Have you ever noticed that people do not ask questions other than a cursory, how are you? Have you also noticed that most people are not listening for the answer, in fact may not even wait for a response at all?
And we wonder why others do not understand us or we them. It’s not really a puzzle. Simply said, most of us have stopped communicating in a meaningful way. We don’t ask well considered questions. We stopped listening, often far too caught up in our own inner dialogue to hear what others are actually saying. We judge responses before we ask for additional information. We interrupt others before they complete their thoughts. And through the pressure of a pandemic, face to face communication has all but come to a standstill.
Yes, this is indeed a communication dilemma. However, one that can be solved with a little practice, patience and kindness.
In my corporate work through the years, my husband and I have specialized in what we refer to as Conscious or Mindful Communication. Conscious because as you may have noticed, most of us are on automatic pilot in our conversations with others. Not really a surprise as we ask the same questions and we give the same answers by habit. Most conversations live on the surface, they fail to go beneath the water line, and certainly don’t dive deep into what someone else really thinks or feels. Part of this is caution, as we may not really want to know what another person is thinking or feeling. This is a safe way to approach communication with others as it requires no commitment.
There are occasions however when you may actually want to deepen your connections, hence your communication. You may need information or you may be genuinely curious. You may be searching for a solution to a problem that is begging to be solved and you want to brainstorm new possibilities or options for a situation. Most importantly, what if you want to forge deeper connections with people you care about.
Before I continue, if there is anything this pandemic has taught me, it is the importance of my relationships and therefore the importance of quality communication with the people I really care about. As a result, I too have had to re-think how I have been communicating. I want people to know that I care and I want others to care about me. This means going the extra mile and shifting my communication habits.
Where do you and I begin? There are a few steps each person can take to deepen their conversations and communicate in a conscious and meaningful way. First, ask questions. Not just ‘how are you?’ but something that requires the other person to engage. ‘How are you really? What has been the highlight of your week? Is there anything troubling you? What would you like to discuss?’
Second, listen. Listen for more than words. Listen for feelings, nuances. Deepen the conversations by asking more questions such as ’Tell me more…’ or ‘And what else?’. Listen. When you are tempted to speak ask yourself one question before you interrupt, ‘WAIT – why am I talking?’ Pause, make sure the other person is finished speaking. They may not be, they may simply be thinking about what it is they want to say. Give them space.
Third, don’t judge. Remember that what another person is saying is completely about them, not you, even if it feels personal. Use those same two questions ’Tell me more…’ or ‘And what else?’ to clarify meaning. If you do find yourself judging, remember this is reflective of something you may be feeling.
Forth, provide feedback through body language and your words. Acknowledge the speaker through your attentiveness, a head nod, leaning forward, eye contact, a gentle touch, even an elbow bump. Use words that demonstrate you have heard them, acknowledge them, express appreciation for sharing, ask how you can support them. Whatever seems appropriate in the moment.
Finally, do not make the other person wrong. That does not mean they are right in your opinion; it simply means you do not need to berate or argue with their point of view. I have learned that, particularly with my husband, that we will disagree and I have learned that the appropriate response is “Let’s agree to disagree” and end the conversation.
Conscious communication does not imply agreement; it does imply respect, honesty, compassion, kindness and understanding. We all need this right now and the more we learn to connect deeply with others, the healthier we all will be.
Until next time,
Betty Healey, MEd., CAPP
Your thoughts and strategies are always welcome and if you care to share, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org