By Linda Nakayama

Have you ever walked away from a conversation, wondering why the person was upset with something you said? Or, you’re wondering how you could have missed delivering a key piece of information in your report. Communication is more than talking with another person. Sometimes we think we’re strong communicators, because we love to talk to people. The other key to being a good communicator, is learning to be a good listener. Here are some things I use to make sure I understand what the other person is trying to tell me.

Paraphrasing – I like to re-phrase what I’ve heard in my own words, so I can be sure I’ve understood what the other person has said. I’ll summarize what I’ve heard, and communicate it back to them to see if I understood them correctly. I don’t repeat word for word, that shows I have a great memory. When I use my own words, I’ve put some thought into listening, and understanding.

Feedback – The next step in the process, is to ask for feedback from the other person. After I’ve paraphrased, I’ll ask the other person if it’s right. This is an important step, because if I got anything wrong, this is an opportunity to correct any miscommunications. When you ask for feedback, you’re letting the other person know you value what they’re saying.

Body Language – This is an important element to communication. One which often gets overlooked. How is the person responding to what you’ve said? How are you responding to the other person? Is eye contact being maintained through-out the conversation? What are their facial expressions? What does their body stance look like? I was thinking about this the other day. I was engaged in a conversation, and the other person had my attention. Until they said something I didn’t care for. I could feel myself sitting back in my chair, breaking eye contact, my mouth became set in a straight line, and my arms crossed in front of my chest. I think if we can note these changes when they occur, we can address things before they get out of hand. It was a good reminder for myself – that I need to notice these body cues, so I can address it and be accountable for my words and actions.

Being Accountable/Responsible – This takes us to the next step, which is being accountable for our words and actions. Maybe something has already occurred and the situation has become more tense, and inflamed. What I hear a lot is – “I didn’t mean it that, way”, or “I don’t know why they took it that way”. We think, because we did not intend to hurt, upset, or anger the other person – that makes it okay. The truth of the matter is – our words or actions did impact the other person negatively, and we need to take responsibility for it. Apologizing is never easy, but it’s a strong communication tool! It lets the other person know your intention was not to harm. It opens up the opportunity for more communication, to clear the air, and build bridges instead of walls.

Silence – This seems contrary to communication. How can silence promote communication? Aren’t we supposed to be talking?! Sometimes we’re more focused on how we want to respond, that we’re not really listening to the other person. Or, we think the other person has it all wrong, so we interrupt them, before they’ve had a chance to finish. When you allow a person to finish their thought, you get a better understanding of the message they’re trying to convey. Some people take more time to think through what they want to say. It’s important to allow them the time to process.

Showing Empathy – This is the emotional piece to communication. This can be more challenging to convey to others. Sometimes, we may have a hard enough time identifying our own emotions during a conversation, much less trying to identify another person’s emotions. But this is a good practice, because it will help you identify what’s going on with yourself, which then improves how well you understand another person. You can use the body language of the other person and ask them about it. Maybe you noticed the person broke eye contact with you, you might say “What do you think about this idea?” Again, it opens the opportunity for more conversation. And it lets the other person know you’re placing an importance on understanding them.

These communication tools are useful at home, and work. I use them every day, and it has improved not just my communication, but has strengthened my relationships with others. So, I encourage you to give it a try! You have nothing to lose, but so much to gain!

Linda Nakayama is a Partner with infoQuest, a firm focused on executive coaching, equipping organizations in leadership, and key executive recruitment. She holds a MS in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University, a BA in Business Administration from Cal State LA, and is certified in several personality and executive assessment tools such as DISC, Emotional Quotient, and Driving Forces. She is also experienced with Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Her experience includes change management consulting with Ernst & Young, and family conflict resolution. She is the mother of two teenage children, three cats, and is married to her husband, Bill.