Listening is key to effective communication

Effective communication takes focus and synchronized body language, tone of voice and words to convey empathy.

The ability to listen and comprehend information is taught in schools, but the ability to listen for information without judging a person is an art everyone needs to be teaching and practicing. Neuropsychiatric disorders (mental health, behavioral and neurological disorders) are the leading cause of disability in the United States, so perhaps more people need to learn intervention techniques to help prevent mental issues into becoming a crisis. Campaigns that reduce stigma of mental disorders, resiliency training, stress management courses and parenting skills are all examples of interventions that can help prevent mental health crisis. Effective communicators have an attitude of acceptance, genuineness and empathy.

According to Mental Health First Aid USA, acceptance means respecting the person’s feelings, personal values and experiences as valid, even if they are different from your own or you disagree with them. Acceptance means you don’t judge, criticize or trivialize what the person says because of your own beliefs or attitudes. Being genuine means that what you say and do shows that you are accepting of the person. Body language and verbal cues should reinforce your acceptance. Empathy means being able to imagine yourself in the other person’s place, showing them that they are truly heard and understood by you.

Effective communication is having the ability to synchronize body language, tone of voice and words so that all three are in rhythm and rhyme. If one component is misrepresented then miscommunication can happen. Effective listening takes focus and action.

Simple techniques that show others you are listening:
  • Ask questions that express genuine care and concern - seek clarification and understanding
  • Check your understanding by restarting what they have said and summarizing facts and feelings
  • Listen not only to what the person says, but how it is said; tone of voice and nonverbal cues will provide extra cues about feelings
  • Use minimal prompts, such as “I see”, and “ah” when necessary to keep conversations going
  • Be patient, even when persons delivery is repetitive or slow
  • Don’t be critical or express frustration
  • Avoid giving unhelpful advice
  • Do not interrupt

Michigan State University Extension provides a few social-emotional health and well-being programs, such as RELAX: Alternatives to Anger and Stress Less with Mindfulness, which provide techniques to improve listening and other communication skills.

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