Communication- one little word that covers a lot of ground: One-way, two-way, written, spoken, one-on-one, group, public speaking, etc. Then there are various communication mediums- email, texts, newspapers, magazines, blogs, radio, TV, and social media, and on and on. I would like to focus on interpersonal communication; that one-on-one dialogue with someone close to you, whether it is your spouse or significant other, a relative or loved one, a boss or coworker. In my 22 years in the Navy and 15 years since then, I have been through countless military and corporate leadership courses, and they have all emphasized good communication.
The most important part of communicating with someone is to LISTEN. All people want the same thing: acknowledgement, appreciation, and acceptance. If you show up to a conversation and use active listening skills to show the other person you are actually hearing them, they are more likely to feel acknowledged, understood, and important to you. So, what is active listening? It is being engaged- processing and understanding what the other person is saying. Don’t spend time working out what you want to say next. This moment is about what the other person is trying to convey. Maybe you don’t agree, but instead of responding with judgement, be a detective and ask them why they feel the way they do. Maybe you will learn something. According to Marilee Adams in her book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, we need to switch from the JUDGER mindset to the LEARNER mindset. We tend to fill in a conversation with assumptions from our own story. We need to have awareness of this and stick to the facts and keep from assigning blame. By keeping away from the “YOU” statements and stick to the “I” statements you can convey how you feel without placing blame on the other person.
Be aware of your body language. These are nonverbal cues that we transmit to others consciously or unconsciously, regarding how we are feeling about the other person, the situation, or our mood. Besides sending cues to the other person, our body language affects our own self. Research shows that our brains pick up on our unconscious body language and react to it. Show sincerity by making eye contact with them and proving you are engaged. Other body language cues that show you are engaged in the conversation include facing the person with your whole body, even your feet. Studies show that we point our feet where we want to go or what’s important to us. Mirroring is a technique where you take on the posture, cadence, or pitch of someone you are speaking with. Our minds see this mirroring as if that person is like us and therefore deem them more trustworthy and sincere. Also, keep your posture open, don’t cross your arms and legs and you will seem more accepting.
To engage affectively with others, we should keep in mind the ABCDE’s of communication.
A is for Ask questions. This can be used to start a conversation or as part of your active listening. Remember to use open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Good questions help to clarify and seek understanding of the other person.
B is for Body language and Breathe. Slow deep breathing helps us to think more clearly and reduce stress and anxiety and improves mood. This is especially useful for those difficult conversations.
C is for Confidence. People are more likely to trust and like others who appear confident. It doesn’t matter if you feel it or not, just put your best foot forward with a smile and eye contact and other positive body language.
D is for Distractions. Eliminate distractions before engaging in conversation. Don’t be looking at your phone, your computer, your grocery list, or pile of mail.
E is for Ears. In a two-way, one-on-one conversation, you should be listening at least half of the time. As Steven Covey states in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “seek first to understand, then to be understood”.
Remember, all people want acknowledgement, acceptance, and appreciation. What does that mean for your communication on a regular basis and how do you put it to use? Keep in mind if what you are going to say is true, useful, kind, and appropriately timed. Even the best-intentioned words delivered at the wrong time, or not with enough kindness, can sting to the point of being completely counterproductive. Try this whenever going into a conversation and I think you will be happy with the results and have a better conversation.
Another important thing to think about regarding communication is that everyone feels loved and appreciated in different ways. You can put forth 100% effort into trying to communicate your love to your partner, but they may not feel it or hear you because you might not be speaking their “love language”. As Gary Chapman explains in his book, The Five Love Languages, we all tend to show our love the way we like to receive it, but that might not be the way in which your partner receives it. Gary says that we all receive love in one of five different languages:
1. giving words of affirmation
2. spending quality time
3. receiving gifts
4. providing acts of service
5. giving physical touch
There is a test you and your loved ones can take that identifies what your individual love language is. You can learn a lot about yourself, your spouse, or even your children once you know how each person receives love and therefore allows you to communicate that love better. You can take this online at https://5lovelanguages.com/quizzes.
Communication is a really big topic, but our ability to communicate effectively is what sets Homo Sapiens apart from all of the other geneses a few thousand years ago and what continues to separate us from the animal kingdom. Good communication is not hard when you peel back the layers and get to basics. It’s just two people exchanging information and ideas by interacting with one another and producing effects in one another. If we can always remember to respond from a place of love, these effects can be amazing and can get us “hooked on a feeling” as the song says, but done poorly or by taking things too personally, can lead to hurt feelings or significant problems. There are thousands of books about communication; finding the right one for you or your situation can be challenging, but can be life changing when applying some of the techniques. Hopefully this primer shows you how easy it can be to improve your interpersonal communication and give you the motivation to try and make some positive changes in your life.
Written by Doug Davis, CHC