Have you ever been in a situation where your brain and mouth did not connect before blurting out something shocking? Blame it on the spontaneity of the moment or what I call, foot in mouth disease. It is the end of the year and we all are working hard and just a little stressed. How does one come back from an emotional blurt out? Seriously we see politicians do it all the time.
Communication is more than just exchanging information. Effective communication is a two-way street. It’s not only how you convey a message it’s how it is understood by someone the way you intended. More than just the words you use, effective communication combines nonverbal communication, such as:
- Engaged listening
- Managing stress in the moment
- The ability to communicate assertively
- The capacity to recognize and understand your own emotions and those of the person you’re communicating with.
Effective communication is a learned skill, it is more effective when it’s spontaneous rather than formulaic. A speech that is read, for example, rarely has the same impact as a speech that’s delivered (or appears to be delivered) spontaneously. Of course, it takes time and effort to develop these skills to become an effective communicator. The more effort and practice you put in, the more instinctive your communication skills will become and hopefully protect you from foot in mouth disease.
Here is how to avoid the dreaded foot in mouth disease.
Stress and out-of-control emotion.
When you’re stressed or emotionally overwhelmed, you’re more likely to misread other people, send confusing or off-putting nonverbal signals, and lapse into unhealthy knee-jerk patterns of behavior. Take a moment to calm down before continuing a conversation.
Lack of focus. You can’t communicate effectively when you’re multitasking. If you’re planning what you’re going to say next, daydreaming, checking text messages, or thinking about something else, you’re almost certain to miss nonverbal cues in the conversation. You need to stay focused on the moment-to-moment experience.
Inconsistent body language.
Nonverbal communication should reinforce what is being said, not contradict it. If you say one thing, but your body language says something else, your listener will likely feel you’re being dishonest. For example, you can’t say “yes” while shaking your head no.
Negative body language.
If you disagree with or dislike what’s being said, you may use negative body language to rebuff the other person’s message, such as crossing your arms, avoiding eye contact, or tapping your feet. You don’t have to agree, or even like what’s being said, but to communicate effectively without making the other person defensive, it’s important to avoid sending negative signals.
How do you redeem yourself?
One way is to practice staying calm under pressure.
Use stall tactics to give yourself time to think. Such as having a question repeated, or ask for clarification of a statement before responding.
Pause to collect your thoughts. Silence isn’t necessarily a bad thing—pausing can make you seem more in control than rushing your response. It also allows you to gauge others following your initial comment.
Deliver your words clearly. In many cases, how you say something can be as important as what you say. Speak clearly, maintain an even tone, and make eye contact. Keep your body language relaxed and open. Wrap up with a summary and then stop. Summarize your response and then stop talking, even if it leaves a silence in the room. You don’t have to fill the silence by continuing to talk.
You may not be able to take your foot out of your mouth from a previous discussion without clarification later which endangers you for discussion of that same topic; however, it’s your decision to let it stay or redirect. As my Mom use to say, sometimes it’s best to let the dead dog lie. Which basically means, leave it alone, what’s done is done.
What tactics do you use when you suffer from foot in mouth disease? Do you naturally use the above tips or is this something you’ve learned over time? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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