Healthy communication is the cornerstone of cultivating and sustaining healthy relationships. We connect and express ourselves through the spoken and written word, which ultimately allows us to develop our “voice” in the world.
How well you communicate directly correlates with how understood and heard you feel by the response you receive from the other end of the dialogue.
When it comes to communicating through text or email, the rules and guidelines for good communication don’t change. The integrity of your words should remain the same, and all the skills and etiquette you would apply in real life need to be applied.
Words are powerful with or without the voice, and it’s even more important to be clear when the tone is absent. Words are vulnerable to being twisted and misconstrued when they lack intonation and human expression.
How many times have you sent an email or text to someone only to find that they have completely misinterpreted or misread what you were trying to say? Your correspondence with others reflects your ability to express yourself in real time, so if you struggle with getting your point across in general, you will most likely bump into obstacles when trying to do it through the written word.
Whether you are writing a work email, communicating with your Ex about something uncomfortable, or responding to a difficult situation, here are 5 skills to help you draft better correspondence.
These are skills that work both on and off the computer or smartphone and should be applied in any conversation that requires a delicate touch.
1. Make sure your intention is clear
In any correspondence, you always want to make your intention clear. There is usually one point you want to get across, but if you just let your words flow without much reflection you are bound to step on a landmine. Before you even start drafting clarify your ultimate intention. Is it to get the person to do something? Are you looking for an answer or response? Do you want an apology? Knowing what you are hoping to get will increase your chances of actually achieving that goal. Asking, “what is my intention?” is a good practice before beginning any conversation.
2. Establish boundaries
Believe it or not, boundaries can be conveyed as much through written word as they can in person. A boundary is a clear line defining what you are willing to accept or tolerate, and what is too much. Boundaries are conveyed through language like “I can’t allow you to…” or “I cannot accept the fact that…”
Boundaries can also come from your strong belief in how you feel. This is different than needing to be right, it’s more about being very clear that your experience is valid and true for you. This works when you are being accused of something or blamed for something you don’t feel you did. A response to this might look something like “I appreciate your perspective, but I am confident that this isn’t true for me…”
Using language that conveys a sense of empathy in your correspondence is always a good practice. Everyone wants to feel acknowledged and understood on some level, so you will need to pause and understand where the other person is coming from. Even if you don’t agree, it’s always a good idea to say that you can understand why or how they see things the way they do, and to let them know that you understand their position on the issues at hand.
Empathy is diffuser in communication, and it can calm even the most upset person. Look at it like a virtual hug. Empathy is contagious, and it’s hard to respond to it in a negative way.
In any two-way conversation, there are always two opinions, two perspectives, and two subjective experiences. It’s rarely always the other person. Being accountable to how you might have contributed to the breakdown of what is happening, or acknowledging that you didn’t communicate well is a great habit to develop. Stepping back and asking yourself how you could have done things differently will help you clarify your point as well. Simply writing something like “I recognize that I have some responsibility in this situation…” opens up space for the other person to do the same.
5. Always maintain integrity
The written word can be as much a trigger as speaking with someone in person. There are some situations where even the most skillfully drafted communication will still ignite a negative response from the other party. If you are dealing with verbal attacks, and you know you aren’t going to get anywhere step out of the power struggle and end it with integrity. This is a graceful exit without being pulled down to the other person’s level.
Stepping out requires letting go of needing to feel validated or heard, and accepting that this person simply cannot engage on a healthy and productive level. This is a great practice in both virtual and real life because it shows you that you are always in control of how you feel, and how you respond.