OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH others greatly influence many aspects of our lives. The essence of these relationships is communication. Most of us probably feel that we communicate just fine on a daily basis. Someone gives us the greetings, and we offer greetings in return. We go on to make small talk, make promises to engage in further communication at some later date, and end with wishes of peace. This is okay. It does qualify as communication; however, communication can be much more complex than this very simple exchange.
There are times when regardless of how close two people may be, communication somehow becomes blocked. This is where the real trouble can set in.
Two university roommates with an agreement to alternately wash the dishes each week could easily experience an episode of blocked communication. Perhaps it is Roommate A’s week to do the dishes. She may have every intention of getting them done, but an increase in her work schedule coupled with exam finals takes precedence. Roommate B simply knows that the dishes are spilling over in the sink and is livid. A confrontation ensues, hurtful things are said, and before you know it, two good friends are barely on speaking terms. This type of argument has occurred repeatedly between husbands and wives, coworkers, business partners— anyone with a need to communicate.
Developing effective tools for communication is essential to maintaining all of our interpersonal relationships. When we repeatedly engage in ineffective communication with one another, we run the risk of permanently damaging our important relationships. Many factors affect whether or not we will be effective in our communication efforts with others:
Personal Factors: Mood, energy level/fatigue, and body language.
Environmental Factors: Noise, temperature, and other distractions.
In our efforts to maintain positive communication with one another, we must remember to respect each other, whether we agree or not.
Are You Listening?
The most important part of good communication is being a good listener. Active listening sends a message to others that you sincerely want to understand what is being said, and that the person speaking is important to you. When you are listening to someone during a discussion of any kind, it is impolite to interrupt; even if you feel what is being said may be untrue. You should continue listening carefully and wait until the other person has finished having their say. While listening, make certain that your body language is not giving the impression of your being uninterested, bored or closed off to new ideas. You also must guard against not listening to the other person while internally rehearsing what you will say when it is your turn to speak. Show your interest and respect with eye contact, and a pleasant speaking voice.
One way to ensure that a calm discussion doesn’t escalate into a raging battle is to make sure that you are listening to understand rather than just to provide an answer. Active listening along with comforting, reassuring words can help strengthen any relationship. This allows the other person to believe that you are able to see things from their perspective.
Empathetic understanding will not be sincere if you are experiencing intense emotions like anger, fear, or excitement. These kinds of emotions cause us to say and/or do things that may cause irreparable damage. Allah, in his infinite wisdom, cautions us to rise above such emotions as anger, which can distort our reality in very negative ways:
… [those] who restrain anger and pardon [all] men—for Allah loves those who do good. [SûraT Âl ʿImrân, 3:134]
When feelings are intense, we often get caught up attempting to defend our own position first rather than hear about the other person’s concerns. It’s important to calm your emotions and remember to listen carefully with an open mind.
This type of listening is a skill not easily put into practice. It requires quite a bit of emotional control. One recommendation is to practice non-defensive listening when the atmosphere is relaxed. Eventually, it will become easier to employ this skill when confronting a problem or conflict that must be resolved.
Trying to Understand
When you take the time to understand what it is that others are trying to say, it can actually help them to better understand you as well. When we receive a kind, understanding ear, we are often more than willing to reciprocate. This is where active listening skills come into play. An obstacle to better understanding can occur when we decide in advance that what someone is saying to us is not important. Once you make this decision, you will probably stop listening and tune out of the conversation. Doing so could mean that you will miss an opportunity to learn something, or strengthen a relationship. Harboring preconceived ideas about what someone is saying is a very common communication block. A key to avoiding these blocks is to keep an open mind. That way you are prepared to really listen and possibly learn something new.
When you are speaking to someone about a very important topic, whether it’s a spouse, client, or boss, it is important to maintain eye contact throughout the conversation. Eye contact reassures the person speaking that you are listening and establishes trust in a relationship. Asking questions is another important aspect of effective communication. It accomplishes several things: It keeps you fully engaged in the content of the subject, is another way of showing the speaker that you are truly listening, and it helps the speaker clarify what he/she is attempting to tell you. Once the speaker has answered your question, you can further exemplify your understanding by paraphrasing—repeating back in your own words what the speaker has said. This is a very validating gesture.
The Best of Examples
Allah has provided His followers with one of the best examples of an effective communicator through Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. His communicating skills allowed him to effectively live the revelation of Allah and offer guidance to countless men and women who came to obey his words, and eventually to become firm followers of Islam. He exemplified gentle, tactful speech toward others, did not speak out of turn, and was masterful in maintaining his emotions, especially anger. His kind empathy and understanding drew people to him. He did not judge or criticize others, regardless of their personal circumstances when they sought his guidance. He kept an open mind to ensure that he gave the best advice.
We should remember to look to his example when correcting or improving our own communication skills within our personal and social networks.