With the craziness of the holidays rapidly approaching and the recent turmoil in the world, I think we owe it to ourselves to take a big, deep breath. Do it with me: Breathe in – hold it for three seconds – and breathe out. Everyday stress has a way of creeping up on you and taking the wind out of your sails!
In future posts, I’ll examine why stress isn’t always necessarily a bad thing, but if you want a head start on finding out more, check out this illuminating article by health and fitness professional Mark Sisson.
Today, I want to focus on one of the key tools we have to help us live happier, better lives – communication skills, and also look at how stress can play a major role in killing our communication.
Communicate Well to Live a Good Life
Remember the last heated argument you had? How did you feel? At what point did things take a turn for the worse? No matter how many people are involved, or the initial reasons for the disagreement, things can escalate quickly and uncontrollably because of poor communication.
Good communication skills are vital and make a huge difference toward living a happier life. Think about it – being able to clearly explain your thoughts, while at the same time understanding what others need, is the basis for healthy relationships, a successful career, good parenting, etc.
At its heart, successful interpersonal communication is a blend of two things: listening and talking. However, when I say listening, I don’t just mean understanding the words someone is saying – you need to pick-up on a range of verbal and non-verbal cues, such as body language, facial gestures and even written communication.
While some people are naturally good at communicating, others may need to work hard at improving their skills. Thankfully, there are many useful guides for discovering better ways of communicating and it’s never too late to learn!
Stress Kills Communication
I started this post talking about stress, and that’s because stress is one of the greatest barriers to successful communication. When your stress levels are high, you give off confusing non-verbal signals, lose control of your emotions and are highly likely to misunderstand what other people are trying to tell you.
By rapidly reducing stress and returning to a calm state, you can decide whether to continue the discussion or postpone it. Maintaining a calm state also helps the other person keep their cool.
An Example of Stressful Communication: Talking with Your Teenager
Whether you are weary from butting heads with your teenage darlings, or remember the pain of parents not listening during your own teenage years, it’s clear that parents and teens often forget to talk to each other, and instead, end up talking at one another. This isn’t fun for anyone.
As a parent of teenage children, I’m approaching this scenario from my own perspective and luckily, many experts have some incredibly helpful tips you can learn:
Three Quick Parent Tips:
- Make it a conversation. Parents often feel their teens don’t want to talk to them, but actually, they’re unaware that teenagers don’t want to sit and be lectured. Try to listen more.
- Remember thinking this when you were a teenager? ‘I get the point! Stop talking!’ Dr Carol Maxym, a family counsellor, urges parents to remember what she calls the 50% rule: “Almost every parent says at least 50% more than he or she should. Shut up.”
- Be an adult. Depending on the topic, teens may be embarrassed to be having the chat in the first place. Don’t make it worse by trying to talk like they do with their friends – although there’s no harm in getting a quick crash course in what teens really mean when they say things. Check out my fun new video:
Quickly Reducing Stress
When dealing with disagreements between family members, colleagues, friends or strangers, there’s a good chance discussions may become heated. Your stress levels will rise, and if you want to avoid saying things you’ll regret, you’ll need to quickly control this rush of strong emotions. Cultivating a relaxed, alert state of awareness allows you to calmly engage with people, even when dealing with upsetting situations.
- First, you need to realize you are getting stressed. Your body reveals many telltale signs which indicate if you’re becoming stressed as you communicate. Has your breathing pattern changed or become irregular? Are you clenching your fists? Does your stomach feel tight?
- This is the perfect time to take a moment to calm down. You can decide whether to continue the conversation or delay it until things are more relaxed.
- The most effective way to quickly relieve stress is by utilizing your senses: sound, sight, taste, touch and smell. Everybody reacts differently to sensory input, so find the right soothing cues for you. Take deep breaths, tense and relax your muscles and try to remember a calming, sensory-rich visual image.
- Laughter really is great medicine and when things are becoming too serious, try and find a way to lighten the mood. Sharing a joke or a funny story can be a great way to reduce stress, but only when it’s appropriate to the situation!
- Look for a compromise. Meeting someone halfway reduces stress levels for everybody and is a positive investment in the future of the relationship.
I know I’m repeating myself, but that’s because it’s so important – people with excellent interpersonal communication skills are usually happier and more successful. They build better relationships by understanding others, while being understood themselves.
Learn how to spot and quickly stop the build-up of stress in your communications and you’ll celebrate a double-win for reducing stress levels and fighting the causes of premature ageing.