Sometimes it can be hard to say how we really feel, and it can be even harder to say it in a way that ensures we're genuinely heard by others. Our words get misperceived, misunderstood, or worse, ignored, and we end up feeling totally and completely frustrated.
I've found that truly being heard by others is usually much less about what we say and way more about how we say it. I've seen conversations in the work place or between friends become completely derailed by little things like tone or phrasing, and valid opinions and good ideas get unnecessarily ignored.
And I've personally gotten into some pretty big fights in life — especially in relationships — when either myself or my partner attempted to be open or honest. Invariably, one of us would say something, the other person would get defensive and lash out, and the entire conversation would devolve into a petty argument. It wasn't until I eventually read a book about positive communication that I was able to start seeing patterns in my own life and the things I was doing to prevent myself from being heard.
And change definitely wasn't easy. It often took a lot of self-control and doing and saying things that went against my own first instincts, like not raising my voice the second I got annoyed. But in the end, it definitely has helped and I often don't just feel heard — I feel understood. If you've been struggling with effective communication and want your ideas to be recognized, here are 11 super effective ways to state your opinions.
1. Watch Your "Yous"
In a piece for Psychology Today by psychotherapist Mel Schwartz, Schwartz reminded us to watch our use of the word "you," as it instantly puts others on the defensive. For example, "You never contribute," sounds completely different from, "I feel like you don't want to help." There's a reason we were taught to use "I feel" statements in grade school — they genuinely make a huge difference when it comes to effective communication.
2. Think About The Preface
Schwartz also recommended thinking about the preface of what we're going to say, as it can set the tone for the whole conversation and instantly engage the other person. For example, instead of jumping right into whatever's on your mind try starting with, "I'm kind of confused by something, and I'm hoping you can help," or, "Something's really been bothering me lately and I'm hoping we can talk about it."
3. Call Out The Elephant In The Room
In a piece for Forbes, executive consultant and leadership coach Kristi Hedges recommended calling out the elephant in the room if you want to instantly be heard — especially in the work place. "If there’s an issue everyone is avoiding, see that as an opportunity. Bringing it up with your signature thoughtfulness could be the perfect way for you to be heard – and make a memorable impression," Hedges noted. I personally always found that being the "voice of truth" in meetings also made people really value my opinions.
4. Admit Blame
In a piece for the Harvard Business Review, communication author Amy Gallo stressed the importance of admitting blame when you want others to register what you're saying. You can start off the conversation with, "I know I've been distant lately" or, "I know I could have done more to help this week." This way you'll instantly diffuse any potential tension, which helps the other person become more receptive to what you're going to say.
5. Watch Your Body Language
Gallo also noted the importance of being aware of your body language. "A lot of people unconsciously convey nonverbal messages. Are you slumping your shoulders? Rolling your eyes? Fidgeting with your pen? During your conversation, pay attention to your facial expression, arms, legs, and entire body, and take stock of the overall impression you’re giving," Gallo wrote.
6. Stay Calm
This one is a personal tip. Letting our emotions get the best of us can create a ton of communication problems, especially when we're angry. Raising our voices or appearing visibly frustrated will instantly put others on the defensive and ensure that they're not receptive to our points or ideas, even if we're technically in the right. If you know you have a tendency to let your emotions get the best of you, try taking a few minutes, or even hours, to collect yourself before you begin the conversation.
On her website, leadership coach Judy Ringer stressed the importance of listening when you're trying to be heard. She noted that as counterintuitive as it may seem, sometimes others are most receptive to what you have to say when they feel like they've gotten the opportunity to tell you what they have to say. So be patient, let them vent, and then use the opportunity to voice your side.
8. Time It Right
In a piece for Entrepreneur, entrepreneur and management professor Charlie Harary reminded us to be mindful of when you broach your opinions with others. If a boss seems over-stretched and short on time, it's probably not the best time to approach. If a coworker just gave a big presentation, they likely won't yet be receptive to constructive feedback. Be strategic about when you decide to communicate for best results.
9. Focus On Actions, Not The Person
Harary also stressed the importance of how you word your opinions. For example, if you're giving feedback to a friend about something they've written, don't say, "You seem lazy," but instead, "The essay needs more editing." Remember, it's all about keeping people off of the defensive and open to your words.
10. Avoid Generalizing
A compilation piece for Forbes on giving constructive feedback recommended avoiding generalizations, like, "You never clean," or, "You're always late." Instead, try using specific examples that actually get others thinking about their actions, like, "I cleaned the bathroom the last two times," or, "I'm feeling frustrated because I've had to wait for over 30 minutes the last several times we've hung out." This way you can keep the conversation specific and are less likely to seem like you're exaggerating.
We've all felt ignored or like we're not really being heard at one point or another. Just remember that being understood is often about strategic communication and ensuring that you're putting yourself in the other person's shoes. Once you have this down, you'll likely notice a huge difference in how receptive others are to your ideas.