Our Best Tips for Avoiding Miscommunication (and its aftermath!)

can-chat-chatting-362.jpgIn today’s technology-based world, much of our communication is online. Thanks to Facebook and Instagram (and all the other apps and platforms out there), we are less likely than ever to have a conversation in person! Not only does this apply to our personal relationships, but professional connections, too. Now, people have the ability to work remotely, which means much of their interaction with coworkers, bosses, and clients is carried out technologically (through e-mail, text, phone calls, and FaceTime/Skype calls). Needless to say, we can all use a brush-up on our in-person communication skills—because, sometimes a text message or DM just won’t cut it.

You see, it’s not uncommon for the messages we send to be received differently than we intend. How many times have you accidentally offended someone or taken offense to something because of a simple miscommunication? When it happens, it can be a disaster. That’s why crucial that we are aware of the way we say things and how we come across to others. This applies to making first impressions at job interviews, dating, relating to your employers and co-workers, making new friends, and more. It can’t all be done online! (Thank goodness!)

Miscommunication can happen to all of us.  Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to minimize it. Three things affect how others receive our messages… and any one of them can be the cause of major misunderstandings if we’re not careful. As you step out from behind your computer, look up from your smart phone, and engage with the people around you, keep these three things in mind:
 
1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics and issues we are passionate or emotional about (politics, anyone?). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative or aggressive language that we later regret. As a result, the other person can become hurt and offended. Take a deep breath or two before you speak so your internal filter can soften your rhetoric.  

2. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Delivery is especially important when meeting people for the first time. Examples include speaking with a harsh (or bored, unenthusiastic, or condescending) tone of voice or displaying certain expressions and body language that are not received well by others (crossing arms, standing over someone, frowning, smirking, rolling eyes). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. Always pay attention to the non-verbal cues your audience is sending!

Judging by the harsh rhetoric we are witnessing today, many are under the delusion that shouting down others will persuade them to change their views. But, when people resort to this, it is often a reflection of emotions, rather than objective thinking. By their actions, they’re not interested in having a conversation.

3. Filter – (No, I’m not referring to Instagram.) Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, focused or distracted, your message may not get through in the way you intended. Unfortunately, this happens all the time, and you simply can’t control it.

In short, here are six ways to help you avoid miscommunication with others (and prevent needing to put your foot in your mouth or apologize down the road):

  1. Be sure your expressions (body language, countenance) are in sync with what you’re saying. 
  2. Think before you speak (remember the goal is accurate understanding).
  3.  Strive to be empathetic by putting yourself in the receiver’s position.
  4. Closely monitor the receiver’s body language to see whether he or she may be interpreting your words differently than you intend.
  5. Be quick to apologize for any misunderstandings.
  6. Avoid coming on too strong, especially with people who don’t know you well. It takes time to build the relationship capital needed for people to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Note to parents and teachers: This is an excellent lesson for role-playing in the home or classroom. Encourage your teen or students to act out different scenarios in which the verbal communication could be misinterpreted. You will find a great lesson in our What I Wish I Knew at 18 study guide on this subject.

How do your in-person communication skills rate? Do you have any other tips on avoiding miscommunication you’d like to share?

Parenting Teens: The Fun Factor

beach-blue-sky-cheerful-452738.jpgParenting is hard. Being a teenager is hard. Change is hard. For those of you with a teen, especially one who’s heading off to college in the near future, you’re probably going through a lot right now (as are they!). These days, everything seems so much more competitive (and expectations are higher all around), so it’s hard to not fall into the temptation to be a performance-based parent, always pushing our kids to excel in every area of their lives. Taking everything too seriously in the quest for success.

But this summer, I encourage you to slow down. Don’t fret about the change to come. Don’t fret about grades, club memberships, sports performance, potential elite college acceptance. Right now, I urge all parents to focus on connecting with their teen, building relationship capital (which includes mutual trust and support), and focusing on simply having fun.

