The first step to effective interpersonal communication is turning off your “buttons.” Your buttons are the little, or not so little, things that another person can say or do that cause you to lose your temper. It might make you angry every time you hear the term, “pro-choice,” or every time someone implies that you can’t do something because you’re too young, too old, or female. When someone does something that threatens you (intellectually, emotionally, or physically) your fight-or-flight response kicks in. Your breathing gets shallow, your heart rate goes up, and, along with many other things, you can’t think rationally.
There are at least three good ways to turn your buttons off–use all three at once whenever you can:
- Decide – make a conscious decision to remain calm. You need to make a conscious decision not to react emotionally when someone pushes one of your buttons. This is very difficult, and no one can do this all the time.
- Breathe – take a deep breath. This will turn off your fight-or-flight response for a few seconds.
- See the other person as a five year old child who is frightened or in pain. Most of the time when people behave badly, the bad behavior originates from fear or pain. They’re afraid that they’re going to lose money or get a bad grade, or they grew up with someone who constantly said they were dumb, so any message that they interpret as a challenge to their intelligence makes them defensive. When you realize that their behavior doesn’t originate with you, it’s easier to turn your buttons off and react with kindness rather than anger.
You need to avoid pushing the other person’s buttons through respect for audience. As we discussed in the “Persuading” section, when you approach others with the idea that they are intelligent and their opinions are as valid as yours and when you LISTEN, you will communicate well.
Be assertive. A passive person accepts everything without question. Eventually, passive behavior creates resentment that can result in the passive person exploding. Aggressive people bully everyone into accepting their way. Aggressive people cause conflict, aren’t told the truth by others because they make those others too uncomfortable, and their wishes are undermined when they aren’t present. Assertive people calmly insist—and this is most effective most of the time. But, we live in the real world, and we all know that aggressive behavior sometimes gets results when being assertive didn’t. It’s fine to be aggressive at times as long as you understand the consequences—you lose respect and credibility. So being aggressive at Best Buy might work well—you never have to go to that store again, and if you do, there probably won’t be any of the same people working. But hesitate to be aggressive with co-workers; you might win the battle, but they will remember your behavior the next time your paths cross.
Staying cool wins you the unconscious battle most of the time. Regardless of who is right, we are deeply conditioned to think that the calm, reasonable person is right. So if the other person loses his or her temper and you don’t, that other person is likely to come back a few hours or days later, apologize and grant some of your requests. This isn’t always true. Sometimes reacting emotionally gets others to pay attention when they wouldn’t have otherwise. But, if you want to be effective, you must only occasionally react emotionally, or you will be ignored as the person who always flies off the handle.
When you need to make a good impression, practice appropriate self-disclosure. We’ve all run into people who offer way too much information in a casual conversation—we always think they’re a bit thick and a bit crazy. We meet others who won’t say anything—we might conclude that they’re shy, snobbish, angry, etc. But whatever we conclude won’t be positive. If you’re applying for a job or making a sales call it’s important that you offer approximately the same amount of personal information that the other person offers—reciprocate. The other person will conclude that you’re friendly and intelligent.
This is a very simple overview of interpersonal communication.