Communicating with others is increasingly challenging. We are in more and more of a digital world. I remember a few years ago a friend telling me that certain professions that previously required a typing test found that they no longer needed to know whether people could type a certain number of words per minute. Everyone was a good or decent typist, but they did need to know whether applicants could effectively speak to another human being. A lot of learning and development training has shifted to teaching people how to communicate in person. We call it different things. We slap fancy names on it so that it doesn’t seem that way, but it is because it is slowly becoming a lost art.
For today’s blog, we focus on three main components of communication: our listening skills, our non-verbals (specifically facial expressions and tone), and the words we say out loud. I’m suggesting three simple shifts you can do that will start to change the way you communicate with others and how others communicate with you. The key is to practice these. Even after working on them for a long time, we can slip back into old familiar habits.
Get rid of “At Least”: If you take one thing away from this blog, take this. STOP saying “at least.” Do not combine those words for any reason when talking to another human being about their personal experiences. I know this sounds harsh, but it’s important. You can say “at least” when talking about your own experiences because it’s appropriate to silver lining your situations. It can even be necessary. But other people do not need us to find the silver lining by “at leasting” (yes I went there) their situation. When people use this word combination they think it is to help the other person look on the bright side but what it does is disconnect them from that other person. We say it to others because we don’t like sitting in the discomfort of their uncomfortable situation, so we try and find something positive. In doing this we make them feel like their experience isn’t valid hence disconnection. Now don’t stress too much if you’ve done this in the past, but when you know better do better. Stopping saying “at least” is where everyone can do better!
Your face speaks even when you don’t: This is an argument in our house all the time. My husband has a face that often looks as though he is irritated when he’s not (resting, you know what face). He has to endure the “what’s wrong?” or “are you frustrated with something?” questions. The argument is that I have is he should work on changing how his face expresses itself, and he argues that it’s just his face. In all honesty, both are probably fair arguments. Everyone is technically responsible for their feelings, and if someone takes offence that is technically on them. They shouldn’t blame the other person for how they feel (even though we all do it). However, it is also the person’s responsibility who is making the facial expression to be as clear as possible. As Brené Brown says, “Clear is kind.” Long story short both sides of this argument are likely valid. The person interpreting the facial expression needs to take responsibility for their feelings and remember someone can’t “make” them feel a certain way. We have a choice in how we react. The person with the confusing facial expression also needs to take responsibility for the lack of clarity.
Listen with the intent to understand not to respond: This quote by Stephen Covey has been around for a while, but it is still something we all have to actively practice. We live in a problem-solving culture. We want to solve the problem and get onto the next one. Sometimes people don’t want their problem solved sometimes they want to just talk it out. Even the simple question of how can I help here? or Do you want to vent? or Do you want solutions? (I use this one in my close relationships all the time). By asking someone what they need, your responses are meaningful and helpful.
As we close out this year, we can do some small shifts and see how they improve our communication with those around us. Everyone deserves clarity, kindness, compassion, empathy, and a listening ear.