3 Tips for More Powerful CommunicationMar 15, 2023
Neurodiversity & Communication
It's estimated that by age 12, children with ADHD receive 20,000 more negative and corrective messages from teachers, parents, and other adults than their peers, siblings and friends without it.
Off the cuff remarks, sly comments and labels of “dumb”, "messy", “lazy”, “weird”, "too much" and “not even trying” alongside frustrated tones and feeling like people "give up" on you can all become routine. Additional communication and processing differences can mean people with neurodivergence feel out of place, like a nuisance and unworthy.
The shame many people with neurodiversity carry can dramatically impact self-esteem, communication style and relationships. Unless intentionally and actively addressed and countered, the hangover of this can last a life time. How we communicate matters.
Why Does Communication Matter?
Neurodiversity Celebration Week is a great time to consider how we can all adjust our tone and approach with not only children but other adults, regardless of whether they are or aren't neurodivergent. Learning to celebrate our differences starts with creating space for them.
Repairing relationship styles and healthy communication happens in relationship. This means we need the space and situations to practise and learn through past behaviours or experiences. What was broken in relationship, heals in relationship.
We all come from different backgrounds and experiences, and all have an incredible power in how we influence one another's days. Effective communication can be healing and the cornerstone of healthy relationships, successful collaborations, and overall happiness.
It's not always easy to communicate effectively, and neurodiversity isn't the only influencing factor, especially in today's fast-paced world where distractions and misunderstandings are everywhere. Learning better communication skills takes time and practise, including patient and accommodating relationships (of all kinds) that allow for this growth. Communication is powerful.
3 Tips for More Powerful Communication
1. Tone It Respectfully
Tone matters. So do the words you choose. Expecting others to "know what you mean" then becoming frustrated when they don't doesn't allow for individuals in the dynamic. Words and tone carry meaning, which can represent different things to different people.
When communicating, consider the potential weight of your tone and words - or risk representing a fleeting emotion your later regret or something other than what you mean, potentially derailing progress. When emotions become increasingly heightened, it's harder to be objective.
A frustrated tone or snappy comment doesn't just communicate dissatisfaction, but often judgement, disapproval and lack of care. But kinder tones can be constructive and supportive, leading to a better conversation and outcomes. Not being conscious of your tone or how your words may impact someone can mean that while you speak, you won't always be heard.
Resorting to sarcasm, insults, or condescending tones can damage relationships, shut down productive conversations and increase risk of conflict. Instead, use "I" statements to express your thoughts and feelings, and avoid making assumptions about the other person's intentions.
2. Listen Actively
Active listening is crucial for effective communication, requiring attention to words, tone, body language, and emotions. It's vital to show the other person that you value their perspective and that you're invested in the conversation, helping convey respect and fostering empathy, but can be challenging in tense or emotional situations.
When tensions rise or emotions become heightened and potential "threats" are perceived active listening can get tricky, for example if someone feels defensive or attacked. Processing difficult situations, misunderstandings and increased stakes can all have an impact on our ability to actively listen.
If you feel unheard, ask questions to clarify and address misunderstandings. Pausing to ask "could you explain what you think I'm saying or is happening here?" or "what's making this conversation difficult for you?" can give an opportunity to spot what may be causing friction so you can both resume the original conversation with greater clarity*.
To improve your active listening skills, be aware of your emotions, breathe deeply, focus on the speaker, avoid interrupting, ask questions, and paraphrase their message to demonstrate that you've understood their message and are actively engaged in the conversation.
*Does this sound like effort? Yeah, it is. The type of effort progressive relational health requires. If you're not in a place to offer this, and the other person is also stressed, consider taking a break from the conversation to regroup.
3. Practice Empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Practicing empathy in communication leads to better connection with others on a deeper level and helps us build stronger relationships. Empathy involves putting yourself in the other person's shoes, trying to see the situation from their perspective, and responding in a way that acknowledges their feelings.
To practice empathy, start by actively listening to the other person and paying attention to their emotions - recognise them as a whole human being separate to you. Try to imagine how you would feel in their situation, and respond in a way that shows you understand their perspective. Acknowledge their emotions, and validate their feelings, even if you don't necessarily agree with their point of view.
Empathy isn't just a cognitive exercise of "I said I understand" but a relationship skill. It helps connect us to other people and show respect for their experiences. Empathy is a practise that we all have different capacities for. To improve on and expand your own, work on self-compassion - as expanding your own emotional capacity can help you provide this care and space to others. Alternatively, for some with too much empathy that it becomes disruptive for them, practising boundaries is the way to go.
NB: None of this is to say these are always easy or effortless to employ, especially in meaningful, intimate and close relationships. But, the juice is worth the squeeze - even if it takes practise.
Making the Investment
Becoming defensive or "triggered" in a conversation, especially with loved ones, is incredibly common given what some can represent. Emotions are not the problem, but rather what we do with them. Practising compassion for yourself and your loved ones can mean not expecting perfection, but instead working toward improving your skillset together. These can also be gifts we give those we're in community with, as it contributes to wider relational health.
Remember, communication is a two-way street, and both parties must be willing to respect, listen, and understand each other's perspectives to build deeper connections - give people opportunities to learn and grow, instead of writing them off. In all areas, effective communication takes intentional and considerable time, energy and practise. The investment is worth the pay off.
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