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When communication goes wonky

On average we speak between 7,000 & 20,000 words a day (Brizendine, 2006) but how much do we hear?

I am a busy therapist so I imagine I am at the top end of the scale, maybe even more, but am I always heard? In one of my earlier blog posts I mentioned a study from the 1960's that highlighted the words we use to communicate only account for 7% of the overall message that's conveyed. The remaining 93% is split between body language at 55% & tone of voice at 38%. So by talking via email, text or DM's we're removing an enormous portion of our message. This can sometimes make conversations more challenging and complex, what if the other person doesn't understand me? What if they react badly? What if they get the wrong end of the stick? However, what if all of this was to also happen even if you're speaking to someone face to face?

I've been to countless seminars regarding effective communication, managing upwards and image and impact that you get offered in the corporate world. However, from my experience, they only teach you to speak the language of corporate more effectively. My personal favourites on corporate jargon are below, with some of my own thoughts added in for good measure, in bold:

  • "Whichever way you cut the cake it doesn't work" - maybe not, but do I get cake?!?

  • "Let's run the flag up the flagpole and see where we end up" - up the flagpole!

  • "Let's kick the tyres" - I still have no idea what this means!

  • "Let's touch base" - I don't know where base is!

  • "Open the kimono" - no no please keep your clothes on!

  • "You're boiling the ocean" - Nope, just sat here listening to this rubbish!

I could go on but honestly I'd be here for hours with the amount of jargon there is out there. When did we lose our ability to have a genuine & honest conversation? I am really conscious in my therapy room that I have genuine conversations with my clients, but sometimes it can feel like we're speaking different languages, I've even heard some of these phrases in sessions.

So where does it go wrong? First and foremost we have our own emotional responsibility, this means how we interpret things is based on our own rules or interpretations of subjects, not what the other person is saying. We have the ability to reject or simply not listen to what someone else is telling us so our response is based on what is accepted. If someone is telling you a story of what happened, if the person you're saying it to can't visualise it for themselves, they'll reject it. This means their response may not be what you were expecting or what you wanted to hear, and that can hurt. We all want to be heard and listened to and it can be difficult acknowledging that just because we want others to do the same, they don't have to. This comes into my therapy room a lot and for both adults & adolescents it can be a difficult thing to accept.

Below I've listed some helpful hints & tips on trying to improve communication with others - all in plain English I promise!

  1. Use open ended questions or statements - asking questions that can only be given a yes or no answer can cut conversations short prematurely. Asking open questions allows the other person to talk more freely and go into more depth

  2. Use more positive statements - telling someone to not do something can create a negative impact or feelings of anger. By saying something in a more positive way you create a more open and positive environment, which is likely to have a better response. A good example would be "I've told you before, do not leave your shoes there" becomes "please leave your shoes in the cupboard like I told you yesterday"

  3. Talk to people not at them - try not to always give out instructions and instead focus on having an open conversation with others. This will help people to know that they can have honest conversations with you rather than thinking you'll just bark orders at them

  4. Repeat back what you've heard - If someone has said something to you it can be a good technique to repeat it back to them in your own words. I'll often do this in the therapy room to ensure I am fully understanding what's being told to me and can also give the other person a chance to correct any mis-understanding or agree that you've understood

  5. Use "I" not "you" - for me this is really important. "I feel" shows that you are responsible for your own feelings whereas "you make me feel" puts that responsibility onto someone else. It's our own choice to feel how we do as we each interpret what is going on so even if someone is shouting at you, if you choose to get angry or upset that's your choice. You also have the capability to say "I feel hurt and upset when you shout so I'd prefer it if you stopped please"

  6. Make requests when you need to, but tell people why - sometimes things just need to be done and we need others to help with this. However, if you have good communication skills you can share with others why this is the case and they'll be more likely to support you with this. Saying "I need you to do this now" isn't going to much much of a response

  7. No labelling - telling someone they are something means they're more likely to become that label. For example if you tell a child they're angry they're more likely to respond in an angry way because you've told them they're angry. This is a key element of Social Learning Theory so as therapists we don't label our clients. Tell people how you feel they're being but also ask them how they feel. No-one knows you better than you so it's not up to someone else to tell you how you feel

  8. Say thank you - ever held a door open and the person has just walked through it and so you say "thank you" for them! I know I have! By saying thank you when someone has done something for you or understood what you're saying helps to let that person know you're appreciative but also they've heard you too

Communication is evolving so quickly these days; the language we're using, how we're communicating and where we do it and it can feel challenging to keep up. Have a look at how you communicate with others and see if any of the above techniques could be adopted. One important thing to remember - you're only responsible for you, how others respond back to you is theirs to deal with.

If you need any help or support with this please feel free to get in touch at or on 07801 331880.

Take care and speak soon


Lauren x

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