“That’s not what I said.”
“Did you hear me?”
“You know what I meant.”
Communication is key to being a good friend, partner, and leader, but sometimes, that’s easier said than done. And let’s face it, like mistakes, misunderstandings are a part of life. Luckily though, you can practice and work at becoming a better communicator to minimize those crossed signals. Read on for four practical tips on effectively communicating with girls of any age.
1. Listen to understand, not to reply.
Giving a girl your full attention shows her that you care about what she’s thinking and what she has to say. Hearing what’s being said is just part of the equation though—if you find yourself formulating a response or a bit of advice to give her while she’s still talking, then you’re not fully listening to her.
When it seems like she’s done talking, instead of immediately trying to problem solve, paraphrase what she just said (and any emotions she might have been conveying). For example, you might say, “Your friends didn’t wait for you outside math class to walk to lunch together. When you got to the cafeteria, there wasn’t room to sit at their table and it made you feel sad and left out. Is that what happened?” Give her a chance to correct you if your observations weren’t quite right.
2. Monitor your tone.
You’ve heard it before—it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. The same words (“Thanks a lot, that was helpful!”) can have completely different meanings if they’re said sarcastically, or if they’re spoken in a warm and friendly manner. This might be hard, especially if you’re talking to a girl and she shares some information that you might not agree with—or approve of. Take a deep breath before you reply. Speaking with a civil and reasonable tone will help you be heard and keep the channels of communication open—much more so than saying something in annoyance or irritation.
3. Keep it simple and positive.
When you’re making a request, keep it brief. Young kids especially can become overwhelmed if they’re given too many directions at once. If you have multiple instructions, break them into chunks, and dole them out step-by-step. (“Can you help me put the silly putty back?” then, “Let’s wipe down the table with a wet cloth.”) Also, instead of telling girls what not to do, focus on what they can do. (Not, “Don’t run!” but “Walking feet inside, please!”)
4. Be on her side.
If a girl thinks that you’ll only listen to her or offer support if she’s “good,” then she’ll be less likely to go to you if she has a major problem or feels like she really messed up. But you can disapprove of her actions or decisions and still want to work with her to find a resolution. After all, respect is a two-way street. You want your girls to respect and listen to you—but they also want you to respect them and feel like they’re worthy of being heard.
Remember, when you model how to effectively communicate with others, your girls pick up on the skills you’ve displayed and become better communicators themselves.
Lily Yu – Lily is a Volunteer Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. In her free time, Lily enjoys going for long runs, reading, and spending time with her family (including her five-year-old daughter who’ll be a Daisy this year!).