There are a variety of skills we can use to help us communicate in a way that supports empathic and mutually empowering peer relationships. This type of communication might be described as intentional communication as it involves using the way we hear and communicate as a tool.
It recognises the power in communication and requires us to really work at our communication and to be more contemplative in how we do so. The following list describes ten key skills and techniques of effective and intentional communication.
Active listening – listening differently
Active listening is hard work and takes practice because it’s not something we necessarily normally do. It’s an important tool in effective peer communication and might also be described as listening differently. Listening differently means coming in with curiosity and should help you develop a deeper understanding of the other person and what is important to them.
Listening from a position of not knowing
This position allows us to get to know each other without assumptions. It offers the opportunity to be curious and to stay away from assessment, evaluation and judgment and hopefully it begins a conversation in which both people become more self-aware while learning and growing together.
Listening for the ‘untold story’
Most of the time, we listen to the story being told as if it is the “truth.” We forget about perspective and we react to what is being spoken. However, if we look at the bigger picture, we can listen for how this person has learned to tell the story in this way. We can listen for assumptions they may have about us and themselves; and we can ask questions that explore what different things mean. This takes us away from just jumping into problem solving based on the “told” story.
We miss a lot of potentially different conversations if we find ourselves jumping into the conversation as ‘the fixer’. Sometimes when we jump right into problem solving, not only do we get stuck in sort of an “expert’ role,” we also lose out on a much richer conversation. In these cases the person may walk away feeling somewhat unheard and disconnected. Validation
supports us in feeling really listened to.
Reflecting on feelings and emotions
Many times we listen to other people’s words without noticing emotion. Other times we assume that they’re feeling a certain way because we know how we’d feel in the same situation. When either of these things occurs, we only hear a small part of the story, and we don’t learn much about them as whole people.
If we listen with emotion then we are more likely to hear the story of the whole person and therefore allow people to feel cared about and validated. Saying, for example, “that must be very hard for you” rather than trying to move the conversation on when someone becomes upset can help open up the conversation and lead to richer connections.
Asking clarifying questions
When we listen for the big picture, asking questions that get beyond assumptions help us to see more clearly. For example, when someone is talking about depression, we might ask, “What does depression mean to you?” or “Help me understand how depression is different for you than feeling sad.” Here are some words and phrases that may help open up the story:
- Help me understand…
- How did you learn…?
Asking powerful questions
Asking powerful questions will move the conversation away from problem solving and toward creating possibilities. By asking certain questions, we can begin to help people move more in the direction of what they want in their lives rather than always moving away from what they don’t want in their lives. Consider these examples:
- What do you want to achieve?
- What would make it different?
- If things were better for you what would have changed?
Using recovery language
The use of recovery language is closely associated with our ability to share hope and identify strengths. The language we use can also be important in the development of empathic and mutual relationships. We understand that the language we use is a potentially powerful and the things we say and how we say them can have a considerable impact on others.
Direct, honest and respectful communication
This gets particularly challenging when there’s something emotional involved. We walk on eggshells, avoid the person, talk about them behind their back or even lie. All of these attempts at communication or avoidance of communication are pretty common in casual relationships. As we know peer relationships are different in this respect as they are far from casual – there is a greater intention that requires conversations that go beneath the surface.
You’ll find that the more you practice honest direct respectful communication, the deeper and more trusting your relationships will become. You’ll also notice that as you are open to owning your part, others are more willing to do the same.
Sitting comfortably with silence
Silence is an essential part of communication which people may find difficult. As a peer supporter if we understand these issues then we can come to understand that silence is a key part of the communication process and as such not be in such a hurry to close it down. Silence can give individuals time to think and to formulate an answer with meaning rather than just say the first thing that comes to mind. Learning to be comfortable with silence can be very empowering because it’s clear that you’re working that much harder on connecting with the non-verbal. The important thing about silence is that you don’t assume what’s going on based on your discomfort and then, that you are patient while the process unfolds.