I’m not suggesting you let important things slip through the cracks (college deadlines, course selection, activity sign-up dates), but I am suggesting that you spend more time on doing things that relax you and your kids and show them how much you truly care. Here are some suggestions of things to do with your teen this summer:

  1. Attend a major league baseball game. They’re long, fun, and allow for plenty of time to sit and catch up with your family. One of the most classic “bonding experiences” for all parents and kids!
  2. Go camping. Even if you’re not a “camper,” everyone should try camping at least once! It’s the ultimate opportunity for bonding, simply because you often don’t have wifi, nature is at your fingertips, you can play board games by lantern light, you can tell stories and share memories around the campfire, and enjoy slower-paced activities like fishing. It is a pause in our busyness that refreshes.
  3. If you plan on going on any sort of summer getaway, let your teen have a say in planning it. Ask them where they’d like to go, what they’d like to do while they’re there, where they’d like to eat, etc.
  4. Take a cooking class together. Food is the greatest love language, and cooking is a wonderful way to relax. Even teenagers enjoy learning how to prepare new dishes and try new foods. And if that dish doesn’t turn out so hot, who cares?
  5. Have a family movie night. Let them choose their favorite film (and add yours to make it a double feature!) and goodies. Yes, even if they’re unhealthy snacks!
  6. Arrange a family game night complete with sharing each of your favorite memories and things.

Above all, the most important thing is to make sure your teen feels seen, heard, understood, and valued. Spending time with them away from all exterior pressures is a surefire way to strengthen your relationship and your mutual trust. With how hectic life can get, it’s crucial to make sure you take some time this summer to do nothing other than HAVE FUN and enjoying each other’s company.

This is the first installment of our series on summer fun with our teenagers. Next week, we will talk about other fun activities we promise your teen won’t think are lame. Here’s to summer relaxing and bonding!

The Changing Relationship Dynamic Between Parents and Teens

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Over the coming weeks and months, many things will change for parents of graduating high school seniors. They’ll see their children less, miss out on beloved traditions or quality time, or feel like they have lost their sense of purpose. (Can any empty nesters relate?) However, for many parents of teens, their biggest struggle is loss of influence—imagined or real.

During the season of raising teens and young adults, our children are increasingly listening to voices other than their parents. They hear opinions, advice, constructive criticism, and more, from their friends, social media, teachers/professors, acquaintances, celebrities in the media, etc. Although they’re not necessarily cutting ties or rejecting what you say as their parent, it can feel that way. In fact, many times what may be perceived as a rejection is more a re-negotiation of the former parent-child relationship.

In my work at LifeSmart, I enjoy talking with parents of teens and young adults. More than anything, parents are lamenting that their kids are not listening to them as before or are rejecting their advice or opinions. Whether it happened gradually or suddenly, it can be a rude awakening for parents who were never prepared for this! To a person, they long for the days when their kids were more docile, their homes were more peaceful, and everyone seemed to be on the same page.

And, then we remember we were there, too. But, now in our role as parent, we wonder what to do.

Instead of perceiving this season as rejection, I encourage parents to see it as their teen saying, “Hey, I’m almost a grown-up, give me some more credit!” or “Let me figure this one out on my own.” Or, “I’m gaining some new perspectives that we can chat about sometime.” Whether we’re talking about curfews or communication, dating or homework, or politics or religion, we need to avoid burning our bridges. And, we need to accept that they’re growing into their own person. Just like you did.

If you are a parent of a teen, please, continue reading! This is your golden opportunity. If you recognize and react to this new reality with trust (and they handle it well), you can build an even greater, and more sustainable, platform for parental influence and relationship in your teen’s life. It’s your chance to create a new, mutually trusting and mature relationship that can be a source of great benefit and joy to you both in the future.

But, you need to take the lead.

