Every act of communication we have works to either build or tear down a relationship. It takes little time to make an impression and serious commitment to maintain a positive one. You have the power to choose the impressions you leave on others. Civil discourse and friendly conversation help to positively shape our identities. Similarly, crass language and lackluster communication sticks to our reputation like old gum. Our words often carry more power than we ascribe them.
As you grow older, you will come to realize that you are responsible for other people’s opinions of you. Keeping an eye on how you converse with others will help you protect your reputation, develop your shortcomings, and own your words. Despite your best efforts, you don’t always say exactly what you mean. Nobody does. Luckily, there are tricks to help us keep our values aligned with the words we allow to escape our mouths.
Before you open your mouth, have a firm understanding of what you intend to accomplish by speaking. We have all been told to think before we speak. We can also remember those embarrassing moments when we don’t think and make absolute fools of ourselves instead. If you don’t know what you want to accomplish by speaking, then don’t say anything.
Speak honestly. If what you intend to say is rooted in your own personal opinions or emotions, be sure to phrase it as such. One of the biggest mistakes adults make is projecting their own opinions as facts. Root your statements with yourself. Use “I” statements; I feel…, I think…, I believe…. You will save yourself from sounding aggressive or accusatory in your responses to others.
Always leave room to be wrong about your opinions or judgments. Nobody is right all of the time. Don’t make the mistake of allow your judgments to blanket the valid opinions of others. At the same time, always have the courage to say what is on your mind.
Ask questions. Questions show that you are engaged with the other person and interested in their perspective. When discussing controversial topics, questions are safer than statements. Likewise, be sure to answer questions when they are asked of you.
Listen actively to what others are saying. Don’t simply wait for your turn to speak. Allow others the opportunity to further develop their ideas. Our opinions are affected by the opinions of others. Giving other people room to explore their own ideas can determine how you perceive and articulate your own.
Mind your body language. Kind words mean nothing when they are backed up with “I-hate-you” eyebrows, crossed arms, or a complete lack of eye contact.
Most importantly, have a good sense of humor. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. Never fall victim to the idea that you are better than others or that others are better than you. Keeping a happy disposition and being able to laugh at yourself will keep you from getting overwhelmed or stressed.