One of the greatest misconceptions about communication is that it actually takes place. A person who delivers a message may have the best intentions, but successful communication only happens when the recipient accurately and correctly understands the information that the sender desires to convey.
Active listening doesn’t mean just hearing with our ears, it means embracing a speaker’s words with our hearts. By showing someone that we are engaged with energy from both our mind and our body, genuine interest encourages quality conversation. Canadian author, Jordan Peterson, wrote, “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.”
Body Language & Tone of Voice
American body language researcher, Albert Mehrabian, calculates that communication is 55% nonverbal, 38% vocal, and 7% verbal. He said, “The non-verbal elements are particularly important for communicating feelings and attitude, especially when they are incongruent: if words and body language disagree, one tends to believe the body language.”
Starting a Conversation
With good timing, a well-received greeting, and the introduction of an appropriate topic, some folks make starting a conversation look easy. However, there are considerations that lie below the surface; effectively interpreting the body language of others can suggest whether they might be receptive to our engagement. Sometimes, children impulsively burst into conversations, stunting communication before it even starts. Waiting our turn, we can get the “feel” of things to know if it’s the right time and place. Once engaged, we can pick up on both verbal and non-verbal cues to guide our talk track… or sense if it’s time to move along. An important point to remember as children “wait their turn” is that “grown-up” conversations tend to be long. Don’t make children wait excessively… invite them into the conversation, as you would any adult, within a reasonable, respectful time.
Maintaining a Conversation
Continuing a conversation requires that those engaged follow social norms for more than just a minute or two. Greek philosopher, Epictetus, said, “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Sometimes, we are so focused on thinking about what we want or what we are going to say that we don’t truly listen. We can miss a lot if we aren’t giving our full attention. Listen to the other person, respond appropriately, and stay on topic. Learning how to segue is advanced—and is sometimes inappropriate. Sometimes, we can jump right into what’s on our mind. Sometimes, we can connect the dots by referencing a related topic before moving to the thing we’d like to discuss. Nonverbal cues can guide us in realizing if the other person is interested, trying to speak, or losing interest.
Ending a Conversation
Body language often suggests when someone is no longer interested or needs to end a conversation. When it’s time to wrap things up, cues work both ways; we can say, “It was good talking to you,” or “Well, I have to get going now,” before walking away. We should sense when a conversation is ending.
Joining a Conversation
Group conversations introduce layers of complexity. Open groups with space for us to join can be inviting; a closed-off group of folks in a huddle tells us to stay away. When we join a conversation, recognize body language, and stay on topic; the most enjoyable interactions are guided by rhythm and flow.
The Power of Pausing
When we pause before speaking, we show an openness to listening—making us a MUCH better conversationalist. When someone asks us a question and we wait to respond, the moment we take can also help us process our thoughts to formulate a higher quality response.
Learning to communicate effectively is a pivotal developmental milestone. As conversation skills develop from babbling to information exchange, children learn about turn-taking, the natural back-and-forth circle of discussion. If children struggle with turn-taking, its more difficult for them to build friendships. Let’s teach children to recognize what it looks like (and feels like) when someone strong-arms a conversation… or is constantly interrupting others… so they can learn to avoid these unhealthy tendencies.
Feelings of anger, disappointment, and frustration can cause children to showcase disrespectful attitudes and behaviors. If unable to manage these feelings, children are more likely to say things they don’t mean to say. If dad underreacts and responds calmly, we can ask them to translate what they are saying in a more emotionally intelligent, diplomatic way. By teaching children to say what they really mean, they can learn to express negative feelings in respectful ways.
Respect is a win-win for everyone. We can guide respectful communication by asking children to reformulate their sentences. Dad can say, “I know you’re upset, but can you say that respectfully…” and “I know you know how to speak respectfully, please try saying that again.”
When they say, “You’re not the boss of me!”
They might mean: “I am almost done playing and I don’t want to go to bed yet. Can I have 10 more minutes?”
When they say, “We have the stupidest family ever!”
They might mean: “I am so jealous of Vivian. Her parents let her have a bearded dragon. I want one too!”
When they say, “You never let me do anything!”
They might mean: “How am I going to tell my friends that I can’t go to the coolest party of the year?”
Whether a classic novel or fairy tales before bed, reading aloud to our children at a very early age can strengthen our paternal bond while encouraging their imagination and creativity. As children get older, the exploration of increasingly complex stories and subjects helps with not only vocabulary and knowledge, it helps them internalize appropriate sentence structure so they can be better speakers and writers on into adulthood. Consistent reading habits promote excellent communication skills—stories teach nuances of conversation—and advanced vocabulary equips children to call upon the right words at the right time.
Considering the Best Approach
With every person and every subject, there is a healthiest and most productive landscape for communication. Email, text, phone call, social media message, or face-to-face conversation; formally or informally; publicly or privately—these all have their own pros and cons. Knowing the tendencies of who we are communicating with—while considering the topic at-hand—can make all the difference in choosing the most appropriate approach.
By actively listening, we show courtesy and appreciation for whoever is speaking. So much communication is non-verbal; body language and tone of voice are crucial for conveying and interpreting the truest meaning of a message. Pausing and turn-taking should be standard operating procedure, and there aren’t many things more well received than respect. Last, but definitely not least, habitual reading can turbo-charge both intellect and mastery of language, paving the way for better social interactions and greater success in life, both personally and professionally.
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” —Ephesians 4:29 KJV
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PLEASE NOTE: As an Amazon Associate, Fathers Truly Matter earns from qualifying purchases. The information in this post should not be construed as providing specific psychiatric, psychological, or medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand the lives and health of themselves and their children. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, or psychotherapist.