The quality of your personal and work relationships depends on the quality of your conversations
Do you want to become a better, more confident communicator? You're not alone. How we communicate, both at home and work, will determine our levels of connection, fulfilment, productivity, and effectiveness. It will determine what kind of impact we're having and how successful we are in our careers.
All too often, we can feel frustrated at not being heard and our needs not being met. Have you ever wondered why this is happening? Let’s delve deeper into what communication is and what strategies you can employ right away to help you.
What is communication?
The Oxford dictionary defines it as 'the activity or process of expressing ideas and feelings or of giving people information'. Quora states 'communication is the process of passing information and understanding from one person to another'.
I want to emphasise that the information we transmit has much more depth than we may realise - our values, assumptions, ideas, opinions, feelings, and unique experiences are all encoded in the words we speak.
Having said that, communication is so much more than just the words we share. Most people have heard about communication being 7% words, 38% tonality, and 55% physiology. We can all probably recall instances when someone said something seemingly innocent, but their tone suggested otherwise; this triggered an emotional reaction in us.
Or, take a contrary example - our favourite comedian saying the most outlandish thing with a big friendly smile and we can't stop laughing. Might I add that we certainly can benefit from having more enjoyable and fruitful conversations in the world, including the challenging ones that are rooted in helping humanity positively move forward with compassion and understanding?
To understand how we can approach this hefty but necessary task, let’s take a look at the types of communication we can utilise.
The 3 levels of communication
- exchanging and sharing of information
- power, control, and influence, with the aim of achieving a desired outcome
- open, transparent, and co-creative conversations
All communication levels have their place, especially when rooted in values and ethics such as transparency and integrity. From here on in, I'll focus on level three - co-creative, open conversations. These are the type of conversations which we need to foster within the context of an increasingly complex and fast-paced world that we're navigating, with greater or lesser ease and success.
An NLP presupposition
First of all, presupposition simply means an implicit assumption, a useful belief to adopt. The meaning of communication is the response you get.
Just because we transmit a message with a certain intention, whether that be verbal, email, or some other medium, does not mean that is how it is received. At least with face to face communication, you're receiving real-time feedback from the person you're talking with - facial expression, tone, posture in addition to the words... there is the opportunity to clarify and explore. Email can be notorious for 'lost in translation' communication and can lead to ill-feeling and unhelpful reactionary behaviours at home and in the workplace.
Now let’s get to the practical steps of improving the effectiveness of our communication.
5 strategies to help you become a more effective communicator
1. Seek first to understand, then to be understood (Stephen Covey). Many of us listen waiting for our turn to respond and to get our point across. This means we are only selectively listening to others, which impacts the meaning we draw and how much we actually understand. This can lead to frustration, miscommunication, and stress, especially on the part of the person trying to communicate.
2. Ask smart questions that open up the conversation, allowing the opportunity for further clarification and depth of exploration. Open questions begin with 'what, when, who, why, and how'. For example, you could ask a clarifying question like "what would that look like practically?", rather than closing someone down by saying "that wouldn't work practically". The former statement is giving another a person the chance to give you further information, which you may not have considered otherwise, potentially leading to more fruitful conversations and creative problem-solving.
3. Hold space, resist interrupting, and actively listen (fully concentrate on words, tone, physiology), rather than jumping in to fill the silence when you can see someone is thinking about something. Instead (especially during 1:1 conversations), hold back, or, in coaching terms, 'hold space' and give the person space/time to gather their thoughts before responding. A visual cue that shows when someone is thinking is when they move their pupils - looking up/down to the right/left. They're accessing different parts of their brain to retrieve/process information.
4. Be open to other perspectives rather than jumping to judgment immediately, thus allowing new possibilities and opportunities to emerge.
5. Seek genuine connection with others through your conversations, sharing stories and challenges if you feel comfortable to do so. That doesn't mean you need to bare your soul! Even in a business context, your colleagues/direct reports will be more helpful and productive if they feel they can relate to and understand you, and vice versa.
Give it some thought - what communication strategies have you employed that have worked well?