Principles of Communication

adult-1822449_1920.jpgTYPES OF COMMUNICATION

Passive, Aggressive, and Assertive Communication

Passive, aggressive, and assertive communication refers to three styles of interaction. Everyone has the capability to use all three styles, and everyone uses them all at least occasionally. For example, someone might act passively with their boss, and assertively with their partner.

When using passive communication, an individual does not express their needs or feelings. Passive individuals often do not respond to hurtful situations, and instead, allow themselves to be taken advantage of or to be treated unfairly

Traits of passive communication:
· Not talking
· Avoiding conflict, trying to keep the peace
· Not saying what you think of feel
· Believing your needs don’t matter
· Avoids eye contact
· Tend to speak softly & apologetically
· Giving in
· Damaging to your self-esteem
· People respect you less
· Damages relationships

“I’m unable to stand up for my rights.”
“I don’t know who I am.”
I’m weak & unable to take care of myself.”
“I get stepped on by everyone.”
“People never consider my feelings.”

With assertive communication, an individual expresses their feelings and needs in a way that also respects the rights of others. This mode of communication displays respect for each individual who is engaged in the exchange.

Traits of assertive communication:
· Talking & listening
· Being honest & fair
· Standing up for yourself
· Expressing yourself clearly
· Recognizing that your needs matter
· Warm welcoming, friendly eye contact
· Speak with confidence
· Making compromises
· Building your self-esteem
· People know where they stand
· Enhances relationships

“We are equally entitled to express ourselves and respect each other.”
“I am confident about who I am.”
“I can’t control others but I can control myself.”
“I respect the rights of others.”
“Nobody owes me anything.”

Tips for Assertive Communication

Use the word “I”. Try saying “I would like…” or “I feel…”.
Make an effort to use good eye contact. Don’t stare, but don’t look at your feet either
Use good posture. Keep your back straight and imagine your head reaching toward the sky.
Avoid ambiguity. If you aren’t comfortable with something, don’t say: “Hmm, I don’t know about that… maybe?” Instead, say: “Sorry, I’m not comfortable doing that.”
No swearing, no criticism (unless it’s legitimately constructive), and no mocking. Be careful, you can come across as mocking or critical based solely upon the tone of your voice.
Control the tone of your voice. Talking too loudly or too quietly are both a problem. Yelling feels aggressive, and whispering is like a big sign that says “I’m unsure about what I’m saying.”

Aggressive communicators violate the rights of others when expressing their own feelings and needs. They may be verbally abusive to further their own interests.

Traits of aggressive communication:
· Talking over others
· Looking out for yourself
· Bullying others
· Shouting with aggression
· Thinking that only your needs matter
· Emotionless, staring, expressionless
· Speak harshly & hurtfully
· Taking from others
· Damages others’ self-esteem
· People do not like aggression
· Damages relationships

“I’m superior to everyone.”
“I’m loud, bossy and pushy.”
“I can dominate and intimidate you.”
“I can violate your rights.”
“You owe me.”
“I” Statements
During sensitive conversations, it can be easy to unintentionally place blame or to feel blamed. The goal of these conversations isn’t to make the other person feel bad, but to resolve a problem. Feelings of blame quickly derail a conversation away from its original intention and turn it into an unproductive argument.
Using “I” statements will reduce the likelihood that you come across as blaming during sensitive conversations. Additionally, “I” statements are a good way to practice speaking assertively because you will be forced to take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings. An “I” statement should usually be formatted like this: “I feel when you .”

For example, you might say:

“I feel worried when you don’t tell me you’ll be getting home late.”
Alternatively, if you weren’t using an “I” statement, it might come out more like:
“You can’t just come home late without telling me. It worries me.”

Using an “I” statement serves several purposes in this example. First of all, the “I” statement will be interpreted by most people as less accusatory. The “I” statement feels softer like you are saying “I’m having a problem you can help with”, as compared to the alternative statement that feels like you are saying: “You did something wrong”.

