‘Tis the season of happy and merry and peace on earth. Yet it also seems to be the season of frustration and strained relationships and short fuses, at least sometimes.

Why is that?

We could easily write about overwhelm and overcommitment and over-doing, which are probably all part of the issue, especially at this time of year. There are also the higher-than-usual expectations we may put on ourselves and others. However, I think a major factor is communication…or lack thereof.

I see so often with my clients, friends, family, and self how easy it is to communicate poorly. To have the best of intentions and yet have the worst impact. We miscommunicate, misinterpret, misunderstand, and often misspeak. We try to be kind by suggesting someone take a break because they seem weary, and they hear judgment that they’re not showing up well. Or we shoot off an email to move a project along, but we don’t realize the email seems harsh or criticizing of someone on the team’s effort. Or we decide not to say something to someone for fear of rocking the boat, and this lack of honesty over time leads to the deterioration of our friendship or work relationship.

This leads to frustration, strained relationships, and short fuses – with our colleagues, our direct reports, our friends, and our families. Sometimes even with strangers.

Communication is so dang hard because once you have more than one person (yourself) in a conversation, you have multiple perspectives, agendas, levels of knowledge and understanding, needs, and trigger points. Plus, we all go through life making up stories about most things that happen, generally we see ourselves as the well-intentioned, kind-hearted, misunderstood protagonist. This happens simply because we’re human.

So what can we do about improving our communication, especially now in this high-tensioned, highly emotional time of year? Here are a few quick pointers that might make your communication not so dang hard:

  • Take a breath, slow down, and pause – Some of us go way too quickly, trying to get way too much done. When we slow down, pause, and breathe, we can think more clearly about what we’re trying to communicate and why, and we’re more likely to communicate more clearly.
  • Question when you’ve been offended – Someone says, does, texts, or emails something to you, and you can’t believe they were that rude/obnoxious/uncaring/etc. This is the time to pause again, to inwardly question if the person is really being insensitive or rude, or if, instead, you’re making a mountain out of a molehill or misinterpreting them based on your perception of them.
  • Come from a place of grace – When we can be open to someone having good intentions, even if they had not-so-good actions, we give them more grace, and things don’t seem to flare up as much between us.
  • Be truthful and kind – Sometimes we think it’s kind not to give constructive feedback or to share our authentic truth with someone, but when we hold back, we lessen the “intimacy” and understanding between ourselves and others. It helps to learn to say what we need to say, and, at the same time, to say it kindly, as that often makes it easier for the other to hear.
  • Know when you’ve tried too hard – All this said, relationships are two-way, yet often one person takes on more responsibility for keeping things okay than the other. Whilst this can work for a short period of time, it’s not sustainable, nor is it wise. If you’ve worked through all the other suggestions, and things still go awry, perhaps you are trying too hard or doing too much of the work. With all the above, it’s also important to know what your boundaries are and when “enough is enough” for you, and to (kindly) stick to that.

It is so easy to miscommunicate, and it is possible to communicate more effectively. Especially in this heightened time of year, taking the time to be more Thoughtful and intentional with our communication can help it be at least a little less dang hard.

How have you learned to communicate more effectively? What works for you?
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For support in communicating like you mean it, contact Lisa at lkohn@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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