By Julie Wales, Family & Special Needs Counsellor 
Are we taught in school how to communicate well? 
Did your teachers give advice on how to work through arguments with your friends? Did your parents teach you to be a good listener? 
In the 1970’s and 80’s (showing my age now!) we certainly did not have lessons on how to communicate well and I don’t think that is happening now. It is all about curriculum and target driven.  
We do have more pastoral support in schools now and more school counsellors which is great, but does anyone ever really teach us to actively listen? 
Until I did my counselling training I was not an active listener! Shock horror! Our brains are busy thinking about the next task to do and life is busy and stressful. 
Bad communication leads to broken relationships, and it is also a driver for some anger and frustration in the world. 
Very few people really have effective communication skills. But here’s the good news: It’s never too late to learn. 
Here are 15 common communication mistakes that you might be making, and you don’t even know it: 
1. Not using “we” language. 
Newsflash: Relationships are not a competition.  Or at least they shouldn’t be. But so many people view the other person as the “enemy.” They speak with “me vs. you” language. You need to reframe it and think of yourselves as a team. Work together, not against each other. Work to solve a problem, not to be victorious. 
Ask your partner: “Can we work this out together to help each other?” 
2. Not giving your full attention. 
How many of us are guilty of staring at our phone when someone is talking to us? Or typing on your laptop? Or watching TV? Even if you don’t catch yourself doing this, I’m sure you all have. I have taken a picture of members of my family doing just this. But all of us have also been on the other side – when people are not looking at us when we talk. How does that make you feel when it happens? Yes, not good. Right? So why not live by the golden rule and give other people the same courtesy that you want to be given? 
3: Interrupting. 
What does it say to someone when you interrupt them? It says, “What I have to say is more important than what you have to say.” Not a genuinely nice message! Women tend to interrupt out of excitement and/or being afraid they will forget what they are going to say. Men tend to do it more as a power move. Either way, it still says, “I’m more important than you.” Also, we don’t need to resolve things for the other person. Actively listening is enough. You could ask your teenager or partner: “Do you want me to listen, or do you need my help?” I have used this often and it works! 
4: Having negative or apathetic body language. 
Ninety percent of the meaning of a message is contained in body language. That’s huge. Eye contact is part of body language, but it’s only a small part. What about your posture? Do you lean in toward the other person or are you positioned in a way that screams, “I really don’t care what you’re saying?” What about your head tilt? What about how close or far you sit from someone? 
I have often kept up a conversation with my husband whilst I am walking around doing things. I now really try and make effort as it doesn’t feel good. All of these send strong messages. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. 
5. Not paraphrasing and restating what the other person says. 
Have you ever said something to someone, and you had a bad feeling that they didn’t hear what you said? Sure, they might have said, “Mmmm hmmm…” or “Yeah…” or “Yep…” But you know they didn’t really hear you. That’s where paraphrasing and restating comes in. Try saying something like “So, what I hear you saying is that when I am late, it makes you worried? Did I hear you correctly?” That shows the other person that you not only heard them, but you care enough about paraphrasing it to show them that you heard them. 
You’re not trying to patronise or be their counsellor, you can say it in your own way. 
6. Making assumptions before you hear the whole message. 
You have probably rolled your eyes at people, thinking, “Oh I don’t even have to hear the rest of this – I already know what they’re going to say!” Well, you do, but you don’t. Nobody likes to feel unheard or dismissed. 
7. Letting your emotions control what you say. 
You’re so angry that you think your whole body will erupt like a volcano. We’ve all been there! But it’s what you do when you’re feeling that way that really counts. Don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Give yourself time to cool down and calm. Do things that help you self-soothe. Then you won’t regret what you say. Have a list of these things handy to use when you need to. Mobile phone free apps can be downloaded so you can have instant access. Mindshift is a free app for anxiety. The Calm harm app is helpful for people struggling to self-harm and is a great distraction to be able to calm. 
8. Not asking probing questions of other people. 
Saying things like, “Tell me more about that” or “So how did that make you feel?” lets the other person know that you care about them enough to ask for more information. That’s called a probing question. Ask people to elaborate. It makes them feel good. 
9. Referring to yourself and your life more than asking people about theirs. 
If you never ask other people what’s going on in their life, then you may not win at making many friends and look self-absorbed. Do you have those people in your life who spend about 95% of the time you are together talking about themselves? Wouldn’t it be nice if they ask how you are doing occasionally? Can you relate? We’ve all heard that discussion on public transport when the conversation appears one-sided. 
10. Needing to “win” an argument. 
In his book, Communication Miracles for Couples, Jonathan Robinson uses the 3 “A’s” to use to boost your partner’s self-esteem. Acknowledgement, Appreciation, Acceptance of their viewpoint. Would you rather feel blamed or feel loved? This is his message in the book, and I feel it’s an effective communication message.  Relationships are not a competition.  Admitting that you’re wrong is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of maturity. No one is right all the time. Don’t think you have to “win.” Acknowledging your mistakes will not give away your power. It shows that you are the better person because you can be honest. 
11. Attacking other people’s character instead of what they say or do. 
How many times have you said (or heard) something like, “You are such an idiot! I can’t stand you!” only to regret it later. And we will never agree with everything everyone says. But you need to disagree with their words or their actions, not their character. Don’t tear people’s self-esteem down. Build them up. When we have children we can disagree with their behaviour/actions not them as a person. 
12. Expecting people to be a mind reader. 
No one is. So why do we expect them to be? Women tend to be guilty of this more so than men. Women use indirect language. But if you really want someone to understand you, you must speak directly. Otherwise, you can’t hold them accountable if they misinterpret your cryptic message. I have met with women numerous times and this a common thing I hear. You never get your needs met unless you speak with your partner in a clear and direct way, whilst using care for them and you. 
13. Giving up your power with your words. 
Women also tend to use “powerless” language. This is excessively polite language that gives up the power to the other person. For example, “I’m sorry, but am I bothering you?” That gives them the opportunity to say, “Yes you are! Go away!” Or how about “This might be a stupid idea but …” The other person can come back and say, “You’re right! That IS stupid!” Own your power. Don’t give it away. We are very English and sorry is a commonly used word. 
14. Letting anything distract you from giving your full attention. 
Your phone. The TV. Your thoughts. Your bad attitude. I could go on and on about all the things that distract us from paying attention when someone talks to us. Be mindful of when you are giving into these things. If you don’t, it sends the message that “this is more important for me to pay attention to than you.” 
15. Not being empathetic & realizing that perception is reality. 
You see it your way. Someone else sees it another way. Who’s right? Sometimes there is no right or wrong and we can agree to disagree. It’s all how an individual sees it. Having empathy and realizing that the other person’s experience is very real to them is key to good relationships. Being a good communicator takes effort and practice. Would you rather feel blamed or loved? 
I hope that you take these 15 things help improve your relationships. They can be used with adults or teens. 
If you need help with communicating with your family, then please do get in touch
Tagged as: Communication Tips
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