Wired for connection
Communication is more than just a way to express our thoughts and feelings. It’s a basic human need that helps us connect with others. As Brene Brown says, “Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.”
So just as we need food, water, shelter, and other basic resources to survive, we need to develop the skills of effective communication to be happy and to succeed in life.
We are social beings who are not naturally designed to live in isolation. Communication allows us to interact and cooperate with others. Effective communication is a fundamental skill for healthy relationships, but it’s not always easy. Communication skills are important in all relationships, from romantic to familial to friends, to the workplace and in all the small interactions we experience on a daily basis.
Neuroscience shows us that we are neurologically wired to connect with others; mirror neurons in our brains are stimulated when we are interacting with other people. Literally, when we are talking to another person, pathways in our brain light up to mirror the emotions and behaviours that this other person is conveying. When we see someone being sad, for example, our mirror neurons fire and that allows us to experience the same sadness and to feel empathy.
Effective communication is about more than just exchanging information. It’s about understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information. As well as being able to clearly convey a message, we need to also listen in a way that gains the full meaning of what’s being said and makes the other person feel heard and understood.
It’s an instinct, right?
Effective communication sounds like it should be instinctive. But all too often, when we try to communicate with others, something goes astray. We say one thing, the other person hears something else, and misunderstandings, frustration, and conflicts ensue. This can potentially cause problems in all our relationships and social encounters.
For many of us, communicating more clearly and effectively requires learning some important skills. Whether you’re trying to improve communication with your spouse, kids, boss, or coworkers, learning these skills can deepen your connections to others, build greater trust and respect, and improve teamwork, problem solving, and your overall social and emotional health.
Barriers to communication
What are the potential barriers to effective communication? Here are some examples:
- Stress and out-of-control emotion
When we are stressed or emotionally overwhelmed, we are much more likely to misread other people, send confusing or off-putting nonverbal signals, and lapse into unhealthy knee-jerk patterns of behaviour. Therefore, in order to avoid conflict and misunderstandings,we need to learn how to quickly calm down before initiating or continuing a conversation.
- Lack of focus
We can’t communicate effectively when we are multitasking. If we are checking our phone, planning what we are going to say next, or daydreaming, we’re almost certain to miss nonverbal cues in the conversation. To communicate effectively, we need to avoid distractions and stay focused.
- Inconsistent body language
Nonverbal communication should reinforce what is being said, not contradict it. If we say one thing, but our body language says something else, your listener will likely feel that we are being dishonest. For example, if someone says, “I’m fine,” but has a cold expression on their face and seems distant from you, you might deduce there’s more to them than what they’re saying and you need to pay attention.
- Negative body language
If we disagree with or dislike what’s being said, we might use negative body language to rebuff the other person’s message. This might take the form of such as crossing our arms, avoiding eye contact, or tapping our feet impatiently. Often we can be completely unaware we are doing this! We don’t have to agree with, or even like what’s being said, but to communicate effectively and not put the other person on the defensive, it’s important to avoid sending negative signals.
Nonverbal communication is often more important than what we say and the words we use. This nonverbal communication is called body language. Body language includes facial expression, gestures, and eye contact. Even when we aren’t speaking, our body language can show how we are feeling and reveal our intentions.
As an extreme example, think of a game of poker where it is vital for each player to keep secret the nature of their cards. An unconscious change in their sitting position, such as leaning forward, perhaps indicates the confidence of holding a strong hand. Nervousness, may be seen as a sign of a weak hand – perhaps displaying thin pinched lips, a slight tremour in the voice, or suddenly becoming silent after having been chatty.
Book a counselling session today!
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
See also: Couples Counselling – Key Communication Skills
Couples counselling: How to overcome communication difficulties