I have been ruminating about effective communication over the past couple of days, after I was on the receiving end of a communication fiasco involving several different parties. It was like playing that old game “Telephone”. A group sits in a circle and one person whispers a phrase into the next person’s ear, then each person whispers the phrase into the next person’s ear until it comes back to the original person. Then you try to see how close the ending phrase is to the original. It is usually so different from the original that you wonder how it could be. That was my weekend, in a nutshell.
To have effective communication, both sides must come to an understanding of the situation, which involves active listening. This is something that is not often practiced. Sometimes, I am also guilty of hearing, half-listening, but not actively listening. I sometimes find that my mind wanders to all sorts of topics while a person (usually my husband or child) is talking. I also tend to think about what I’m going to respond to a person, rather than paying full attention to their words and behaviors. Active listening means your full attention is focused on what the person is saying, not trying to think of what you are going to say in response to it or trying to remember what you had for dinner last night or making a mental list of the items you need to get at the grocery store later. It takes practice. In this world of social media, electronic devices, and instant gratification, it is even harder to actively listen to someone else, especially if they take longer than a 30 second blurb.
It also seems harder to effectively communicate your needs to someone else. I have also received many phone calls where the person on the other end doesn’t even know how to communicate what they need. Something as simple as, “I need a refill on my prescription” becomes “So, yeah, I was given this stuff last week for a rash on my leg and like the rash is still there. The stuff helped but I think I’m going to need some more because the little tube thingy is empty. Do I, like, have to go see my doctor again or, like, umm, what do I do?” It’s no wonder our brains wander to other things if the other party cannot clearly express their needs.
I am encouraged by some of the younger generations, though. I had a conversation with a very bright eleven-year-old who has a theory that animals know more than we give them credit for and are more in tune to our planet than we are. She has been using her skills of observation with cats to determine how they communicate their needs. She has essentially been using active listening skills with them to determine their patterns of speech and behaviors. I think this is fantastic at age eleven! It’s even fantastic at age forty! I wish more people would practice these types of observation skills. These skills can directly translate to interacting with other people, as well. Many times, a person’s body language says more than the words they are expressing. Paying attention to this body language can help you navigate, understand, and effectively communicate with them.
Understanding your audience is also important, especially in healthcare. Many people (even smart, professional people) have limited knowledge about medically related things. As a healthcare professional, we are taught that it is important to discuss health at an elementary level to most people. However, a doctor that tells you “Well, you just have to eat right and exercise more” without telling you what that means, is not communicating effectively. I have been told these exact words by many doctors for most of my life. What makes this “advice” even harder to navigate is that the food pyramid is NOT a healthy way of eating. There are way too many grains and carbohydrates and not enough vegetables on the food pyramid. There are also way too many exercise programs out there, so it’s easy to become overwhelmed and paralyzed with too many choices. This means that people will just give up before they start.
To navigate your personal health, it’s often helpful to have a friend or coach who can objectively observe your body language, actively listen to your concerns, and customize a plan that is just for you! Functional medicine does that. It looks for underlying causes of disease which could be genetics, micronutrient deficiencies, or environmental toxins that could be triggering a reaction in the body. If you aren’t feeling your best, it could be your body trying to communicate with you…try actively listening to the signals your body is sending. If you need help getting in tune with your body, contact me at email@example.com for a free 10-minute connection call.
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