Next, the “I” statement emphasizes why the issue is important. If an “I” statement isn’t used, the feeling word (in this example, worry) often gets left out altogether. This can cause you to come across as controlling or demanding. Sharing your feeling allows the other person to better understand your perspective, and to empathize with how their behavior affects you.
Finally, the “I” statement forces you to speak clearly and assertively. You explain how you feel, and why you feel that way. There’s no beating around the bush, mocking, put-downs, or anything that distracts from the message. It’s clear and concise.
Don’t make the mistake of using the “I” statement as a license to say anything that’s on your mind. Of course, you still have to be tactful, polite, and reasonable. Saying “I feel upset when you act so stupid” still isn’t going to go over well.

The ability to express your own ideas effectively is only half of what it takes to be a good communicator. Listening is the second half. This doesn’t mean simply hearing words. It means hearing, thinking, interpreting, and striving to understand. If you’re thinking about the next thing you want to say, you aren’t really listening. You’re just hearing.
Using a technique called reflection can quickly help you become a better listener. When reflecting, you will repeat back what someone has just said to you in your own words.

Take this exchange for example:

Speaker: “I’ve been feeling really stressed about work, and then when I get home I’m still in a bad mood.”
Listener: “Work has been so stressful that it causes you to feel frustrated all the time.”

The benefits of reflections aren’t obvious on the surface, but reflections are one of the most powerful communication tools available. Those who haven’t used reflections fear that it’ll seem like they’re just parroting the other person without contributing to the conversation. However, reflections typically result in a positive response.

So, what do reflections actually do? They act as confirmation that you heard, and understand, what the other person has said. Reflections validate the person’s feelings by showing that you get it. It might seem like a reflection would kill a conversation there’s no new question to answer. Surprisingly, the opposite is usually true. Reflections encourage more sharing because the person can trust that you are listening.

See this example conversation:

Speaker: “I get so angry when you spend so much money without telling me. We’re trying to save for a house!”
Listener: “We’re working hard to save for a house, so it’s really frustrating when it seems like I don’t care.”
Speaker: “Yeah, pretty much… It makes me feel like you don’t care about the house or our future.”
Listener: “It worries you because it makes you think I don’t care about our relationship as much as you do.”
Speaker: “Well, I know that you do care, but I still get worried sometimes.”

You may have noticed that in this example the listener makes small interpretations about what the speaker really means. In the last reflection, the interpretation wasn’t entirely correct. That’s OK! The speaker sees that the listener is trying to understand, and corrects the small misunderstanding. This is exactly why reflections are so valuable.

Reflections aren’t just some exercise to practice in a therapy session—they’re a great technique to use at any time. As you first begin to practice it’s typical for reflections to feel a bit forced. But if you implement reflections well, they’ll quickly start to feel natural once you see how positive the responses are.

Tips for Reflections
Try using a tone of voice somewhere in between a question and a statement. Think of it as if you are restating what the other person said, but you’re seeking confirmation.
Don’t just reflect the words! If you pick up on emotion in the person’s voice or body language, include that in your reflection.
You will come across as parroting if you haven’t adequately reworded the reflection. Rewording shows that you understand what the other person meant, and you aren’t just repeating their words.
If you’re reflecting after the other person was speaking for a long time, don’t feel like you have to restate everything. Just reflect the main point.
Focus on emotions as much as possible.
Switch up your language, or you’ll sound like a broken record. Here are some examples:
“I hear you saying that…”
“You feel…”
“You’re telling me that that…”
“It sounds like you feel…”

Learning to use reflections does take practice. In couples counseling, it can be useful to allow one partner to speak for about 30 seconds, and then ask the other to reflect. After the couple comes to an understanding, switch roles. Do this for several minutes. Oh, and start with less serious topics, at least in the beginning!