Here are a few ways you can help develop this new relationship dynamic:

  • Adopt a communication strategy that is more “share with” than “talk to.” Be a safe place for them to share their views.
  • Include your teen in decisions you would otherwise make without their feedback.
  • Ask them to help you plan events, outings, family get-togethers, parties, etc. Take their opinions and suggestions into consideration.
  • If your teen is asking for more freedom (for example, a later curfew), consider giving it, but with added responsibility (e.g., an additional chore).
  • Ask your teen out to coffee or to the place they open up most.
  • Share with your teen about current topics or articles that are relevant today or will be after they leave home.

Be encouraged. Statistics support the idea that, despite appearances to the contrary, parents are still the number one influencers in a young person’s life. The majority of teenagers report that they have values and general beliefs similar to their parents and consider their parents as being highly significant in their lives (despite what their own parents may perceive at the time!).

When all is said and done, here is something we can guarantee: your children will make some not-so-great choices throughout their adolescent years, but they will also make some wonderful ones. They will stumble and make great strides. Sometimes, they’ll want you to pick them up, dust them off, and set them straight again. Other times, they’ll prefer you keep your distance and let them handle it on their own.

If you have the benefit of other positive, encouraging, and healthy voices in your child’s life (coaches, mentors, relatives, teachers), you’ll be able to approach the launch with a greater sense of peace. He or she will be more prepared for the real world, where we all have to sort the good voices from the bad. Hopefully, with the benefit of the right modeling, they’ll surround themselves with the good.

It’s all part of the journey to adulthood. Just remember, no matter how tough the going gets, your child does value what you think, even if they may not always show it. And, trust me, if your relationship is solid, one day you’ll realize that more of your words sunk in than you ever imagined. Just as it was meant to be.

Keeping the Peace During the Holidays: Part Two

In last week’s post, I shared four things to help avoid communication breakdowns, especially during the holiday season when we’re surrounded by so many family and friends. One consideration for promoting peace and harmony (and not just for the holidays!) is the form of delivery our communication takes, especially when dealing with a highly charged topic.

Writing letters, emails, or texts is certainly easier than speaking about sensitive subjects in person, especially if you’re the type to avoid confrontation. The distance provided by written forms can theoretically offer a protective shield. However, if the receiver doesn’t accurately perceive your intended tone, it can be an unmitigated disaster. Interestingly, this is becoming a big issue with the younger generation that prefers to communicate via technology than face to face.  BIG problem.

Whenever you’re dealing with sensitive, controversial, or emotionally charged subjects or feelings, it’s generally much better to talk it out rather than write it out. Here’s why …

A friend of mine once sensed a growing distance with a family member and was feeling improperly judged. Rather than talk about it personally, my friend decided to write a letter. After reading the carefully crafted draft, I implored my friend not to send it, for fear it would be misconstrued. Unfortunately, my advice was ignored, and in the aftermath, their relationship was severely damaged. My friend made the mistake of assuming the receiver would insert the intended tone when reading the letter. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way. Their relationship has never been the same.

This is a classic example of what can happen when you use written communication in a situation where face to face (or at least over the phone, if that’s not possible) would be better. When speaking, you’re in control of your tone of voice and body language, and there’s less chance of misinterpretation. At least if happens, you’re there to correct the situation through give and take. In contrast, written correspondence leaves far too much to chance and takes much longer to rectify if your words are misunderstood. It’s a risk to avoid if you can.

Another problem with written communication—especially in this digital age—is that you have no guarantee it will stay with the intended recipient. When you send a text or email, you have no control over where it goes. With the ability screenshot everything, who knows where it could end up! (It also means we should think twice before hitting “send” on basically everything.)

I can’t stress enough why it’s so important to try and have our sensitive conversations in person. It may be easier to jet off an email or post a rant on Facebook, but in the long term, that’s probably not going to be your best bet.

If you have a strained relationship with a friend or family that you are looking to reconcile before the holidays, I urge you to reach out to that person and ask them out to coffee (or some other comfortable setting). Although the thought of confrontation may be uncomfortable, the outcome will likely be much better than if you sent a text.

May your holidays be filed with good conversation, reconnection, reconciliation, peace, and unity for you and your families.

