Want to Become a More Open and Honest Communicator? Stop Making Assumptions

Do you ever feel like you struggle to say what you really mean and express your true feelings?

Communication can be a tricky thing, with a number of roadblocks that might come in your way. But if you're more aware of those obstacles, it's possible to avoid them and sharpen your conversational skills. To learn more, we reached out to Beverly D. Flaxington, human behavior coach author of 30 Days to Understanding Other People. 

Keep reading to discover everything she revealed about our biggest communication problems, and how to turn them around into successes.

Sweety High: What are some of the most common top-level problems when it comes to effectively communicating with others?

Beverly Flaxington: There are several top-level reasons why communication is difficult. First, we live in a distracted world. Having the time and energy to focus, put your attention on another person and really listen (with empathy) is challenging for many people. You could be on your cell phone having a conversation while on public transportation and talking to the conductor of the train.

Secondly, we have different communication styles. If you are a quiet person and I am boisterous and loud in my approach, you will tune me out. Likewise, if I'm upbeat and talkative and you are quiet and stoic, I'll think you don't like me. We paint people with the brush that applies to the way we do things and don't realize there are differences. There is so much more we are communicating outside of the words we use—our tone, body language, pace and so on—and many times communication is interrupted because of the differing approaches.

Third, we have different interests and things we care about. If I don't enjoy golf, but you spend a lot of our time together talking about it, eventually I will stop listening. If I love the theater and want to tell you about a play I saw, but you don't like plays, you won't really focus on much of what I say. We stop caring about the person who is communicating and get more focused on whether we are interested or not in what they are communicating.

Shutterstock: Woman multitasking while driving, writing in notebook, drinking coffee and on the phone

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SH: Why can it be so hard for people to say what they mean?

BF: There are a variety of reasons, but the most common is fear. You might not know how the other person will take something you have to say, so you're hesitant to rock the boat with them. Or, you might've been burned before when you were open and honest about your feelings or thoughts, so you're hesitant to do so again and leave yourself vulnerable.

And sometimes people aren't really in touch with what they really think or feel. They know they're upset, or troubled or resistant, but they aren't really sure why. It could take a while for something to surface, and so they aren't being disingenuous, they're just not able to fully articulate because they can't grasp it all yet.

Shutterstock: Girl look doubtful and unsure

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SH: When we have different opinions from someone else, why can we be so inclined to disagree or argue? What can we do, instead?

BF: We like people who are like us and care about the things we care about. Sometimes, if someone has a different opinion, you can take it as a personal attack or criticism of you. You might think they are saying you are not as smart or as educated or as savvy as they are.

We also haven't been taught good communication skills in our culture, so when upset, we tend to get mad and take it out on someone else. We don't have healthy ways to air differences of opinion. In fact, many people consider differences to equal conflict. There needs to be a reframe on how we view it.

It's so important to look past the issue and to the person. Fundamentally, we all have some level of sameness. If you can find a connection, and talk human-to-human, you can avoid falling into the trap of getting hung up on the differences. Curiosity helps, too. Consider why the person has their opposing point of view, What's their background and experience? Why is their lens so different from yours? If you can be curious instead of defensive, you might learn something about them you never knew before that could deepen the relationship.

Shutterstock: Man and woman having an argument and not looking at each other

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SH: How can our lives improve when we learn to communicate effectively with others?

BF: Life is so much richer when we aren't cut off from others and spending our time being upset, or avoiding someone, or dreading communication with them. You start to see that—at a basic level—we are all more same than different, and you become interested in the differences instead of upset by them. You cease to have many "difficult" people in your life and you don't spend as much emotional or mental energy on the negativity. Your energy is freed up for things you actually enjoy!


SH: What are your top tips for becoming a more effective communicator?

BF: One, don't assume you know what others mean just because you would mean that, or say that, or approach something a certain way. Two, work to be an active listener—with empathy. Give someone your full attention. Don't get distracted and lose your focus. Third, develop an attitude of interest. Instead of being right or dominant in a conversation, be open and curious.

Shutterstock: Group of friends chatting talking and listening

(via Shutterstock)


SH: What advice do you have for becoming a better listener?

BF: Focus, focus, focus. You can't binge-watch TV, check Instagram, talk to your brother and be on the phone with someone and think you are really  "listening" to them! If you want to be a better listener—like strengthening a muscle at the gym on a workout machine—it takes practice, discipline and focus.


SH: What else do you think is crucial to communication?

BF: The problem of assumptions, thinking you "know" what someone is thinking or feeling or why they are doing something, is dangerous. Don't put people in boxes because you don't like their approach or their style. Learn to be more accepting of differences. You do not have to like everyone and be their friend, you just need to understand they might be different for their own reasons and it's okay. You might miss out on a great relationship because on the surface you disregarded someone.


Still figuring out your life? Click HERE to find out how embracing your flaws and practicing self-compassion will improve you.