Recently, I heard someone say, “Communication is easy.” I disagree. Talking is easy; communication, which means an exchange or communion with another, requires greater care and skill. An exchange that is a communion demands that we listen and speak skillfully, not just talk mindlessly.

And interacting with fearful, angry or frustrated people can be even more difficult, because we’re less skillful when caught up in such emotions. Yet don’t despair or resign yourself to a lifetime of miscommunication at work or home! Good communicators can be honed as well as born. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Don’t take another person’s reaction or anger personally, even if they lash out at you in what seems a personal manner. Another person’s mood or response is more likely about fear or frustration than it is about you as an individual. Take a deep breath and count to ten, and see it as a way of letting the other person vent before he is able to communicate what’s really on his mind.

You don’t have to have all the answers. It’s OK to say, “You know, I don’t know.” If you want to find out, say so, then follow up to share your findings. Or you might decide to problem-solve together to find the answer.

Respond (facts and feelings); don’t react (feelings), e.g. “Tell me more about your concern” or “I understand your frustration” instead of “Hey, I’m just doing my job” or “It’s not my job” (which is sure to cause more irritation). Share responsibility for any communication in which you’re a participant, and realize that sometimes, maybe often, your own personal reactions might be causing your frustrations about communicating with others.

Understand that people want to feel heard more than they care about whether you agree with them. It’s strange how many people complain about others not hearing them, yet they don’t listen to others either! You can show that you’re listening by giving someone your complete (or as near complete as you can muster) attention and by saying things like:

“Tell me more about your concern.” “What is it about XYZ that concerns you?” “I’m interested in what you’ve just said. Can you share a little bit about what lead you to that belief?”

“What would have to happen for you to be more comfortable with XYZ?”

Remember that what someone says and what we hear can often be amazingly different! Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments and beliefs can really distort what we hear. Repeat back or summarize to ensure understanding. Restate what you think you heard and ask, “Have I understood you correctly?”

If you find yourself responding emotionally to what someone said, say so, and ask for more information: “I may not be understanding you correctly, and I find myself taking what you said a bit personally. What I thought you just said—‘XYZ’; is that what you meant?”

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