How do you handle the communication of sensitive or emotional topics? Have you ever written out your feelings in a letter, email, or social media posting and later regretted it? Or, been on the receiving end of someone else’s?

 

Happy Holidays from the LifeSmart team!

Keeping the Peace During the Holidays

Now that Thanksgiving and the holiday season are upon us, there are a few things we can be certain of: good food (and too much of it!), sweet treats, festive activities, shopping until we drop, and time with extended family.

Unfortunately,, for some of us, time with extended family can be strained. And when tensions are high, people are much more likely to take offense. This week, I’d like to talk about HOW you communicate with others and how you can avoid conflict as you interact with family, friends, and others over the next month.

Miscommunication and spats happen to all of us, probably more often than we’d care to admit. There are, however, some simple things you can do to minimize them, especially by remembering how others receive our messages:.

 

  1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics or relationships (here’s a hint: No talking politics over turkey dinner!). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative language that we later regret. In the “heat of battle,” we can be so focused on proving our point that we forget to show tact, empathy, and understanding to the other party. The end result is that things spiral out of control, and frustration and anger take over..

 

  1. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Examples include speaking with a harsh or condescending tone of voice or displaying arrogant facial expressions or body language (e.g.,, eye rolling). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. No one is convincing when they show disrespect to their audience.

 

  1. Form – Ever wanted to jet off a nasty email when you’re upset or irritated? Don’t be so quick on the draw. The advantage of verbal communication is that the audience hears you speak, allowing your tone to help convey your ideas. In contrast, written communications (e.g., emailing, texting, social media comments and messages) have a major disadvantage because the audience imposes their own interpretation of your tone. Aunt Sue’s perception may be light years away from what you intended. If so, you have a big problem on your hands.

 

  1. Filter – Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, or focused or distracted by other thoughts, your message may not get through in the way you intended..Unfortunately, you can’t control their filter.

 

There are two other irritating tendencies that are becoming more common and sabotaging our times together. One is when people use every opportunity to politicize, even during get-togethers that are supposed to be festive and harmonious. The second is when people emphatically express opinions as though they are facts. This is a predictable consequence of the media bias we are seeing. Please be mindful of these tendencies and respectfully suggest a change of subject if you’re on the receiving end.

This holiday season, I hope you never find yourself having to say “I didn’t mean it like that!” to an uncle, aunt, parent, sibling, or cousin. By remembering these influences before you speak, you’ll do your part in spreading peace and harmony to others.

Do you pay close attention to how you communicate and how your words are being received? What are some ways you’ve learned to be a more effective communicator?

 Happy Holidays from all of us at LifeSmart!

Friendsgiving and the Four Stages of Friendship

The holidays are already just around the corner (how did that happen?), and so many of us are already filling up our calendars with festive events, dinner parties, school functions, and traditional gift exchanges. It’s a season to focus on family and friends. How many of you are having a Friendsgiving celebration this year? I know that I am, so I definitely have the topic of friendship on my mind.

With so much focus on spending time with those we love, I’m reminded of what real friendship looks like. “Friend” is one of those words that has taken on a new meaning in today’s social media-inundated world. Now, the word “friend” can easily refer to a life-long confidante, or simply someone you just connected with on Facebook or started following on Instagram! BIG difference, don’t you think?

Generally speaking, healthy long-term relationships progress through four stages and—no offense to Facebook—“friend” isn’t the first stage. Ideally, each relationship stage should build on the other and at the proper pace. What advances a relationship to new stages or levels, IF it is meant to advance at all, are: mutual trust, compatibility, a shared interest in cultivating a deeper friendship, and the tests of time.

The stages go like this (imagine a pyramid, starting at the base):

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Prospect (a potential friend)
  3. Friend
  4. V.I.P. (Very Important Person)

Every person who becomes more than an acquaintance will start in the first stage.  Most stay there forever while others may progress into the next stages. Only a very few will make it to the VIP stage—and that’s the way it should be. Most of us usually have 4-5 VIPs, the crème de la crème of people in our lives.

