A Better Way To Communicate

Bismillah...

It doesn't matter where we are in life, communication is one of those skills we can always improve. One of the challenges people experience in communicating effectively is their lack of specificity in conveying what they are really trying to say. 

For example, a husband and wife decide they want to go on a vacation. 

Great! 

What they don't realize is that the word "vacation" may mean two totally different things to each of them. Each of them may be imagining a very different scene in their minds, thinking the other person is also imagining the same thing. The challenge lies in conveying our inner thoughts and experiences into words.

How so?

Ask yourself, what does a "vacation" mean to you? What would a good, mediocre, or excellent vacation look like? Chances are, your answer will vary in comparison to your husband, sister, parents, grandparents. Everyone will have slightly different definitions of what their ultimate vacation would look like. 

This reminds me of a time just a few years ago when I had planned an awesome family vacation to a beautiful resort about three hours away. I looked up the nearest attractions, booked the white water rafting tickets, found the nearest horse-riding stable, and all the other activities that in my mind, would result in the most perfect vacation. My family and I arrived at the resort and I quickly realized my definition of a perfect getaway was almost entirely different from my sisters' definition. She was more than happy admiring the view while baking while I was immersed in seeking adventure.

What I learned through that experience was the importance of explaining and specifying what we mean when we discuss plans or thoughts with our loved ones, our children, and even colleagues. It's always helpful to over-communicate and leave as little room for misinterpretation as possible. In your next communication, follow these simple steps and try to practice them often:

1. Find a good time: You know the people around you and can be the best judge of which times are not the best to bring up heavy topics or even topics that require a thorough conversation. Find a good time to discuss what's on your mind and schedule it into your week so you are both prepared and can single-mindedly focus on the topic. 

2. Be specific: Specify what you mean when you use words that could be misunderstood. For example, "respect", "fun", "relaxation", etc. can mean different things or look different based on a persons' upbringing, cultural background, language, experience and exposure. There are many factors that can influence our understanding of words but we can simplify this process by speaking with the intention of understanding the other person first, and speaking so that they can visualize what is in our mind. 

3. Challenge your assumptions: In the famous words of Stephen Covey, "seek first to understand, before being understood." Ask yourself what assumptions or preconceived notions you have when you are trying to understand the other person. Challenge your own thinking and be open-minded to further your ability to empathize with the other person and truly listen. 

4. Over-communicate: With all the distractions around us, over-communicating has become necessary to ensure your message is being understood clearly. It may seem repetitive, but it is better to communicate more often at home, at work, in teams, etc. to prevent misunderstanding, especially when an action is requested or expected. 

5. Ask questions: Ask any question you need to ask, with respect. Staying in a fear bubble can prevent growth and limit your perspective. Take time to digest what you have heard and ask questions to clarify if needed. 

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Till next time, 

Asma