communicators:

  • Love to talk
  • Dominate conversations
  • Include way more details than necessary
  • Are often thinking of the next thing they want to talk about (perhaps when they should be listening)
  • "Wall of text" emails or text messages

Consequences of over communicating:

  • Over sharing (TMI!)
  • People tune them out, walk away, or start a new conversation while they are speaking
  • People skim their emails then ask for the bullet points

How to fix it:

  • Practice good, active listening
  • Use short sentences and/or bulleted lists in your emails and stay on topic

Under Communicating: Symptoms, Consequences, and Corrections

Under communicators:

  • Tend to talk less
  • Refrain from expressing their true opinion
  • Sometimes don't include enough detail or their messages are too broad or vague (Facebook users have coined the term "vauge-booking" for this reason)
  • Often have people ask them to further explain themselves

Consequences of under communicating:

  • May end up doing things they don't want to do because they didn't speak up
  • May be accused of "not caring enough" about a topic
  • May become frustrated when people don't follow their directions well or when others don't live up to their expectations

How to fix it:

  • Ask people to confirm that they heard your directions by having them repeat them back to you
  • Be willing to push through potential discomfort to make your opinion known

Effective Communication Gets You Noticed

The notion of having to consciously think about how we speak or write might seem ridiculous to some, but we interact with other people for most of our day, every day of the week; whether it's verbally in meetings or over coffee in the break room, or through Facebook and email from home, it's crucial that we are able to make our point(s) clearly and create long lasting relationships and connections in the process.

Great communication skills will not only help you with every day interactions, but they could make all the difference when it comes to nailing a job interview, solving a conflict with a fellow parent, or even conquering a dreaded phone call to cancel your cable service. Having the skills to put your thoughts into words in a concise, polite manner not only makes for more pleasant conversations, they also save time and energy not having to repeat or re-explain yourself. Being an effective communicator will help you stand out for all the right reasons.


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