Even on a good day, communicating well is one of life’s toughest daily challenges, and it’s especially difficult to do under pressure. Thankfully, by applying a few practical tips, you can significantly improve how you talk with friends, family, coworkers, and others.
Focus on your goal.
For instance, facing more than one challenge at a time can be overwhelming. Instead of trying to tackle everything at once, focus on one or two important objectives per conversation. Successful exchanges will encourage others to approach you, and over time you will have increasingly productive dialogues. But it’s not only other topics that can be distracting. Anger, frustration, and apathy can divert you from your main purpose if you let them.
Take a deep breath.
You’ve probably heard this advice a dozen times, but it works. After studying a group of nerves in the brain, biochemistry professor Mark Krasnow concluded that breathing affects overall brain activity. He explained, “This liaison to the rest of the brain means that if we can slow breathing down, as we can do by deep breathing or slow controlled breaths, the idea would be that these neurons then don’t signal the arousal center, and don’t hyperactivate the brain. So you can calm your breathing and also calm your mind.”
Laugh first and hardest.
Research indicates that laughter reduces the amounts of stress hormones in your body and increases levels of endorphins—chemicals that make you feel good. According to Stress Management with Intelligence, the effects of laughter are more than chemical: “Laughter connects people, and social support is good for stress relief.”
Talk to someone (else).
Yes, it sounds counterintuitive, but discussing your issues with an unbiased outsider is helpful for two reasons. First, venting your frustrations may relieve tension and allow you to talk more calmly the next time you confront the situation. Also, your listener may have some relevant advice.
However, choose your confidant with care. Avoid anyone with a reputation for gossip. If you can’t think of anyone in your immediate social circle, search for an online support group.
Set a realistic objective.
If you or the person you are talking to is stressed, adjust your expectations. Stress isn’t always a bad thing. If you’re excited about something, your body releases adrenaline and chemicals that heighten senses and help the brain focus, according to HolisticOnline.com. However, the website says that the positive effects are short-lived: “As you spend more and more time under stress, your ability to concentrate lessens.” Therefore, if you’re on a tight deadline, it may boost you to accomplish more in one sitting. On the other hand, if you’re in an ongoing feud with a colleague, your discussion may end in a compromise.
Don’t be so focused on trying to get your point across that you forget to listen. It’s a life skill, according to SkillsYouNeed.com: “Listening is key to all effective communication. Without the ability to listen effectively, messages are easily misunderstood. As a result, communication breaks down and the sender of the message can easily become frustrated or irritated.” How can you show the speaker you are paying attention?
Practice positive body language.
If your body is sending negative signals, you may be inadvertently sabotaging the conversation. Leaning away from someone or crossing your arms while they speak may convey that you’re not open to conversation.
You can change your posture with a few easy adjustments. For example, lean slightly toward the other participant. Let your arms hang by your sides or bring them together in your lap. Make brief eye contact throughout the interchange. These minor alterations send the message that you are actively listening, a factor that will make your conversational partner feel valued and more open to what you have to say.
Know when to keep silent.
A stressful moment may not be the ideal time to bring up sensitive issues. You may decide to let a matter drop altogether or wait until a more opportune time. If the issue is unavoidable, take a few minutes to organize your thoughts in writing.
Listening, breathing, and taking time to respond are just a few strategies to help you keep your cool. Even if you’re not facing a stressful situation now, keep these tips on hand to help you communicate in everyday life.