What are communication skills and why are the important?
Communication is more than just the words you say. Communication includes your tone of voice, body language, timing, the intention behind what you say, as well as what you don’t say.
We almost always know what we want to say- be it good or bad things. However, we don’t always know how to say them. Very often we hear the stereotype of an angry teenager. This label is often a derogatory sterotype and results in the teen not being taken seriously when they try to express their emotions, thoughts, and opinions.
As wrong as stereotypes are, they tend to originate from some truth. Chances are, at some point in your life you have reacted like the angry teenager. You have yelled, slammed things, thrown out cuss words and harmful insults in frustration, anger or pain. It doesn’t matter what caused these feelings, at the time all that mattered was that you got your point across. And the only way to do so was to act in such an extreme way.
The truth is that we have all been the angry teenager before, but as we grow up we learn that there are better ways of communicating that are much more effective. As a teenager in general, being able to communicate your point is an important skill to have as you grow into your own, independent person. As a teenager in the dependency system, it is even more important to learn good communication skills so that your wants and needs are taken seriously, and considered by all parties acting on your case. You may have a lot of people advocating for you, such as your GAL, however, you are the best resource you will ever have.
What to take away from this lesson
Odds are there are many adults in your life who are bad communicators. This is because good communication skills are difficult to learn. It is impossible to learn these skills through readings and videos alone. The truth is the only way to learn and master these skills is to practice them.
Some skills are easy to practice. For example, learning to fold clothes, or how to boil water. These are skills that have set step and defined boundaries that explain how they should be done. Communications skills take more effort, and are often a lot harder to practice. Learning good communication skills start with a good sense of self awareness. First you must be able to understand what you want to say, and how you are presenting yourself when you say it. This means reflecting back on past conversations and looking at how you handled them. Were you yelling because you were angry? Or were you just yelling and didn’t even realize it? Did you speak up when you were confused? Or did you sit in silent frustration?
The most important lesson you should learn from this module is this: good communication starts with you.
Basic Communication Skills
We are constantly communicating, be it through face-to-face conversation, text messages, phone calls or even social media. To start, let’s do a quick assessment of our own knowledge of communication skills.
- What is an appropriate way to introduce yourself to someone new?
- What is “small talk”?
- Name 3 body language skills.
- Why is personal space important?
- What is your communication style?
Write down your answers and save them for later. As you go through the module, check to see if your answers were correct! If you couldn’t answer a question, spend a bit more time on that topic, as it may be one you need some extra practice to better understand!
What are good manners?
Good manners are a part of social etiquette. Social etiquette is a set of normalized values that direct how people are expected to act.
Manners differ from culture to culture. For instance, in some cultures, it is normal to greet people with a kiss on the cheek. In others, a typical greeting is a handshake. Neither of these greetings is wrong, however, depending on the culture one may be more accepted than the other.
Manners are typically learned at a young age and start with simple skills, such as how to start a conversation with, “Hi, my name is…”.
The title Mrs., Mr., and Ms. should always be given when addressing an adult. (“It is nice to meet you, Mrs. Smith.”)
Mrs. is the tile for a married woman.
Mr. is the title for all men, married or not.
Ms. is the title for non-married women.
When referring to adults in conversation, it is polite to refer to them as ma’am and sir. (“Sir, may I please use the bathroom?”)
When addressing professionals, be sure to use the appropriate title. Titles include:
“Your honorable” for a judge
“Doctor” for medical doctors, psychiatrists, and some other medical care providers
“Officer”, “Sargent” or “Lieutenant” for police offices and military members depending on their rank
Most often professionals with a title will either introduce themselves as such (“My name is Dr. Mathews.”) or will wear a name tag or other indicator of their title on their person.
It is important to use your manners in all social situations and conversations!
Please and Thank you
Saying “please” when asking for things, and “thank you” when receiving things, is basic manners. By saying “please” and “thank you” you are showing gratitude for the person’s time, assistance or gift. (“Thank you for taking the time to consider my application.”) (“May I please have the cheeseburger with french fries? Thank you.”)
