Civility:Thoughts on positive communication

Respectful listening

Positive communication is the ability to share thoughts, feelings and ideas in a non-verbal and verbal respectful exchange. The responsibility of the speaker is to communicate to be understood — not just to communicate. It is about the other person. The speaker needs to convey his or her feelings, wants, needs and purpose of the discussion while avoiding blame, shame and criticism. By using tact, kindness and consideration, he or she will have an active and caring listener.

The responsibility of the listener is to understand the other person's position. Interrupting the speaker is acceptable if the purpose is to further and clarify understanding, or to connect to what the speaker is saying. "Am I understanding you?" and "Tell me more," furthers comprehension. Restating the message and confirming understanding and feelings are the responsibilities of the listener. It is important for the speaker when the message is understood and respectful listening occurs.

Communication is an important art to learn. It can be used in connecting with others in positive relationships. Small-talk knowledge is essential, as it often occurs with strangers and casual acquaintances, and at business and social events.

Mutual sharing enhances communication. If you meet someone at a social function, ask about the person's family, hobbies and interests. Ask who and how the person knows the host/hostess of the party. Then you may share how you know them. People love the fact that you are interested.

Listen carefully to the answers. You can always expand the conversation with experiences of your own. Conversation should always be two-sided — not just with one person listening. Be a specialist and a generalist. Answer questions with kindness, not just with "yes" or "no." The final goal is to respect differences in opinions, to understand each other and to be understood.

Listening requires attentiveness and validation of your conversational partner's thoughts, feelings and ideas. President Clinton treated each person as if they were the only person in the room. He has a gift for treating others as if they are important and valuable. Concentrate, care and stay in the moment. Be genuine, kind and respectful. Give others a chance to contribute. People will want to be around you.

Communication requires diplomacy, sensitivity and consideration. Use restraint and measure your words. Stop and think before you talk, especially if what you're about to say might be hurtful. Let others know the gifts that you see in them. Everyone needs to be acknowledged and appreciated.

DIANA OLSON, MA AICI CIP, is an etiquette & civility specialist/image stylist. Diana is available for private consultations and seminars. Contact her at (626) 584-9761, or e-mail

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