When you have visible trials in your life people ask you how you are doing a lot more often. Learning effective communication is essential in getting along with family members, friends and perfect strangers.
When someone asks you how you are doing with whatever it is that is going on in your life, learning how to share just enough, but not too much, is good to know.
Sharing the facts: You do have to gauge whether that person really cares about the details or just wants a basic overview. Some people see that there is something wrong with your son and just want to know why he is acting that way and is so behind. Some people just want the facts and don't know how to listen or understand the emotions and don't necessarily want to hear them. But remember that just because someone can't handle emotions well, doesn't mean they don't care about you. (For me, I almost have to practice an un-emotional response to people. It isn't easy for me to explain situations just in terms of facts and latest happenings, while separating the feelings and emotions associated with them) Learning and practicing how to share the facts with others in a summarized way, can be very helpful.
Sharing emotions and feelings: It takes a greater deal of courage for some to share emotions and feelings, but if you share them with people who really care, it can be an experience that will draw you much closer. Some people do want to hear the emotions, so they can empathize and draw closer to you. You have to know how to respond to both kinds of people. (I am pretty good at sharing emotions and feelings, (my husband will second that notion!!) but I often have a hard time summarizing them, no one wants a long drawn out sob story. So I've been getting better at sharing a picture of our thoughts, feelings and struggles in a summarized way. I've shared feelings with people who are not responsive or empathetic and it can feel awkward and empty.) If a person is unsure how someone will handle their tender emotions, they can share a small amount and see how they respond. If they do not listen or empathize well, then that person can simply stick with the facts.
Learning to share in both of the above ways is important for a well-rounded individual who can communicate with many different people.
Basics of Communication:
Both parties should share at about the same level. If you don't know each other well, sticking with just the facts and getting to know the other person is how it should start.
Family and friends with good communication will know how to listen well and share experiences on both sides. They will also respect opinions, rather then taking them personally. That is one important way family and friends create a close bond with one another.
Communication is give and take. Both parties should share back and forth. (If I tell someone something that is important to me and they just say "oh", it may not be a satisfying interaction.)
(I've been thinking about listening effectively and it's consequences...I'd love to improve in the following areas.)
Ask thoughtful questions to increase your understanding of the situation. Asking questions shows that you care enough to further pursue what they have to say.
Repeat back perceived facts or feelings about it. If you repeat back what they have said, they will know you are trying to understand and can clarify if you didn't get something exactly right.
Empathize by putting yourself in their shoes for a second and sharing what it must be like for them.
If you are physically in their presence, look them in the eyes, put away distractions, smile and interact.
Share something from your end, but be careful not to discount their feelings by saying, "Oh...I'm sure it will all turn out fine" or something like that. If someone just got done telling you how their wife has cancer and all you can say is, "yeah, but you know it'll be fine" that probably won't make them feel any better. Maybe it's better to say those things after you've taken the time to try to understand the situation and show that you care first.
Sharing something shows that you are willing to open up with them as well. We can share experiences we've had without comparing, since we all have different experiences in life. Sharing other people's similar experiences is less helpful. Most don't want to hear about all the other people who's wife has had cancer and they turned out fine. Unless they are searching for other stories or experiences, it is usually best to not bring them up.
Giving Advice: Some may jump too quickly to giving advice. People need to feel like they are fully understood before advice gets shoved down their throat. Assess the situation and be sensitive about giving advice. (As an oldest child, I'm very prone to giving advice when it's not necessarily wanted!!)
Accepting advice is important to learn, (I was not good at accepting criticism growing up, but accepting criticism is a sign of humility) it shows that you are humble enough to see that you don't know everything, need help at times and can listen to others.
(I have been given advice from people I don't know many times. They are usually nice ladies at the grocery store, who watch me struggle with keeping my children under control. The advice I've been given more often than any other is "Enjoy them while they are young, they grow so fast." When I first got that advice, I liked it, but then I started getting tired of it. And now I like it again.)
One key to accepting advice is to really listen and think about what they have to say. Often, when someone is giving advice, it's because they care about you. We can thank them for caring and appreciate them.
(I have been touched by many strangers, (not to mention friends and family) who have said the kindest things and given me advice. I know that I do need to "Enjoy them while they are young". That advice is more potent and meaningful to me now, than it has ever been!)