Waiting for your turn to speak
We already know that it is rude to interrupt others when they are talking. Often we think that good communication is all about what we say, and we forget that it is just as important to pay attention to what other people are saying. It is natural to want to be heard, however, letting other people speak not only is the polite thing to do, but it allows for you to know what the other person thinks/wants/feels. By understanding the other person point of view, you can better express your own
Part of having good manners is avoiding inappropriate language. Cuss words and foul language are largely frowned upon outside of private conversations. While it may be appropriate to talk about crude topics and use bad language with our friends, it is not appropriate at school, work, or in court.
There are formal and informal introductions, and each has its own place in conversations. Formal introductions are statements such as, “Hello, my name is ____. It is a pleasure to meet you.” This is how we introduce ourselves in professional situations such as job interviews, college application essays, meeting a potential landlord, or even meeting your lawyer or judge for the first time.
Informal introductions are how we introduce ourselves when we are with our friends or family. These include statements like, “Hey, what’s up? I’m _____.” or “Hi, my name is ____. Nice to meet you.” Informal introductions are much more relaxed and are the way we introduce ourselves most of the time.
Whether you are in a formal or an informal setting, stating your name is only the first part of an introduction. The second, and most important part, is being interesting and memorable. It doesn’t matter if you are introducing yourself to a potential employer or a potential new friend. In both cases, you want to make a good first impression with your conversation. We do this in a few ways:
- Include your title or your something else about you that relates to the reason you are introducing yourself to that person. For example, “Hello, my name is Conor. We spoke on the phone about the apartment you are trying to rent.” Or “Hey what’s up? I’m Conor and I was wondering if you’d want another person for the pick-up game?” In both examples not only have you given your name, but you’ve explained why you are introducing yourself.
- Don’t wait for the other person to steer the conversation. After you introduce yourself, ask a question or provide a topic of conversation in order to get it started. For instance, “Hello, my name is Conor. We spoke on the phone about the apartment you are trying to rent. If you don’t mind, I’d like to schedule a walkthrough in order to see it.” Or, “Hey, What’s up? I’m Conor and I was wondering if you’d want another person for the pick-up game? I normally play with the morning group.”
Practice introducing yourself formally and informally with your GAL, as if you were 1. meeting a potential employer, 2. meeting someone new at school and 3. meeting with a new case manager.
Small talk is a type of conversation where you talk with someone about unimportant, or superficial things. For example, talking about the weather, or something you saw on TV are very common small talk topics.
Small talk, while often annoying or uncomfortable, has a place in conversation. Most conversations we have start off as small talk. They are conversations we have simply to talk to someone, however, we have the power to turn small talk into an actual conversation. Watch the video below to learn some skills on how to manage small talk and steer the conversation into something meaningful.
What is body language? Body language is how we use our non-verbal signs to express our thoughts and feelings. These non-verbal signs include eye contact, personal boundaries, posture, gestures, the position of our arms and legs, as well as our facial expressions.
There is a lot you can learn from reading a person’s body language. While the art of reading body language is a cool skill to have, today we are going to focus on how you can be aware of your body language and what it says about you.
Take a moment and evaluate how you are sitting with this four-step checklist:
- How is my posture? Am I slouching or reclined?
- Where are my shoulders facing? Are they towards the person I am talking to? Or are they facing away from the person?
- What are my arms doing? Are they crossed? Am I fidgeting with my hands?
- Where are my eyes? Are they looking around the room? Or are they looking at the person I am talking to?
What your body is doing and how it is positioned says a lot about your thoughts and feelings about the conversation, or even the person, you are talking to.
Your body language says a lot more about you than you realize. Watch the video below and then click on the link to see examples of different types of body language and ways to use body language as an effective communication tool!
What is your communication style?
There are 4 types of communication styles:
- Passive- Agressive
Watch the video below to learn about the 4 styles.
Assertive communication is a style of communication that allows you to be honest and direct in expressing your thoughts, feelings, and ideas. The reason an assertive communication style is the most effective communication style is that this style has us take responsibility for ourselves and our actions, without placing blame on others.
Assertiveness skills are skills that allow you to stand up for your own beliefs in a controlled, respectful and responsible manner. As the video mentioned, there are downfalls to passive, aggressive and passive-aggressive communication styles. The most effective form of communication is assertive communication, however, learning how to use assertiveness skills is different for each person.
