It seems simple. Open your mouth or extend your fingers to a keyboard to use words and punctuation to express a thought or idea. You have all been doing it your entire life. So why is it so hard? How is it that communicating can go so wrong so quickly?  

The road of message exchange is rarely smooth and straight. It is twisted and curved. It can be an extremely rough journey to the destination. The good news is you have the power to control the outcome every time. You just need the right navigational tools.  Tools that will help you avoid the potholes of conflict and to help you weather the storms during difficult times.

Communications 101

  • Communications is the exchange of information, data, details, thoughts and ideas between at least two people. The exchange is made to help achieve a desired result, outcome or objective. Where to meet for dinner. Are you on target to meet your deadline? Did you know you left your garage door open? I would like to make you an offer.  It can be done in person, over the telephone, via email, text, or even instant message or on social media these days.

Stop Signs

  • People are diverse. Our personalities, experiences, age and styles of communications are different. These differences all affect how messages are transmitted and absorbed. Conflict arises when there is a mismatch in what is sent and what is received. Consequently, when there is conflict, the intended outcome or result gets detoured. Emotions take over. People stop listening and instead react based on those those personal emotions.  

Ok, We are Lost

  • Admit it. You have been lost at some point. You made a wrong turn or error in judgement. You said, text or wrote something that did not come across how it was intended. It could have been with your roommate, your boss, your spouse, your neighbor or your mother. This misinterpretation of communication, if not handled with care, can permanently damage a relationship. Trust can be broken. Resentment can form. You could lose your job.

Look in the Mirror

  • When we are upset by something or someone it is usually a reaction to something really going on within ourselves, an internal struggle. It is in defense of dealing with a personal issue. That the time to be honest with yourself. Take a good look in the mirror. Is it fear, pity, false emotions, ego, blame or guilt? How did you react?  

Be Aware of the Road Ahead

  • You know it when it happens. Your blood boils. Your voice rises with each word. You type faster than you have have ever typed before. You shake your head. Or, if you are like me, your ears start to ring and your breathing gets faster. When you recognize these triggers or notice how your body language changes, just STOP!

Let the Dust Settled

  • Remember a communications disagreement is fueled with anger and emotions. Don’t say or do things that will cause irreparable damage to the relationship or your career. Find a way to deal with it. Walk away. Take ten slow breaths. Do not hit send. Let yourself cool down. Catch yourself before it is too late.

Get The Map Out

  • After you have taken some time, revisit the conflict. It is important to gain perspective and listen to the other side. Evaluate what really matters. Do you need to schedule a in-person conversation or telephone call to iron things out. Did you re-read the email or text and now can more clearly see what was being asked?

Hit Reset

  • Once your emotions are put aside effective communication can be resumed. It is time to hit reset. Be prepared, stay calm and focused on your final destination. Find a way to communication with impact. You may need to switch communication channels-from email to a phone call or from a text to an email. Keep goals realistic. Avoid blame, judgement or finger pointing. Be aware of your body language. Choice your words careful. Focus on your feelings, thoughts, ideas and needs. For  example use “I” instead of “you”— I want, I feel, I think, I wish, I would like, I need etc.

Be Open-Listen

  • In order for communications to be effective the message for both individuals need to match. This requires work and engagement. Seek ways to become a better listener.  Ask questions. Paraphrase. Don’t interrupt. Keep an open mind. Make eye contact.

Enjoy the Ride

  • You will never be able to steer clear of conflict and difficult conversations entirely. There are too many roads paved with distractions, preconceptions, judgements, varying opinions and experiences.  

But, next time you find yourself stuck in a difficult conversation and you feel there is no alternate route take control of the wheel. Be aware and stay calm, control your reactions and responses, and listen to gain perspective.    

Written by Catherine Locke. Follow her on Twitter, @CatherineLLocke.

Catherine Locke is a member of the Marketing Committee for Girls in Tech Phoenix. She has experience in travel, tourism and telecomm tech spaces. She is passionate about supporting women in the STEM fields.

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