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Three Rules of Effective Communication
By C. V. Doner

Ever wish your mate, friends, or co-workers would take a class in communication?

Don't you think a course in communication should be mandatory in public school? But of course, it's not. It's assumed we all know how to communicate. This clearly false assumption (remember some of your teachers?) is largely responsible for most playground fistfights and world wars, divorces and bankruptcies, and frustrated relationships--at home and on the job.

While learning to communicate effectively takes practice (novel idea: take the time to actually observe if your words are having the desired effect!), these simple rules will help:

  • Focus on your goal: What's the purpose of your communication? Is it to persuade or direct? When you think about it, a lot, if not most of our communication is aimed at persuading someone to our point of view--where to eat, how to do a certain task, how to think about someone or some issue. Most people's idea of "persuasion" is to start unconsciously running their mouth & voicing their opinion without the slightest consideration of how it will strike the intended target. That's called argumentation, not persuasion. Did you want an argument or a dialogue? Wouldn't it make sense to first understand how your conversational partner "sees" things, so you can adjust your tact (as in tactful or tactics) accordingly? Now for Step # 2 …
  • Listen patiently and carefully: If you're trying to persuade someone, how can you possibly be effective if you don't give him or her an opportunity to express their own opinions? First, you need to know what (or how) they think so you know how to tactically approach the subject. Their understanding of the issue may be entirely different than yours! Many people, when viewing the same circumstances, will come to radically different conclusions, because we all interpret things differently.

    Secondly, if someone doesn't feel you've adequately considered their opinion, they will be unwilling to consider yours; aren't you the same way?

    The same thing applies for directing or instructing. First, you must accurately assess their knowledge or understanding of the task, lesson, issue, etc. otherwise you will end up giving: a) information they already know, or b) not giving them adequate instructions because you assume they know more than they do, or c) giving them information which confuses them because their contextual understanding is different or they've interpreted data or processes differently or they're "sequentially" confused because you didn't bother to find out what step of the process they don't yet grasp and you're either "behind them" or "ahead of them."
  • Empathize: Part of the problem is that almost no one knows what this word means, let alone practices it. No, it doesn't mean to "feel sorry for," that's sympathize. To have empathy is to put yourself in their place, to practice the Golden Rule. First, you seek to understand them, their point of view and their sensitivities. Then, before you unload, you ask yourself, what impressions will my tone, attitude, body language (and lastly) my words have on this person? Will they be encouraged or discouraged? Will they be insulted or affirmed? Will they walk away feeling good or bad about our exchange? And finally, how would you like someone to speak to you? Remember the Golden Rule!

This article from Real Life Lessons