"Emotional." was how my teachers used to describe me as I was notoriously known to be overly expressive. I could be embracing my peers and telling them how much I love them or shoving their faces into the muddy soccer field during our fights. My parents would receive constant feedback from my teachers about my lack of respect for them as I would openly challenge them on areas of disagreement. As a result, my peers either loved me or hated me to the core for the person I was.
As I aged and ventured into the working world, I began to understand the need for tact and elegance in the way I express myself. I could have the best solution to a problem or the most experience in a particular field but it meant nothing if I was unable to communicate my perspectives in a manner deemed respectful and diplomatic enough. Years of clashes and successes have confirmed that my immediate reaction to matters should not always be my response to them. I may not be able to control my innate reactions like being hurt or offended but I can certainly choose how to express them.
Words worded wisely can build someone up from rock bottom or put a dent in their dignity if worded carelessly. While my journey hasn't been the easiest, I have found great pleasure in openly sharing about it with people that I have crossed paths with. In every conversation, one question always pops up: How should I reply to this person? Or something, how should I respond to this situation?
The answer to each individual question remains relative to factors relating to each situation. However, there are some simple complementary questions that could help to frame our mindsets as we tackle the question of How.
1. The question of Intention
Firstly, it is imperative to know why we are choosing to say or do something. What is our purpose for doing so or as some of us might say, “what are your reasons for saying or doing this?” One reason why establishing our intent for engaging someone is important is because it sets the context for the right questions to be asked; questions that can propel us forward in a positive way. It also enables us to zoom in on the topic of conversation and to be clearer about our goals (see next point) so that our communication can be more effective in conveying our intended message to others.
2. The question of Outcome
How can we gauge if the purpose of our engagement has been met? We can start by listing our specific outcomes, or goals, that serve as indicators of our progress. Outcomes reflect targets that we need to hit and identifying which targets to aim at enables us to determine the scope and direction of our approach and to focus our energy there. Setting outcomes allows us to be specific about the changes that we hope to see and to ascertain how we can track the progression of our efforts with time which puts things into a more realistic perspective while managing our expectations.
3. The question of Objectivity
When ascertaining the objectivity of our opinions, some key areas to look out for include one’s credibility and consistency. How trustworthy and reliable are we that would make others take us seriously? Are there any discrepancies in the points we intend to put forth and to what degree are they reconcilable? Do our intentions line up with the outcomes we have set for ourselves? What are the gaps in our reasoning and how can we better bridge them?
4. The question of Humility
Last but certainly not least, we have to examine our attitude. Do we truly acknowledge that our perception of something is, but one person's perspective? This would also mean that our chosen response to a particular matter may not be the best. If so, are we willing to accept correction and seek improvement moving forward? Adopting an attitude of humility keeps our ego in check which then allows us to choose our words and tone of delivery with discernment.
Mastering the art of effective communication takes time.
While we can never fully get it right all the time, I have found the above four questions to have served as guiding principles in the way I choose to respond to the things around me. Even though I still have moments where my emotions get the better of me which lead to a less than ideal response from my end, I take comfort in knowing that the art of effective communication takes a lifetime to master. Hence, let us approach every chance that we get to craft our response as an opportunity to hone our ability to efficaciously express our views.