George Bernard Shaw observed  “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it’s taken place.”  How much of what we say actually makes a desired impact on our target audience, whether it ‘s one person, a group, or even a crowd?

People are always talking, but much of the interaction can be somewhat mindless.  We’re just filling the air with sound.  When we increase our awareness of what we want to communicate and how we want to achieve this, we’re on the right track, but we still need to learn some  basic skills. 

First we need to understand that each individual has a unique perspective on life, so while we may think we’ve said one thing, that person may have heard something entirely different. Our beliefs often influence how we receive another person’s words.  Hearing religious or political ideas from someone with different beliefs may elicit a strong reaction, but not necessarily the one the speaker wants, unless she or he is trying to stir controversy.

But topics that seem rather innocuous by comparison can also raise strong objections.  If listeners voice their protests to a certain concept, an argument can result. This doesn’t mean that we should avoid any form of conflict. Diversity—like variety—gives life its spice!

 Knowing how to listen is just as important to successful communication as knowing how to speak.  The one common factor is keeping an open mind. Just because someone else doesn’t think exactly as we do doesn’t make her (or him) wrong.  

When we keep things friendly and open to discussion we’re allowing opportunities for varying points of view without creating an atmosphere of hostility. Diplomacy is a valuable skill.  Some simple tips can help to maintain cooperation and calm in the potential heat of battle.  Keep in mind easy does it!

  • ·      Smile
  • ·      Breathe
  • ·      Use gentle humor (not sarcasm)
  • ·      Keep your arms at your sides or make open gestures
  • ·      Maintain a calm and warm tone of voice
  • ·      Ask open-ended but non-invasive questions
  • ·      Maintain an erect but relaxed body posture
  • ·      Nod to let a speaker know you’re listening
  • ·      Repeat someone’s statement, to clarify his or her meaning
  • ·      Avoid words or gestures that indicate blame, judgment, or ridicule
  • ·      Research the topic beforehand, if possible
  • ·      Stay focused on the issues—don’t get personal

It’s wise to remember that there’s often a fine line between difference of opinion and bias, which is defined as “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.”  A bias is frequently based on a stereotype, which is the unjust assumption that all members of a group (such as women) have the same traits: e.g., “all women are too emotional.” This is clearly an unfair bias. Beyond this, it’s somewhat irrational.  First of all, exactly what does “too emotional” mean? When someone expresses this kind of bias, it’s probably best to avoid getting into a heated debate, unless you’re sure you have the perfect finesse to avoid disaster.