Of all the tools we have to build quality relationships, communication is perhaps the most important. Good communication is the goal of relationship building – and is a tremendous reward on its own. Effective and healthy communication, however, can be difficult. It is a skill so vital that everyone should work to improve it. At CYO, we encourage sharing and provide four specific strategies to improve communication.
First, participants must be ready to share, and ready to learn about others. Only through sharing and learning can we learn to communicate openly and honestly. As people engage in traditional outdoor recreation at CYO, the experience provides many opportunities for sharing. Often, at the ponds or on the shooting range, participants begin by sharing stories or re-living previous adventures. Over time, sharing deepens as participants discuss the feelings, emotions, and passions associated with their adventures and other important life experiences. By being ready to share we open ourselves up to effective, honest, and respectful communication.
The next step to achieving better communication is active listening. Listening is a very important aspect of communicating with others. In our daily lives, it is sometimes difficult to actively listen to the people around us – especially the people we see the most, unfortunately. This is how we begin to entrench poor communication habits. At CYO, we begin to break bad habits by training participants to actively listen – that is, to be focused and responsive to speakers when we listen. We train people to give positive eye contact, ask questions, and validate the speaker. This allows people to feel heard. One of the primary causes of frustration in any relationship is when people do not feel heard. Active listening is the first skill that we focus on to break down barriers in communication.
Another strategy to improve communication is using “I messages.” At CYO, we encourage people to use the “I feel _____ when _____” structure whenever appropriate. This simple method allows participants to communicate honestly. Everyone has to own their emotions instead of placing blame. This allows people to escape well-worn cycles of blame, victimhood, and habitual disagreements. Instead, they can work on achieving mutually-agreed upon solutions. Again, using “I messages” allows people to feel heard and helps make relationships more positive and respectful.
The next skill that we develop to improve communication is helping participants achieve a positive state of mind when communicating with others. All too often today we are exposed to negative events, negative commentary, and a steady diet of bickering and disagreement. And we are often too willing to share our own negative thoughts on the topics of the day. But at CYO we focus on the positive and help our participants do the same. This is often easy as we see people improving their skills at the fishing pond or on the shooting range. We also give participants the skills and encouragement they will need to take a positive attitude home with them. This helps to improve communication – and relationships. It’s amazing what can be done with a positive state of mind – positivity can be infectious!
The last skill we use to improve communication is improving the way that we use non-verbal communication. Often, we forget that the vast majority of what we “say” is communicated without words. As speakers, we tend to focus on saying exactly what we mean. And as listeners, we try to hear what is being said. But our body language, our tone of voice, the volume of our voices, and the use of eye contact says a lot to others. Many times, words are not even heard because of non-verbal distractions. By calling attention to the other ways we communicate, we can learn to speak and listen more effectively.
These skills and strategies seem simple but are often difficult to remember to use on a daily basis. At CYO we help people break their bad communication habits. The improvements are a tremendous reward for our participants and all of their relationships.
Six strategies to become a better communicator:
How to be a better communicator and leader:
Ten steps to better communication:
How to be an active listener:
How to be a better active listener, from a leadership perspective:
Use of “I messages” in parenting:
How to use “I messages,” according to the US Department of State: