Jumpstart Communication After Deployment

Section Three: Communication Responses

Active listening involves listening, providing feedback, and conveying empathy, attention, and comprehension.

Active listening is a tool that you can use as a listener to demonstrate to the speaker that you are hearing what is being said, and that you understand what the person is sharing. As a speaker, when you can tell that someone is actively engaged and listening to you, it can make you feel truly heard and respected. If you are making a grocery list in your head instead of listening, you may miss content expressed verbally or nonverbally in the message. Remember, active listening is not the same as waiting for your turn to talk. You should avoid interrupting the speaker, responding with a time when you had it worse, or formulating your next response while the speaker is still talking. Good active listening can create a safe environment that facilitates better understanding and minimizes misunderstandings. Your old habits can be hard to break, so it will require your full effort.

Responding with specific, helpful, and kind feedback can improve communication.

The main component of being an active listener is providing feedback to the speaker. This can be done by giving nonverbal cues, such as nodding and smiling, or through paraphrasing and parroting, where information is repeated back to the speaker to demonstrate understanding. A speaker can also obtain feedback by paying attention to the questions his/her audience asks and identifying where clarification is needed. The feedback loop is important and gives the listener and speaker a chance to consider the effect of the conversation, and modify their behavior if needed before moving forward. If you’re giving feedback, remember that a message has two elements: content and feeling. You’ll want to give feedback on both of these, but should do so in a way that doesn’t state your opinion as fact. Providing your perspective is helpful and gives the listener a sense of your rationale and context.

When communicating, manage your emotions, including stress and anger.

During reintegration, you are bound to have some tense and emotional conversations with your loved ones. These conversations can cause stress, which may disrupt your ability to think clearly and act appropriately. Stress makes you more likely to misread others, and react instead of responding. The key to mitigating stress during communication is listening to your body to recognize your stress and then managing that stress. Taking deep breaths, using humor or relaxation exercises, and even taking a break from a conversation and coming back to it later, are all strategies you can use to reduce your stress.