Amidst all of the lessons we’ve learned this year, one of the most vital has been the value of effective communication. As we started working from home, connecting virtually, and speaking compassionately even when emotions were running high, we learned a few important things about healthy and mindful communication — and many of these lessons could have come in handy long before the pandemic began.
We asked our Thrive community to share with us the tips they’d give their younger selves about communication. Which of these pieces of advice resonates with you?
Give yourself permission to speak up
“I was painfully shy as a little girl and through much of my adult career. When I was in my 30s, I finally realized that there’s power in being fearless, speaking up, and asking for what I needed in a clear and direct way. I channeled my storytelling skills into public speaking and leading workshops. I still practice speaking up in my head when I have an important presentation or big ask!”
—Nancy A. Shenker, marketing consultant and writer, Scottsdale, AZ
Ask for clarification
“One tip I would give my younger self about communication is that it never hurts to overcommunicate and ask questions, especially when working with someone for the first time or trying to find your bearings at a new job. I used to worry that I would be bothering folks if I asked a question, but we are often the only ones who feel that we might be a bother. Approach conversations with curiosity, ask questions when necessary, and when in doubt, communicate your point again if you think it was missed or is unclear.”
—Alyssa Towns, business operations specialist, Denver, CO
If you get a frustrating text, don’t respond right away
“I would encourage my younger self to pause and reflect before responding to challenging emails or text messages. Taking the time to understand the context of the sender’s communication before jumping to conclusions will help alleviate any miscommunication and misunderstanding.”
—Carrie McEachran, executive director, Sarnia, ON, Canada
Be mindful of who you’re talking to
“If I could go back, I would tell my younger self that you could be the smartest person in the room, but if you can’t communicate your ideas in a way that speaks to others, you haven’t made a difference. The root of the word ‘communicate’ comes from the Latin meaning, ‘to make common.’ If you’re not communicating in a manner that truly engages the other party, you remain a me and them, rather than a we.”
—Donna Peters, executive coach and former senior partner, Atlanta, GA
Remember that emails can be misread
“I would tell my younger self that you can never tell what someone really means by an email. It is estimated that 90 percent of communication is non-verbal, with text and email only offering the remaining 10 percent. So many things get miscommunicated online because the sense of humanness is removed. I would tell my younger self to take all emails with a pinch of salt, to find the facts and respond objectively.”
—Charlotte Swire, wellness practitioner, Manchester, U.K.
Think about the impact of your words
“My younger self was constantly trying to prove herself by trying to give off a certain impression, drive a point across, or simply by voicing my input, regardless of whether I had an opinion on an issue or not. Today, I would tell my younger self to slow down and think about the purpose, intention, and impact of my words. Am I really listening to the other person? What are their needs out of this conversation, and what are mine? Am I responding with the goal of sharing something helpful or communicating my honest opinions or feelings, or do I just want to have a say on the topic? When I am more mindful about my intention and the goals of the conversation, it shapes the conversation into a more genuine one.”
—Zehra Kamani, freelance writer, Toronto, ON, Canada
Ask people how they’re feeling
“Over the last year, as the pandemic kept us all working from home into 2021, I noticed our team meetings went from starting with, ‘What’s everyone working on?’ to ‘How is everyone feeling today?’ It’s the simplest change in communication that opens up the floor for employees to share and relate to one another about their current mental and emotional state during a difficult time. Asking someone how they are feeling can be a powerful way to begin a healthy conversation.”
—Kate MacLean, PR manager, Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Accept that you can keep some thoughts to yourself
“A great tip that I received and have never forgotten was from my middle school homeroom teacher. Her advice was to never blow out someone else’s candle to light your own. It’s formed how I think about communication. Words can be both personal and hurtful or uplifting and meaningful. All the thoughts that you have in your mind are not always the thoughts that must be shared. There’s maturity and respect that words should filter through to ensure the person receiving them feels progress in the conversation, and this happens best when we’re thoughtful about the impact our words could have.”
—Kristi Allen, global digital experiences manager, Portland, OR
Avoid being passive aggressive
“I would tell my younger self to avoid being passive aggressive in my communications. I would remind myself to say exactly what I intend to say without trying to gloss it over or cover up the stingy parts. Simply put: speak, write, position your body and set the proper tone to be aligned with the message you are communicating.”
—Marilyn Porter, pastor and church consultant, Villa Rica, GA
Remember that you don’t always have to be right
“I would tell my younger self to pause and take some time before responding, counsel her to find space in that powerful pause to remember who she truly is, and realize that ‘being right’ isn’t the answer. As a woman of 51 now, this reminder is what guides my responses. I love the powerful wisdom of Maya Angelou when she said, ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’”
—Eimear Zone, coach and author, Santa Fe, N.M.
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