Assertive communication is important in all areas of life but is particularly important in conflict resolution situations, as well as in situations where self-expression can be difficult to do, such as in court, or when discussing options for your future with your case manager and other providers.
The video below shows an example of how assertive communication is more effective than passive or aggressive communication.
Your Right to be Assertive
The first step in learning to be an effective, assertive communicator is to acknowledge that you have the right to be assertive.
Our Rights to be Assertive:
- I have the right to be treated with respect as an equal human being.
- I have the right to acknowledge my needs as being equal to those of others.
- I have the right to express my opinions, thoughts, and feelings.
- I have the right to make mistakes.
- I have the right to choose not to take responsibility for other people.
- I have the right to be me without being dependent on the approval of others.
It is important to remember that not only do you have these rights, but so do others.
Step 1: Owning Your Feelings
To effectively take control of our needs, thoughts, and feelings, first, we need to recognize what they are. It is impossible to advocate for ourselves if we don’t know what it is we want or need. To do this, we need to use a skill called emotional intelligence, which allows us to identify and control our emotions. Emotional intelligence takes time to learn, and it requires us to pay attention to our emotions, reflect on why we feel the way we do, and how we act as a result.
To start, click the link below to take an Emotional Intelligence assessment to see how well you understand your own emotions.
Step 2: Using “I” Statements
“I” Statements are statements you make that directly explain how you feel. By using “I” statements you take full ownership of your emotions, thoughts, and needs, without placing blame onto others.
Often when we argue with someone, we place all the blame onto the other person.
For example, “You make me so angry!” or “You just don’t understand.” When we do this, we are not effectively communicating our needs and often statements such as these just make the argument worse.
“I” statements follow the format of starting with what you feel, followed by why.
“I feel ______, when ________.”
By stating clearly what you feel, you acknowledge that your feelings are your own responsibility, and by stating when/what makes you feel that way you are providing direct examples or reasons for why you feel the way you do.
For example, “I get angry when you tell me to do your chores while you sit on the couch.” Or, “I feel like you don’t understand why I am upset when you try to tell me to just calm down.”
“I” statements are not only used in conflict resolution, but they can also be used when requesting or refusing something. Sometimes asking for help, or saying no to someone, can be very intimidating, or frustrating depending on the situation.
For example, “I don’t understand what this packet means because there is a lot of information here. Can you go through it with me again?” is a better request than simply saying, “I don’t understand.”
Instead of just saying “No” to your manager when they ask you to stay late and help close, you can say, “I can’t stay late today to help close because I stayed late on Monday and I made plans for this evening.”
In both cases, you have stated what you want, and why you want it.
Practice making “I” statements with your GAL. Start by coming up with a few arguments or demands that have upset you in the past. (For instance, you fight with your mom over cleaning your room every Saturday, or you have a hard time saying no to a friend who always wants your help with homework.) Have your GAL act as the opposing person, and practice using “I” statements to get your point across.
Step 3. Strive for Compromise
Assertive communication is not about winning an argument, or always getting your way. Assertive communication is about being able to clearly express yourself while respecting everyone involved in the conversation, yourself included.
There is this belief that arguments are fights and in the end, there is one winner and one loser. But the truth is that most arguments are simply due to miscommunication. There is no fight or battle to be won, simple an understanding that needs to happen on both sides. By changing the way we think about arguments we can focus on actually creating solutions to problems instead of aggravating them. We do this by aiming for compromise.
Compromising is what happens when both people can come up with a joint solution to a problem. To be able to compromise, you need to be able to identify why you are upset, but you also need to acknowledge the other persons feelings and needs.
An example of reaching a compromise looks like this:
Argument: You and your mother are fighting because she wants you to clean your room.
- You use emotional intelligence to know that you are frustrated and are feeling angry at your mother for asking you to clearn your room becuase she is sitting on the couch watching a TV show you both like.
- You use your “I” Statments to express this, “I’m mad that you want me to go clean my room becuase you are going to watch this show without me.”
- Your mother in turn responds with, “Well, I am upset becuase I asked you to clean your room on Tuesday, and you still haven’t.”
- The two of you take a moment to acknowledge the other persons right to assertiveness, and you both recognize you each have the right to feel upset at the other perosn.