Unfortunately, many people—particularly young people—can rush the stages, prematurely moving from one to the next in a quest for intimacy, new friends, popularity, or a full social calendar. When the stages are rushed, people exhibit behaviors in one stage that should be reserved for a deeper one. Inevitably, these relationships disintegrate due to a breakdown in trust, a loss of interest, or a pace that is uncomfortable for one or both of the parties. Note this applies to both friendships and romantic relationships.

If you want healthy, lasting relationships, don’t rush to stage four (like they do in the movies!). When you do, you risk making an emotional investment without really knowing the person—a mistake that can take a major toll when the relationship ends. It’s better to go slow through the stages and reserve the VIP level for people who really prove their friendship, commitment, and compatibility over time.  Don’t forget that good friendship and true love take time and good timing, and that’s okay.

Take some time to think about your current relationships. Can you recognize which stage each one is in? This holiday season, make a conscious effort to invest your deepest relationships and those poised to move up to the next stage. Those are the friendships that will build you up and last a lifetime!

Our Best Success Pointer, Ever? You Be the Judge.

When I wrote What I Wish I Knew at 18, I had no idea which specific pointer might resonate most with readers. After all, each of my 109 life success pointers had its own reason, place, and value. I’m often asked which is the most important one of all. I have tremendous difficulty answering this question, and I wrote the book!

To my surprise, though, one pointer seems to be resonating most of all, especially with those who are using our student guides with kids. Any guesses? It’s the one called, “Love and friendship take time… and timing.” Surprisingly, it’s having a powerful impact on adults, too!

What’s all the excitement about? In this particular lesson, we encourage young people to be patient in cultivating new friendships. We describe a relationship pyramid with four progressive stages of depth and help kids understand the parameters and privileges that go with each level. The stages, in order, are:

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Prospect (a potential friend, progressing from an acquaintance)
  3. Friend (a “graduate” from the Prospect pool)
  4. VIP (very important person in our life—a select list!)

Those who take a healthy approach to relationship building are selective in determining who stays or moves among these stages. We help readers understand that time, trust, and shared beliefs/values/interests are the defining qualities that determine whether a relationship will graduate, regress, or stay at the same level. For example, you shouldn’t expect—or permit—the same level of intimacy and trust with an “acquaintance” as you would with a “VIP” (e.g., very close friends/family members).  Looking back, my biggest relationship messes were when I made some incorrect “stage assignments.”

Clearly, this isn’t rocket science. However, there seems to be something extra special about this pointer because we receive far more comments on it than any other. Why? In this age of Facebook “friendships” and other social media relationships (Instagram, Snapchat, etc.), intimacy (or false intimacy) can form too quickly and sometimes almost dangerously. The goal with this advice is to frame relationships in a more natural, realistic way, and offer a more mature perspective.

Many young people today are rushing into relationships and behaviors before they’ve been properly qualified (thanks, in no part, to our cultural messages). In their quest to make new friends or fit in, some compromise their values by engaging in behaviors with the two lowest levels that should be reserved for friends or VIPs. It’s happening more frequently among middle schoolers and is especially common on college campuses when students get lonesome and strive to make new friends quickly. In the end, many relationships fall precipitously down the pyramid, often with severe consequences, when regrettable decisions ensue…

It’s not only kids who need this advice, it seems. At a recent educator conference, a parent who had been going through What I Wish I Knew at 18 with her teenage daughter thanked us for this particular lesson.  “That pointer,” she proclaimed, “changed MY life!”

Have YOU been reading What I Wish I Knew at 18 with a young person or going through the Student Guide with teens in your life?  Which pointer has impacted your teen(s) the most?  Which one has impacted YOU the most? We’d love to add to list of “People’s Picks” for Best Success Pointers!

