I am by nature a somewhat spontaneous person in terms of my communication. Although I value spontaneity and honesty in communication, I have found that it can hurt others and me. Therefore, I have learned to be more deliberate in certain situations.
In my career, I have often found myself mediating difficult relationships. I see people who are intensely committed to different positions thwart those positions by how they communicate.
Why do people upset one another with their communication? Sometimes the communication used is more intense or sharp than needed in order to emphasize a point. Some people believe that if they don't speak with a high level of emotion, others will not pay attention to their messages. Others speak with hidden or overt personal attacks to demonstrate their power or intelligence, or to create fear. Still others just don't think about what they are saying before they say it. In these latter cases, there appears to be a direct conduit between their brains and their mouths. I actually knew a person one time who believed that if she didn't say immediately what occurred in her mind that she was lying. This level of spontaneity is unnecessary and can be counter productive. For example, if you think I am ugly, you don't need to tell me. Regardless of the feedback, I will probably be ugly tomorrow also. I can do little about that feedback. Some communication is only hurtful. The best leaders avoid this type of communication.
Especially in sensitive or stressed relationships, it is important to consider a new process of communicating. When a thought comes to you that you feel urged to share, do a couple of other things. First, ask yourself, what is my objective or purpose in this particular communication event? You may find the answer is that your objective is not that important or valuable to you. When you come to that conclusion, it may be useful to say nothing at all. If your objective is important to you, then state it in clear terms. Second, do not personally evaluate the other person or his/her position. Attacks on others only minimize or nullify your point.
Also, be aware of how you deliver the message. When I am trying to help resolve an interpersonal conflict, I usually, talk to both parties separately first. Then, I sit down with both parties and facilitate a discussion of their expectations of each other and what they are individually willing to do. As a conflict escalates, the facts of the event are usually described but the tone of the voice, the look on the face, and the body position are not described. These behaviors are often the greater part of why the communication turned into conflict and are important to discuss.
Remember, we are all responsible for our own communication. In stressful relationships, it is important to be deliberate about what we say and how we say it. It takes concentration to improve our communication. If you find yourself in a lot of interpersonal conflicts, think about the part you contribute to them. I have never been in a conflict where 100 percent of the fault belonged to the other person. I always own some part of it if not the larger part. Since that fact is true, there are things I can do to improve the situation.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book, "Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons," visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.