· Hearing content
· Listening for feelings
· Observing body language
· Neutral technique
· Paraphrasing
· Self-awareness
· Reflection
· Questioning
· Clarifying technique
· Summarizing

Reactive Listening vs. Active Listening

“No, I didn’t…” “What did you mean by…”
“Absolutely not, I never…” “Tell me more about…”
“At least I don’t…” “What specifically bothered about…”
“That’s not true, I always…” “So you’re saying that…”


Tentative Opening +Feeling +About/Because/When +Thought

It sounds like you made about
I hear you saying that you feel sad because of
If I hear you correctly you feel glad when
You seem to be saying you feel confused because of
I’m not sure I am following you feel lonely when

Effective communication can result if individuals follow this simple principle. Focus on feelings rather than content.
An effective communicator should be able to avoid getting caught up in the Content of another’s message and get to the FEELINGS behind the message.

What is Content?
· Content is the “thing” behind the message
· Content is the “what” of a message
· It is the issue or subject of a message
· Winning or losing is the outcome of content–focused communication
· It can conjure up positive or negative opinions
· Winning or losing is the outcome of content–focused communication
· Disagreements and arguments frequently are centered around the CONTENT of messages
· It can elicit strong or weak emotional reactions
· Hurt or bad feelings can arise as a result of content-oriented communication
· Content is important because it involves work, finances, sex, children, jobs, homes, cars, religion, time, politics, school, fashion, etc.
· Over–concentration on content can lead to interpersonal stagnation and stress-related illness
· Ignoring CONTENT, however, can lead to confusion and a lack of problem– solving goals with the appropriate corrective action being taken. Clearly, a balance is needed.
What are Feelings?
· FEELINGS are the lifeline to communication
· They are the “process” behind the message
· They are “how” the message is being communicated
· FEELINGS are value–free
· There are no right or wrong feelings
· There is no “winning” or “losing” by focusing on feelings
· Having one’s feelings understood and respected by another leads to a sense of being respected and cared for by that person
· Trust can evolve when we sense that others know how we are feeling

Focusing on Content in Communication has three pitfalls:
1. Parallel Listening: Parallel listening occurs when a listener ignores the feelings of a speaker, concentrating solely on content. Parallel listening is a “discounting” of the speaker by ignoring feelings being expressed and adding only to the flow of content, even when it is relevant to the subject being discussed. Parallel listening typically results in a listener ignoring the feelings behind what is being discussed by a speaker, leading to the speaker’s discouraging impression of being turned off.
2. Jumping to Assumptions The second pitfall of concentrating on content to the exclusion of feelings is jumping to the assumption that you know what the other is talking about and feeling. Discussing “things” with no effort to clarify “feelings” can lead to disastrous results. For example, two people can be talking objectively about getting pregnant with the result that the wife gets pregnant. Unfortunately, the one who did not want to get pregnant had feelings ignored because they were never openly expressed. The ignored person can build up resentment and hurt, which someday could blow up into a communication crisis.
3. Competition for the Control of Thinking: The third pitfall of focusing on content is the competition for who is smarter, more intelligent, has more common sense and knows more facts. People who communicate only at the content level can fall into the “who is best” and “who is right” trap. One-upmanship in communication is often the result of being content oriented. This discounting of the other’s intelligence, knowledge, and common sense can result in alienation, isolation, lack of trust, and lack of respect between people

