Most people in the modern world are paid to communicate and at Integration training we help people become better communicators. We incorporate communication tips into our leadership, stress management, appraisals, difficult behaviour and confidence building courses to name a few.
Communication is a complex context-dependant and highly individual matter making generic communication tips difficult. There are some however some "rules of thumb" which you may find useful - please hold them lightly and not as absolute. So here are our top 15 communication tips - most of which apply to face-to-face communication, on the phone and on e-mail:
(NB: Many of these have been influenced by NonViolent Communication and ontological coaching.)
Listening fully without interruption is the primary communication skill and the saying "Seek to listen before you speak" has much value in our experience. We recommend honing empathy skills (defined as "the intention to connect in the present moment") and learning to differentiate it from other forms of listening such as sympathy, story-telling and consoling. Active listening and paraphrasing (repeating back what people have said) may also be useful but any listening tip done as manipulation will quickly be spotted - the intention is what matters.
While involved in a challenging conversation taking a deep belly breath and let in out slowly before responding. Centre by becoming aware of your physical body in the here and now and get yourself together.
Using I statements such as "I feel miserable when that happens" rather than psychologically distancing oneself by using "you..." or other terms (e.g. "You feel miserable when that happens") makes a huge difference as only once a statement is "owned" can it can be addressed. It encourages people to "speak for themselves" too separating facts from opinions - see later tip. (NB - There are of course times when it is fine to use the word "you" or in in the case of this piece "we" - we counsel care rather than a one-size-fits-all rule).
No matter how much you judge and blame people they won't love you for it. Joking aside when corporate negotiations or relationship discussions descend into judgement and blame both parties are in trouble. Denying responsibility ("I HAD TO do it" "It's my job to hate them" "I was only obeying orders") also means that communication stops. Comparisons are, as the saying goes, usually odious. Our tip is to avoid them (keep reading for alternatives).
Speaking as if opinions are facts can lead to all sorts of trouble (that's an opinion). Watch out for the verb "to be" as a sign of this - "John IS a bad manager" "Mary and Jane ARE lazy." For any conflict resolution describing first the objective facts about what happened is a good place to start, the same with appraisals and feedback. This sounds like a simple tip but is remarkably difficult for most people, and has been described by one philosopher as "the highest form of human intelligence." Opinions are not bad when recognised as such and evidence (facts not more opinions) can be given in their favour to back them up.
Feelings and emotions point us in the direction if what is important. One is angry or scared when something important to oneself is threatened, sad when something important is lost and happy when it is gained for example. Having emotional intelligence is a crucial life and business skill - being aware of one's own and others emotions is at the heart of communication. Disputes are as much a matter of emotion as logic and human beings are by definition emotional whether they admit it or not.
Be Careful with "Feelings" and Know Who Causes Them
Note that people can stimulate each other's feelings but are not the cause (a person's own thinking and needs are) also using the word "feel" doesn't necessarily imply a feeling is involved. "You made me angry" and "I feel you don't love me" for example are unlikely to lead to constructive conversations.
Underlying feelings are needs and values. I may be angry because my need for autonomy is being threatened by a micro-managing boss, or delighted because I value appreciation and have received it from colleagues for example. Because people all have the same basic needs connecting on this level is a very powerful communication tip.
People live IN long-term moods. If you have a friend who is always upbeat and another who would view winning the lottery as a misfortune you know this, however people's own moods are often invisible to them. The mood and tone in which we say things and choose to listen makes a huge impact. Communication tip - ask ten people from different areas of your life what is your predominant mood.
Asking for what you want in specific and time bound positive language will make a huge impact on communication. Try saying -"please open the window" rather than "It's hot in here." Add time-frames to requests and watch out for assumptions "You wanted a pet? You just said buy me an animal for Christmas not a living one!!!" Note that there are only four responses to any request - accept, decline, commit-to-commit (e.g. "I'll tell you Monday") and counter offer. Maybe has no real meaning and should be avoided or clarified. Getting clear about which response you are receiving can avoid a lot of trouble. Be clear about your standards for any request e.g. "I'd like the report 10-12 pages long and to include a section on finance. On my desk by Monday."
Make bold declarations in public if you want things to change, "We will put a man on the moon within 10 years" "Britain is now at war with Germany" and "I do" are all examples of declarations.
We communicate more through our bodies than through our words -especially around emotionally significant subjects. Have a look at what your body is saying my looking at a video recording of yourself speaking with the sound off. In many ways we are our bodies and these express continuously. See Embodied Management Training if you have an interest here.
Different nations, subcultures, ethnic groups, companies, even departments have their own cultures. What may be appropriate with a group of engineers in Japan may not be with a group of therapists in the United States. Whole books have been written on this subject but enough for a tip here to say be mindful of culture!
Different people like to communicate in different ways. There are numerous typologies such as Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram for looking at communication styles. Extrovert and introvert people like to communicate in very different ways, as do people at different stages of development, people preferring left or right brain thinking, liberals and conservative, etc. Again, this is a big subject, but enough here to say be mindful of individual differences.
Listening is on the list twice as one can't really listen to much. Our top communication tip - listen.
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So there it is - some communication tips we hope will be useful. Knowing these in theory is one thing but learning to fully embody them another and we have only scratched the surface here. If you are interested in any of our communication training courses please get in touch.
E-mail us or call us on +44 (0)1273 906828