Top of Page

Communication Skills - Tips

By Nancy Schein

If you have something important to communicate, it’s a good idea to be prepared. The following quote is from Harriet Lerner’s Dance of Connection: “In many situations, wisdom lies in being strategic rather than spontaneous. This is especially true when we’re dealing with a difficult person, a hot issue, or a tense situation. The enormous challenge is to make wise decisions about how and when to say what to whom, and even before that, to know what we really want to say and what we hope to accomplish by saying it.” We don’t usually plan to end up in a screaming match with someone – it seems like we just got carried away. Being prepared and planning to stay calm can do wonders diffusing difficult situations.

If you don’t have time to plot a strategy – as is the case most of the time in daily life – use the following as guidelines when dealing with angry and/or upset people:

  • Behave/react gently.
  • Err on the side of kindness.
  • Act as you would like to be treated if the roles were reversed.
  • Give the benefit of the doubt — there's ample time later to be angry!
  • Don't expect others to change there behavior.
  • Allow that the upset person may have problems or issues completely unrelated to you that are driving their bad behavior.
  • People are usually shouting for themselves not at you.
  • To solve problems, say things in ways that people will be able to hear them.  For example, although you may want to say, "What, ar you nuts?" or "What's wrong with you?" instead try, "Can we take a minute to clarify things?  I really want to sort this out."  Making angry statements causes people to shut down and not listen to you anymore.  Be generous and showing someone you would like to work things out will work wonders.

Changing our behavior and our reactions takes time and can be difficult. If you slip up and say something you wish you hadn’t, next time work on having more control over your speech.

If you look deeply into behavior, people are ultimately just trying to find happiness.  Keep this in mind, even when their methods are offensive. At one time or another, we have all tried to get our needs met by acting in ways that others considered harmful or painful. Just as we didn’t know a better way to act, we didn’t see the harm in what we were doing, we didn’t have self-control, or we thought there was no other way, the upset person is in one of those similar states of mind.

The following authors have written fine books on improving communication:


Tannen, Deborah
You Just Don’t Understand
That’s Not What I Meant!
Talking From 9 to 5
I Only Say This Because I Love You


Lerner, Harriet Goldhor
Dance of Anger
Dance of Intimacy
Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, or Desperate.