Benefits of Effective Communications
1. Effective Listening People who focus on the feelings of messages being sent provide others with nonjudgmental acceptance. This helps the others feel listened to, cared about, and understood. In order to “hear” the feelings of others, a person must listen not only with the head but also with the heart. Feelings are the tools by which people communicate with one another. Having one’s feelings listened to makes a person feel respected, accepted, and draws people closer together.
2. Effective Responding A second positive outcome of “feelings focus” is facilitative responses shared by a person who encourages others to continue communicating openly and trustingly. Responses that attempt to reflect back to the speakers “the feelings behind the message” provide a mirror for the speakers to look at in order to clarify how they feel about an issue. This clarification of feelings concerning the message can lead to mutual understanding and respect, resulting in improved communication.
3. Productive Problem Solving with Effective Communication Effective listening and facilitative responses result in a third benefit of focusing on feelings: productive problem-solving. Conflicts and immobilization often result not just from disagreement over CONTENT but more importantly, because one or both parties sense that their FEELINGS are being ignored or discounted. Productive problem solving is not purely content focused, rather it includes and values the feelings of both parties concerning the issue at hand. By valuing their feelings, both parties feel cared for, understood and accepted. This provides the energy for creative problem solving and attaining mutually beneficial solutions.

Improve Listening Skills

What are the three types of effective listening?
1. Paraphrasing To paraphrase, one simply rewords what another individual has said. For example, The speaker might say, She was foolish to quit her job. The listener might respond, I hear you saying that you believe she shouldn’t have quit. What has occurred is paraphrasing where the listener has clarified what the speaker has said.
Example Paraphrase: Restating what another person has said in your own words. Speaker: It just wasn’t the right thing for him to do. Listener: You believe he shouldn’t have done that
2. Open Questions An open question explores a person’s statement without requiring a simple yes or no answer. The basic difference between an open question and a closed question is what they provide the person being asked. When you are asked an open question it helps you think more about an issue. A closed question will not do that. It may force you to answer before you are ready, or require a yes or no answer that doesn’t allow more thinking about the issue. Closed questions close the door on further thought, while open questions open the door. For example, The speaker might say: I don’t like my job. The listener might respond: What about your job don’t you like? or, Tell me more about your feelings regarding your job.
Example Open Question: A question that helps a person explore his/her feelings (rather than forcing a yes, no, or another certain answer). Speaker: I didn’t like that show. Listener: What didn’t you like about it?
3. Feelings Reflection Feelings reflection is a response in which you express a feeling or emotion you have experienced in reference to a particular state. For example, The speaker might say: I get sick of working so much overtime! The listener might respond: I hear you feeling angry and resentful at being asked to work so much overtime. Feeling reflections are perhaps the most difficult active listening responses to make. Not only do you actively listen to what is being said but also you actively listen for what is being felt. When you make a feeling reflection, you are reflecting back what you hear of another’s feelings. It is similar to paraphrasing; however, you repeat what you heard them feeling instead of what you heard them say. To understand what individuals are feeling, you must listen to their words, to their tone of voice, and watch their body signals. By observing all three you can begin to guess their feelings.
Example Feeling Reflection: your perception of the speaker’s feelings based on words, tone, and body language. Speaker: I can’t stand to be kept waiting! Listener: You’re pacing the floor and your tone of voice tells me you feel this is an abuse of your time.

How can listening skills be improved?
· Listen carefully so that you will be able to understand, comprehend, and evaluate. Careful listening will require a conscious effort on your part. You must be aware of the verbal and nonverbal messages (reading between the lines).
· Be mentally and physically prepared to listen. Put other thoughts out of your mind. Your attention will be diverted from listening if you try to think of answers in advance.
· You can’t hear if YOU do all the talking. Don’t talk too much.
· Think about the topic in advance, if possible. Be prepared to listen.
· Listen with empathy. See the situation from the other’s point of view. Try to put yourself in their shoes.
· Be courteous; don’t interrupt. Take notes if you worry about forgetting a particular point.
· Avoid stereotyping individuals by making assumptions about how you expect them to act. This will bias your listening.
· Listen to how something is said. Be alert for what is left unsaid.
· Make certain everyone involved gets an opportunity to voice their opinions. Don’t let one person dominate the conversation.
· Face those you are talking with, lean slightly forward, and make eye contact. Use your body position and movements to show your interest, concern.

You can download a copy of this with worksheets HERE

Some of the information was obtained from James J. Messina, Ph.D.


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