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Effective face-to-face communication

Wendy Behary is the author of Disarming the Narcissist. She is also the founder and director of The Cognitive Therapy Center of New Jersey and The New Jersey Institute for Schema Therapy. She has been treating clients and training profe...

Talk and be heard

The art of effective face-to-face communication involves physical posture, facial expression, tone of voice, volume, pitch, speed, gesture, timing, and word selection. Effective telephone communication is a different matter. Without the visual side, we need to place greater emphasis on words and audio quality in order to create a mental image of ourselves, our feelings, and our intentions in the listener's mind.


The overall objective for achieving effective and satisfying interactions with anyone is to be sure that the message you are sending is received with the impact you intended.

Here's an example:

You want to let your husband know that you feel very disappointed with his habit of not keeping his word regarding when he will arrive home from work, from the gym, or from being out with his buddies. You want him to know that it makes you feel unimportant and alone, even if that's not his intention. He walks in the door and you say: "I have had it with your selfishness and waiting for you all the time!"Whoa! - What kind of impact do you think that will have? - Was that your true intention or was that your revved up anger talking - the kind that temporarily allows us to be sturdy when we feel thwarted?

Let's see…

What he probably heard was: "My wife is out of control, too emotional, ungrateful, and thinks I am worthless and no good."

So, what does he do?

1. He could retaliate and get on your case with name-calling and a laundry list of your annoying traits and habits. 2. He could throw his hands in the air and retreat to the other room or walk out the door - again. 3. He could get defensive or he might cynically just agree with you, "Yes, I know…I am a terrible husband… a lousy guy… I don't know why you even stay with me…" Your intention was to convey a message of disappointment, of loneliness, of wanting to feel more important to him.

You could have said:

1. "I know how hard you are trying to advance your career and the demanding hours you need to put in. I appreciate that, as I am in a similar place with my job." 2. "I also know that you really enjoy having some down time with friends and can lose track of time. I am supportive of your ambition and of you having time for yourself. I like time for myself as well, but I would really like us to come up with a better plan that includes time for us." 3. "I look forward to seeing you. I miss you, and sometimes - though it may be just me - I feel like I am not very important to you. Please don't be upset with that - it's just how it makes me feel, rational or not." These statements more accurately represent your feelings, wishes, requests, and needs. The words offer collaboration, empathy, and personal responsibility, and you don't have to compromise on getting your most fundamental needs met. This approach, along with attention to your non-verbal expressions, invites him to actually hear you. Your communication can have the impact you intend, helping him to feel your inner experience in a way that does not threaten him or push him away - even if he sees it differently.

We can talk to anyone when we have these skills in our repertoire:

1. Empathy - expressed understanding / walking in the shoes of another
2. Confrontation - better when tied to empathy - holding them accountable
3. Benefit of the Doubt — suggesting that you may be mistaken or misunderstanding them
4. Collaboration - creating a "we-ness" of responsibility and problem-solving
5. Setting Limits - defining the limits and boundaries for unacceptable or hurtful behaviors.
6. Non-Verbal Cues - Practice with your mirror, friends, or with recording equipment. You will soon notice how your style either supports or obscures your intended message.

Remember...these are the major non-verbal cues you want to focus on:

eye contact
facial expression
hand and vocal gestures
timing
intensity
pitch
pace of speech
volume
body language These strategies can enhance almost any interpersonal encounter. You can learn to talk to anyone, and most importantly - you can be heard!

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