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Monday, March 23, 2020

Learning to Communicate Effectively

Since we were infants, most of us have had the ability to hear. As we grow older and become children, we are told to “listen” frequently. Listen to our parents, our teachers, our friends, and our family. What we are not told as young children is that hearing and listening, better yet, “active listening” is totally different. 

On the same note, we begin babbling as babies and our first words are typically the highlight of our parents’ day, week, or year. We continue to speak throughout our lives, whether or not our parents remained as attuned to what we have to say, although often we pick up some bad habits along the way that are not ultimately helpful to us. 

Without having the proper knowledge on how to listen and speak our minds properly, can we really know if we are communicating effectively? For all of us, and those in recovery especially, learning to communicate effectively can be the difference between feeling numb to our emotions, and having the courage to speak them aloud. 

How to Listen

The first, and maybe the most important part of listening, is actually caring what the other person is saying. Without a vested interest, the mind can wander into several different directions, none of which are focused on the speaker’s piece of mind. 

What often occurs is that many of us are busy formulating our responses to the speaker’s comments while they are still talking. Due to the fact that we are trying to think of something clever, helpful, or important to say when the speaker is finished talking, we have actually missed both verbal and non-verbal cues that the speaker is sharing. 

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

-Stephen R. Covey 

What is Active Listening?

Active listening is made up of several steps including:
  • Attention (focusing on what the speaker is saying)
  • Presenting a nonjudgmental attitude (being open to new perspectives)
  • Reflecting (trying to paraphrase key points)
  • Clarifying (if you need further explanation)
  • Summarizing (restating the main themes)
  • Sharing (if appropriate, share a similar experience that is related to the speakers’)

Becoming a Better Listener

While reading through this, it might be easy to think that these skills feel too formulaic or basic to be helpful for the types of conversations you’re having with your partner or friends. However, as with most things, it is important to master the basics before you heighten the stakes. Make it a point to limit potential distractions; putting down your cell phone or turning off the television while listening. Also important is that you pay attention to your body language and even train yourself to have consistent and more focused eye contact.

Something that many of us may struggle with while beginning to listen more effectively is accepting silence. Oftentimes, we fight against the silence as it may make us uncomfortable, but it can provide the time needed to process what the speaker is saying. Effective communication should be more like a game of catch, where the recipient takes their time before returning the play, rather than a game of rapid-fire ping pong. 

The Flip Side: How to Speak

Most of what we know is that communicating effectively really leads us back to listening. Although there are proper things to do while speaking, effective communication does truly come from our ability to take on one another’s perspectives. 

A tip to remember when in conflict is to use what is referred to as an “I statement.” An “I statement” simply refers to the way in which a statement is framed. It allows you to express your feelings in a way that is neutral and focuses on the current emotion, rather than placing blame on the person in front of you. An “I statement” allows you to portray your feelings from your perspective. 

An example of this would be “I feel hurt when you do not express gratitude when the house has been cleaned because it took a lot of time for me to get all of this done. I would prefer it if you would say ‘thank you’”. An “I statement” is not meant to resolve a conflict indefinitely, but it does allow for a conversation to begin in a calm and thoughtful manner. 


A part of communication that has become widely discussed in recent years, in large part due to the work of Brene Brown, is vulnerability. The idea of vulnerability probably scares most of us, as it means that we are choosing to share our feelings with others, rather than bury or hide from them. This means opening ourselves up to judgment, opening ourselves up to the possibility of being told we are wrong, even opening ourselves up to what we may consider failure. 

The reason that vulnerability has become a widely powerful and largely discussed topic in relation to communication is because of its impact on building strong connections. Vulnerability is an integral part of speaking to others as it means we are putting our real feelings on display, admitting we may not know what to do, and asking for feedback. 

As a friend, family member, partner, or employer/employee, a valuable part of communication is vulnerability-- authentically being yourself and allowing your feelings to be heard, and hopefully actively listened to, by others. 

Learning Life Skills at The Haven

The skills involved in using effective communication are beneficial at all stages of treatment, whether you’re just starting out and encouraged by the call to vulnerability, or you are just beginning to picture your life after treatment, and are concerned about how to approach loved ones back home. 

Please reach out to us today to learn more about our central California location and the programs and services we offer that make The Haven the perfect place to renew to your best today.