3 Tips for Conquering Conflict

Question: What do the Montagues and Capulets have in common with convincing a five-year old to eat her brussels sprouts? Answer: Conflict! We can all relate to this on some level, right? Whether it’s conflict with a boss, coworker, spouse, child, friend, parent, teacher, or even a next door neighbor, the fact is conflict is a part of life! We aren’t going to always see eye-to-eye with everyone. What matters is what we do (and how we react) when conflict arises.

We invite you to use this article as an opportunity to perform a self-check. How do you rate on your levels of self control, understanding, and respectfulness when conflict arises in your life? What can you do to better handle conflict with others?

Here are three tips to help you manage conflict:

  1. Respect yourself and your right to be heard. Whether it’s peer pressure, a challenge to your rights, personal safety, or position, it’s important to stand up for yourself. Sometimes, we allow others to intimidate or dominate us out of fear or insecurity. Also, certain personality types (especially the “S’s” in the DISC model) are so focused on “keeping the peace” that they risk being taken advantage of, especially by people with dominant personalities. Although conflict is uncomfortable, we must respect ourselves in the process while being respectful to the other party. Don’t ever sacrifice your well-being or comfort for the sake of someone else. You deserve to be heard just as much as the other party.
  2. Strive to be an agreeable disagreer. So often, conflicts arise from misunderstandings that could have been prevented or at least controlled. Sometimes they’re based on different philosophical views or perspectives where there isn’t a right or wrong answer. (This is especially true when it comes to talking politics. The current political climate is pretty tense, and conflict is high—both on social media and in real life.) We may want the same outcome as others with whom we disagree, but simply have different strategies to get there. Always strive for mutual understanding, while being attentive to your tone and body language, but agree to disagree if that’s the case. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Consider having a heartfelt retroactive talk about it once things have calmed, and vow to do better next time if it didn’t go as smoothly as you’d have liked. And, remember that barking, yelling, and name calling won’t change anyone’s mind, anyway. Instead, it usually emboldens.
    Finally, if you’re in a heated conversation and your emotions are bubbling, try using this phrase: “I have a different perspective.” If the other party is disrespectful after that, simply suggest a follow up conversation at another time and move on.
  3. Choose reconciliation over grudges wherever possible. We’ve all been victims of a wrong or a mistake. It causes anger, shame, resentment, depression, and worse. However, when we harbor grudges and refuse to forgive, it can be like an all-consuming cancer. Strive for reconciliation whenever possible and don’t hesitate to seek support. Holding a grudge and/or refusing to ever speak to someone again will not make you feel better—it will feel like a burden that just won’t go away.

The ability to manage conflict is a hallmark of a true leader and a symbol of integrity and maturity. What is your favorite tip for handling conflict? Do you have any life lessons from past experiences you’d like to share?

Never Underestimate the Power of Your Words

Think of a time when someone spoke loving or encouraging words to you. Those words will probably stay with you forever. However, you can probably think of even more instances when others have been critical or mean spirited or gossiped about you. Those words won’t be easy to forget, either, but for a different reason.

Words have incredible power—they can be uplifting and change someone’s life for the better, or they can be destructive and leave people with wounds that will last a lifetime. The thing is, the only words we have power over are our own. Once spoken, there is no way to get them back. Plus, we can’t control what other people do with the words we’ve spoken. Even if you don’t want them to, your words could end up traveling in a million different directions and—depending on what you said—get you in trouble one day. (This is especially true for anything we put on social media.)

It’s crucial to understand that our words reveal much about our character. Our words are reflections of our trustworthiness, loyalty, kindness, and respect for others. Also, they’re telltale signs of our temperament and self control. What do your words say about you? How are we doing as a nation?

In recent history, some horrific tragedies have occurred among young people when they were publicly ridiculed through gossip, texts, or social media posts. Some of these even resulted in suicide. So much heartache—all caused by words used heartlessly and irresponsibly. Yes, our words can literally be a matter of life or death, especially to people who are vulnerable.

