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Here’s One Way You Can Level Up Your Communication Skills

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In my university days, I took a public speaking class. For an introvert, that was me taking a step way out of my comfort zone. I remember those anxiety-inducing speeches and the lessons learned. That’s when I understood how complex communication can be.

You’d think by the way they handle themselves in front of a group that some are natural storytellers and talented communicators. But, talent can get you only so far.

I learned that communication is a skill that develops and improves the more you practice it.

Another thing is that communication does not necessarily mean talking. Your body language communicates. Listening is part of communication too.

Realizing that made me understand that to be a better communicator it isn’t so much that I had to talk more and be in the center of attention. I could be a great communicator just by listening with intent.

There were cases where I’d find myself talking to someone and rarely did I feel acknowledged. On the outside they were silent, shifting their focus on what was happening around us. The occasional eye contact, followed by “Aha, I see..”, and a slight nod of reassurance. The moment I’d take a pause I could see that they were just giving me the space to talk, yet they weren’t really there.

I was listened to but I wasn’t heard.

Empathy vs Sympathy

A person on a forum vented in a post that he communicated his frustrations and annoyance to his supervisor with how overworked he gets in comparison to other coworkers.

The supervisor offered his sympathies and left it at that. That person wrote that he considered quitting his job because he felt no matter what he said it would make no difference.

Reading his pain and struggle with a genuine problem that lots of adults face in their work environment made me realize how a shift in communication could have led to a different experience for both parties.

The person venting didn’t want anyone’s sympathy, they craved empathy and being heard. If only the boss could relate to their struggle, acknowledge their pain as a valid concern, and offer a hopeful response to solve the issue. The employee would not feel like quitting anymore.

When we sympathize, we feel for someone because of his or her pain. When we empathize, we feel the pain with them. — Michael S. Sorensen

Validation

More than anything that’s what each person craves. Validation at work, at home, in relationships, validation of their feelings.

It’s only natural that we seek to be understood and heard.

How does validation show itself?

Essentially, validation means saying to someone, “I hear you. I get what you’re feeling, and it’s perfectly alright to feel that way.” — Michael S. Sorensen

This idea is presented in the book — I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships by Micheal Sorensen.

Essentially, Michael says that effective validation has two components:

  1. It identifies a specific emotion
  2. It offers justification for that feeling

Let’s look closer at how this process works.

Identify The Emotion

Let’s say a friend is anxious they will fail a test because they feel they haven’t prepared long enough for it.

You could say something like — “I can see why you’d feel anxious…”

In this case, you identify the emotion they are feeling and attribute it to how they feel.

Justify The Feeling

To go further with the previous case after identifying their anxiety you justify the reasoning for why they feel it.

So you could say — “I can see why you’d feel anxious, especially seeing that it’s a test you didn’t have much time to prepare for. Tests can be quite stressful.”

By doing this you validate your friend’s feelings and signal to them that you are there for them.

Validation is critical for building healthy, satisfying relationships.

When someone tells you something they are struggling with, they do it with a deep-rooted desire to feel validated for how they are feeling. They don’t want you to solve their issue or hear trivial remarks. Saying things like — “It will be ok”, “You will do just fine”, “I had this happen to me once and I made it”. All you do is invalidate the other person’s experience of what they are going through.

If someone opens up and shares with you that they feel anxious then they are justified to feel how they feel. You shouldn’t disregard that.

Even if you find it hard to empathize with them, the simple fact of acknowledging that will make them free to share with you more.

Create a safe space where they can truly be accepted with all their fears and imperfections just as you’d want to.

A word of caution: If someone is sharing a difficult emotion or experience, avoid the phrase, “I know exactly how you feel,” even if you think you do. Instead, consider phrases such as, “I’ve felt similar when . . .” or “I can relate to that feeling.” — Michael S. Sorensen

Validating Statements

Everyone experiences life in a different way, it’s unique and varies from one person to another. Nobody will ever truly get you 100% just as you in turn will not be able to know someone fully.

And that’s okay.

What worked for you might not work for your friend or partner. That’s why in order to make them feel validated and heard you want to tone down on your input and give them room to expand on what is it that stresses them so much.

Here are some examples of statements that can help you validate someone who decides to share with you.

“Wow, that would be confusing.”

“He really said that? I’d be angry too!”

“Ah, that is so sad.”

“I totally get why you feel that way; I’ve been in a similar situation before and it was rough.”

“You have every right to be proud; that was a major accomplishment!”

“I’m so happy for you! You’ve worked incredibly hard on this. It must feel amazing.”

We like to label emotions either as good or bad. But emotions are just reactions to how we feel about different situations.

Giving Feedback

It’s okay to want to help and give a solution to someone’s problem. But you should be tactful about how you’re doing it.

Just let them know that if there is something you can do you are there to help.

You could ask— “How can I help?”, “Is there anything I can do for you?”.

Rather than jumping head first as a rescuer. The person will be more receptive to hearing your thoughts when you ask for permission to share yours.

Here are some questions that are tactful and can be used to offer feedback to someone.

“I have a few thoughts on that. May I share them?”

“Would you like my opinion?”

“Could I share my two cents?”

Replace You With I

If you have negative feedback to give it will help to start with I.

When you start with “I think…” it’s a sign you’re sharing your perspective.

This lessens the accusatory tone that “You” can have. It also reduces the likelihood that the recipient will become defensive.

If you were to say to a coworker — “You have no regard for others” — it is more likely to be the start of an argument.

Whereas if you were to frame it as — “I felt hurt when you said that to me yesterday.

You are sharing how someone’s comment affected you. You are disclosing your feelings and how that affects you rather than accusing him of being a mean person.

Conclusion

Communication is hard. Being a good listener is not an easy job as it takes a lot of patience and empathy. It requires you to become a conscientious listener that is capable to step away and give space for the other person to share.

When you empathize, validate, identify and justify someone’s feelings you are more likely to have a constructive dialogue.

Be mindful of that.

But if you are looking for one key takeaway from this article then here’s one.

The more you practice recognizing, accepting, and validating your own emotions, the easier it will be to develop empathy for, and then validate, the emotions of others.— Michael S. Sorensen

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Cristian Rusu

Cristian Rusu

In a world of stories, I try to write my own.

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