Prevention Talk; February 2020
Helen M. Exum, Senior Prevention Educator
Twin County Recovery Services, Inc.
Better Communication for Better Lives
The Too Good for Violence program consists of four interconnected strands Conflict Resolution, Anger Management, Respect for Self and Others and Effective Communication. Within each of these major areas are five to six subsets related to the main concept. This month I would like to return to the topic of communication as a prevention tool. The ability to communicate our thoughts, opinions, and feelings is crucial to being able to develop and maintain relationships, resolve conflicts, manage our anger, and understand others. Teaching young people good communication skills is a vital part of the prevention program because it is the vehicle by which we interact with others. Too Good for Violence devotes a great deal of time and attention to helping kids learn and practice age appropriate communication skills in every grade. Students must understand the impact each of the three communication styles, passive, assertive, aggressive, has on others. Furthermore, they must learn that the style we use determines consequences, how we are perceived and responded to. Discussions and role play further enhance the learning experience allowing the students to experience and evaluate each style in an atmosphere of learning and safety thereby gaining insight into potential consequences in specific situations. We know that events can trigger certain thoughts and feelings which can affect our behavior. Managing and effectively expressing feelings in positive ways is imperative if we are to successfully navigate life.
When asked to define communication most students immediately respond, “It’s talking”. But communication is so much more. It’s the complicated interplay of verbal and non- verbal signals that must be skillfully interpreted for mutual understanding to be accomplished. Tone of voice, body language and facial expressions can negate or confirm words., even send messages independently of language. Each participant in an exchange is sending non-verbal cues to the other person. The challenge is to interpret what the person’s face, body language and tone of voice are saying. How are these factors contributing to the intent of the message? The interpretation is key in determining the response. Body language is such a fundamental piece in this complex process that emojis were designed to aid in texting emotions accurately.
The two roles in communication are the “Speaker” and the “Listener”. Each has a specific job. The speaker’s job is to send clear messages, the listener is to listen interpret and respond. The role of the listener is equal in importance to the speaker’s role since the goal of communication is to send and receive messages. Sounds deceptively simple. Our goal as prevention educators is to teach the students how to be both good speakers and listeners and to be cognizant of all those roles demand, which is a great deal. Many people take for granted that we can effectively execute those roles. But do we really? How often do we ask, “Are you listening?” or demand that someone listen. How many misunderstandings happen because someone hasn’t clearly communicated a message or carefully listened? Have we failed to ask clarifying questions before we jumped to conclusions or lost our tempers? The bottom line is good communication requires clarity on the part of the speaker and active attention on the part of the listener and good will on everyone’s part. An exchange between a clear speaker and an inattentive listener or a vague speaker and an attentive listener results in a breakdown in the process. Messages can be short circuited, misinterpreted or hit a dead end. When communication fails violence fills the gap.
Personal relationships flourish or wither depending on the quality of the communication between the individuals involved.