- Your mother proposes a compromise, “I’ll pause the show so that you can clean your room, and come back when you are done so we can watch it together.”
In this case, by accepting the compromise both you and your mother get what you want. You get to watch your show and your mother gets you to clean your room. By using steps 1 and 2 of assertive communicaiton, you were able to express what you were feeling and find a solution that works (even if it isn’t the exact solution you wanted).
Assertive communication is not a skill you learn overnight, in a week or even in a month! It takes time to re-adjust your thought process and build the skills necessary to be an effective, assertive communicator! Print the worksheet below to take with you so you can continue to practice your assertive communication skills.
Anger Managment Skills
Anger is a completely normal human emotion, however, anger can be dangerous if we don’t deal with it properly. Without good anger management skills, it is difficult to manage our behaviors when we are angry and we may find ourselves lashing out or even becoming aggressive or violent in fits of anger.
There are ways to deal with anger, but first, you have to recognize that anger is most often caused by a range of other emotions.anger-iceberg
This graphic shows us that our anger often stems from a wide variety of other emotions, or even a mix of emotions, that we are not always consciously aware of.
It is very difficult to reflect upon our anger and pick it apart to determine these unconscious emotions that are feeding into our anger, however, this gets easier as our emotional intelligence skills get better. While we are going to focus on various ways to manage anger, it is important to remember to address the underlying emotions that may be causing you to be so angry.
How do we manage our anger?
Management is the best way to deal with our anger, not only for ourselves but for those around us as well. Anger happens in a cycle as demonstrated below.cycle-of-anger
Addressing the Negative Thoughts
The first step in anger management is to recognize that most of the time the extent to which we become angry is directly related to the negative thoughts we have. We have all felt different levels of anger before, from mild frustration to full-on rage. It is also likely that you have been in a situation where something that didn’t upset you before, happens again and this time it makes you mad. The negative thoughts that we have are what lead to our emotional response. So the first step in managing anger is to start by addressing those negative thoughts.
One tool to help manage negative thoughts is to use the 10-Minute
Rule. The 10 Minute Rule states that when you feel yourself getting angry, you remove yourself from the situation and take 10 minutes to reflect on why you are angry. By taking 10 minutes to yourself to reflect on your anger, you are better able to identify and address those negative thoughts associated with the feeling.
For example, a teacher calls on you in class when he knows you are not paying attention. You immediately get angry and go to make a rude comment, but stop and remember the 10-Minute Rule. You stop and take time to reflect on why you are angry. Are you angry because you were embarrassed in front of your friends? Or are you angry because you are ashamed that you weren’t paying attention?
Each of these reasons has it’s own negative thoughts associated with it. If you are angry because you were embarrassed in front of your friends, the negative thought may be, “My friends are going to make fun of me for being dumb.” If you are angry because you are ashamed you got caught for not paying attention, the negative thought may be, “The teacher is going to hate me now and think I’m a bad student.”
In both cases, your reaction is not a result of the teacher calling you out, it is a result of the negative thoughts you feel as a result of the teacher calling you out. Knowing this can help you to better manage your anger, and help you to control how you act as a result of the teacher calling you out in class.
Controlling the Behaviroal Response
More often than not, when we get angry we react immediately and without much thought. Learning to step back and take a moment to think about our actions before we react takes time and practice. There are different skills you can use to help manage your behavioral response to anger, two which we have already learned about:
- Using the 10-Minute Rule to think before you speak
- Use “I” statements to make sure you are expressing your feelings without placing blame
Other tools that are good to help with anger management are:
- Counting down from 10
- Visualize a stop sign and take deep, controlled breaths
- Go for a walk/run and get some exercise
- Repeat a positive mantra or uplifting phrase
- Take a mental vacation and pretend you are no longer a part of the situation
There are many other tools to help you manage your anger, but the key is to figure out what works for you.
Besides the 10-Minute Rule and “I” Statements, pick two tools off the list above, or come up with two tools of your own that you want to try to use next time you find yourself getting angry. The only way to see what works for you is to practice!
The following video is long (it runs almost 20 minutes), however, the speaker touches on some good points about how to use body relaxation and empathy skills to help manage anger. If you feel like you need some extra practice with anger management skills, this video is a great resource. You can watch it with your GAL, or on your own.