By Russel Cheah

Often, we see people who have grown up in families and communities where shouting, criticism, and verbal attacks are the norm. These people use emotionally charged words to hurt others and get what they want. They fail to communicate effectively or discuss issues honestly with an attitude of respect.

Unfamiliar with proper communication skills, these people take their unhealthy ways of interacting into their workplace, marriages, and parenting. Real and effective communication – the kind that eases interpersonal tension and builds good relationships – only occur when there is a genuine willingness to respect, accept, understand, and care for others.

But before expecting others to understand us, we must first take the trouble to understand them. In working- life interactions with our colleagues, subordinates and bosses, we often fail to pay sufficient attention to the aspirations, interests and constraints of the individual. Here are some reasons why:

1. We are afraid, ashamed, unsure or reluctant to send a clear message.
We may lack the confidence to voice out their opinion due to the fear of being criticised and ridiculed at. We may feel that our opinion is not needed and unsure whether it is worth voicing out.

2. We send conflicting messages by saying one thing but communicating a different message by action, behaviour or body language.
We all have that one colleague that we can never take seriously. When he / she starts sharing something serious, eg. saying ‘I’m sad about the death of my friend’ and then went on to laugh and joke showing no signs of grieving. This will leave a questionable impression on the person hence affecting his or her trustworthiness.

3. We add our own interpretation to the message, or dismiss ideas that do not support our opinion.
We hear only what we want to hear and close our minds to the bits we don’t like. Instead, we start interpreting according to what we assume, thus distorting the message.

Most people have the tendency to offer advice without attempting to understand the nature of the dilemmas. This is because people listen without really wanting to understand; they listen in order to reply, rushing in with their interpretations and advice – all seen through their eyes and viewed within the context of their experiences.
We need to learn to open our eyes and ears. Here are some good principles to tackle this communication problem faced by many career folks out there.

1. Pay attention to non-verbal communication.
As much as we communicate by words, recognise that we communicate by our actions, gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Avoid communicating a message with words and contradicting this with body language and gestures – this can be confusing.

2. Deal with conflict or misunderstandings as soon as it appears.
If there’s been a misunderstanding and it is causing a rift between you and your colleagues or your supervisors, don’t hesitate to say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t quite understand’ or ‘I think there’s been a misunderstanding’.
Avoid any blaming, criticising or sarcasm. If you don’t agree to what they say, then just shrug it off and say something like, ‘Perhaps we don’t see eye to eye with each other, but everyone’s entitled to their own opinion’.

3. Listen carefully, and respectfully to the other party’s viewpoint without interrupting or criticising.
Remember that communication is more than just talking. Practise complimenting others, showing acts of kindness, listening carefully, looking for positives, and make time to communicate. Don’t interrupt when another person is speaking. Listen carefully to what is being instructed and if you fail to grasp what is being said, do not be put off or be frightened to clarify the instructions again.

Start with baby steps – try developing a few of these habits one at a time and see how it affects your job.

Remember, a great work environment stems from effective communication between colleagues/friends/cousemates!

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