Here are four ways to guard our words and ensure we’re received as a person of integrity:

  1. Only say things about other people you wouldn’t mind them hearing. Try it for a week and you will truly be amazed by how it affects your choice of words. (I wish every school would take this challenge. Imagine what it would do to bullying!)
  2. When offering constructive criticism, recite it back to yourself in your head before giving it to the person. How would you feel receiving this exact criticism? Be empathetic and CONSTRUCTIVE (not hurtful!).
  3. Do not put anything on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram (even in private messages) that you would not want getting out. The internet is not private, ever.
  4. If you’re in a disagreement with someone, watch out for accusations, assumptions, and the tendency to name call. If you sense that you’re reaching the “boiling point,” pause for at least ten seconds to collect yourself and your thoughts. Above all, strive for mutual understanding and avoid words that incite emotion. A calm tone, especially in disagreements, makes a big difference.

When you apply these concepts in life, you’ll be admired for your tact, restraint, and uplifting spirit. You’ll see that your words can change your heart, body, and mind from the inside out, and your relationships with your friends, significant other, coworkers, and even your children will improve. And, if you can get others to join you, it might be the beginning of a wonderful movement in our culture! Are you up for it?

What are some ways you’ve helped build a positive culture of words

in your classroom, school, family, workplace, or community?

Eight Ways to Avoid “Foot-in-Mouth” Disease

These days, it feels like the majority of our communication is online. Thanks to Facebook (and other social media platforms), e-mail, blogs, and the capability for many career positions to work remotely, most of us are more comfortable communicating online than we are in person. In fact, because we live in such a tech-inundated world, face-to-face communication skills (especially amongst young people) are at their all-time worst. Needless to say, we could all use some tips on how to avoid miscommunication—for those times when a text message or SnapChat just won’t do.

You see, it’s not uncommon for the messages we send to be received differently than we intend. And when it happens, it can be a disaster. It’s crucial that we are aware of the way we say things and how we come across to others. This applies to making first impressions at job interviews, dating, relating to your employers, making new friends, and more. It can’t all be done online! (Thank goodness!)

Miscommunication can happen to all of us.  Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to minimize it. Three things affect how others receive our messages… and any one of them can be the cause of major misunderstandings if we’re not careful. As you step out from behind your computer, look up from your smart phone, and engage with the people around you, keep these three tips in mind:

  1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics and issues we are passionate or emotional about (e.g., politics and religion). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative language that we later regret. As a result, the other person can become hurt and offended. Take a deep breath or two before you speak so your internal filter can soften your rhetoric.

 

  1. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Delivery is especially important when meeting people for the first time. Examples include speaking with a harsh (or bored, unenthusiastic, or condescending) tone of voice or displaying certain expressions and body language that are not received well by others (crossing arms, standing over someone, frowning, smirking, rolling eyes). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. Always pay attention to the non-verbal cues your audience is sending!

 

  1. Filter – (No, I’m not referring to Instagram.) Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, focused or distracted, your message may not get through in the way you intended. Unfortunately, this happens all the time, and you can’t control it. Filter is the one aspect of miscommunication is that most out of our control.

 

In short, here are eight ways to help you avoid miscommunication with others (and needing to put your foot in your mouth or apologize later on):

  • Be sure your expression (body language, facial expressions) are in sync
  • Think before you speak
  • Strive to be empathetic by putting yourself in the receiver’s position
  • Closely monitor the receiver’s body language to see whether he or she may be interpreting your words differently than you intend.
  • Be a discerning listener when they respond
  • Be quick to apologize for any misunderstandings
  • Avoid coming on too strong, especially with people who don’t know you well. It takes time to build the relationship capital needed for people to give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • Remember, it’s okay to be professional in casual settings, but not the reverse!

How do your own in-person communication skills rate? Do you have any other tips on avoiding miscommunication you’d like to share?

 Note: This is an excellent lesson for role-playing in the home or classroom. Encourage your teen or students to act out different scenarios in which the verbal communication could be misinterpreted. You will find a great lesson in our What I Wish I Knew at 18 study guide on this subject.