Communication Skills and their role in Personal Development
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The Art Of Successful Communication

Unless you live alone on a desert island, you will, from time to time, inevitably run into conflict with others. When you find yourself involved in a conflict your best strategy is to focus on remaining calm, courageous and compassionate.

Keeping calm will allow you to stay in control of the situation rather than having the situation control you. Without the courage to put your point across you will often find yourself being trampled on and not having your wishes met. And finally, by showing compassion to the other person, you will gain their respect and will be more likely to have them cooperate with you without the dispute escalating. The three skills described in this article will help you to remain calm, courageous and compassionate.

Skill no. 1: listening
Most people think that to be a good communicator they need to be a good talker. And although getting your point across is important, it is equally important that you develop your skills as a listener. Listening is an important skill because if you are a good listener you show others that you respect them, and you are more likely to gain their respect in return.

You can improve your listening skills by pretending you are a tape recorder and that you will be required to play back the message after the speaker has finished talking. Pay attention to important details without trying to impose your own interpretations on what is being said. In listening, you are not trying to make a point or trying to make yourself understood. You are trying to understand what the other person is saying so that you can respond effectively to their concerns.

Here are some pointers to being a good listener.

  1. Pay close attention to the speaker. Concentrate on what the other person is saying instead of on what you are going to say next.
  2. Listen to the feelings. How is the other person feeling? Are they angry, sad, hurt, or excited? You will find this information extremely useful when you move onto the second skill.
  3. Show the person you are listening. Your body language is important. Keep a comfortable distance from the speaker, lean forward, and without staring, maintain good eye contact .
  4. Keep your mouth shut. Try not to interrupt the the speaker. When you interrupt other speakers, they may think that you do not value their opinions and will often clam up or become hostile.
  5. Don't dominate the conversation. By talking too much it will be difficult to hear what the other person is saying. You have two ears and only one mouth; try using them in that ratio.
  6. Playback. Without imposing your own views, repeat as accurately as you can what the speaker has said. While you may not necessarily agree with their statements, playing back helps make others feel understood and valued.

Skill no. 2: validating
We all like to feel validated and that our point of view is understood. By validating the views of people you are in conflict with, you help to keep them calm and cooperative. Validating is a way of showing people that you accept what they say about how they feel. Nothing more. It does not mean that you are giving in. By validating you are not admitting you made the other person upset or that you see the problem the way the other person does. Your goal is to state how you think that they see the situation. For example: 'I can see how you would be frustrated and angry with me when I don't arrive on time'. 

Here are some guidelines for validating effectively.

  1. Do it promptly. Don't wait until you fully understand why the person feels the way they do before validating. You may never know!
  2. Don't ignore the person's feelings. When you validate, make sure that you show the other person that you understand how they feel. For example: 'You felt furious when I didn't get here on time'. Don't minimise or exaggerate the strength of the other person's feelings.
  3. Don't defend your actions. You do not need to defend yourself if you hadn't intended to inconvenience someone or make them upset. All you need to say is: ' You feel letdown when I don't help you with the housework .'
  4. Deal with present. Don't bring up the other person's past behaviour to justify your actions. Focus on the matter at hand.
  5. Don't tell the person to cheer up or to be logical. In effect, you are saying that they shouldn't feel so bad which only makes the person feel worse.
  6. Avoid reassurance. Reassuring people that they will be okay has the same effect as telling them to be logical; it only serves to deny their feelings and makes them feel more upset. People need to feel that they and their feelings are valued and understood and not that they shouldn't feel that way.

Skill no. 3: sharing your feelings
When someone inconveniences you or interferes with your rights, you will often feel extremely strong emotions. The best way to deal with your feelings at these times is to calmly but firmly describe them to the culprit using the X-Y-Z formula: 'When you do "X", the effect on me is "Y", and I feel "Z"'.

  • X describes other person's behaviour
  • Y describes how the behaviour affects you
  • Z describes your feelings

For example, 'When you leave your belongings scattered all over the room, I either have to pick them up or trip over them and I feel very annoyed'.

You will not do yourself any favours by keeping your feelings to yourself. It's quite possible that the other person doesn't realise that you have been inconvenienced. By making your feelings clear, you give the other person the opportunity to rectify the situation or to make amends. With people you are close to you can say (politely and calmly) exactly how you are feeling, but with authority figures, such as your boss, it might pay to tone down your language.

The following list of pointers will help you to share your feelings effectively.

  1. Keep your statements short and simple . Your message will have more effect if you keep it short. If you go on and on about it, or go into too many details, others will lose interest and stop listening.
  2. Be specific . Describe exactly what is it you don't like about the other person's behaviour.
  3. Don't include your interpretations . Statements like 'You're just trying to make yourself feel important' go beyond the immediate situation and may or may not be accurate.
  4. Don't over-generalise . Avoid words like 'always' and 'never'. The statement 'You always make life difficult for me' is probably not true.
  5. Avoid name-calling . Character assassinations only inflame the situation so, no matter how tempting, refrain from saying something like, 'You are such a hopeless, lazy character, it is no wonder you were late'.
  6. Do not moralise . When you tell people what you think they should do, you imply that your values are better than theirs . When their values are under threat, most people become defensive and uncooperative, so keep your opinions to yourself.
  7. Do not threaten . When you order people around or threaten them, they will often feel resentful and look for ways to get back at you in the future.
  8. Include the feeling part of the statement . By sharing how you feel, your statements will be far more powerful than if you don't say how you feel. When you share your feelings, others will be more inclined to see things your way.
  9. Communicate your honest feelings . Don't minimise how you feel by using weak phrases like 'a bit' upset. If you want others to take the situation seriously you will need to show them the strength of your displeasure.
  10. Level about good feelings . Let people know when you feel good about something that they've done. For example, 'Being on time every day makes my job easier. I really appreciate it.

Don't wait until you are involved in a conflict to practice these three skills. Take advantage of every conversation as an opportunity to develop at least one of the skills. Then, when you find yourself involved in a conflict you'll be better prepared for it. In the meantime, others will develop a respect for your calm, courageous, compassionate manner that you never would have dreamed possible.

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