Warning: seemingly boring introduction ahead – it involves Latin. Bear with me, though 🙂
The word communication comes from the Latin verb communico, which comes from communis, which means common, public. This is another way of saying that communication is not merely about speaking, but mostly about relating and connecting.
You can speak to another person all day long and still feel as if the two of you are not communicating. Likewise, there are times and persons with whom you sit in silence and feel as if you are connecting to one another.
Not every conversation is a meaningful one, simply because we communicate through more than just words. Communicating is not merely an act of informational exchange, but a continuous process of relating to others (and to your own self, as well) 🙂
Good communicators are always aware of the complexity of communication. It is amazing how many things we express when we engage with others. From what you think you’re transmitting, to the very structure of your psyche, you are exposing much more than you may think. The better you understand this, the easier it is to communicate harmoniously. After all, you want to understand and be understood.
Here are some tips that can help you become a master communicator in any circumstance, and make a dramatic change in the way you understand and feel about interacting with others:
1. Get clear. Communication really starts way before you open your mouth. You cannot control all the factors involved in communication, but being clear about your part of the deal is really helpful. It’s always a good idea to acknowledge your own feelings or thoughts about the issue you want to communicate and the communication act in perspective. The importance of this step lies in the statement you’re making to yourself: you are in control of yourself and your emotions. Then, think of what you want to communicate and the goal of your communication. Do you want to transmit information? Relate to the other person? Influence them? If you want to inform, it’s essential to have your facts in order, and even some notes (or other factual material) handy. If you want to connect with another, you may want to be extra attentive to their feeling of comfort and the way it shows through the interaction, focusing on common attitudes, opinions, interests, etc. Influencing others is a tricky endeavor, and should not go against their freedom or well-being, but there are numerous resources out there to teach you techniques of persuasion, if you are interested. You should also think about the other person(s) and make a quick assessment of what you know about them, as it can inspire ideas for a specific appropriate approach.
2. Keep in mind that you are two parties trying to make a connection. Neither wants to feel frustrated at the end of the conversation, as if time was wasted. Neither wants to feel misunderstood, disrespected, not heard. Also, people have moods and worries of their own, things you have absolutely nothing to do with. This applies even with close people. Detach a bit in order to connect. Don’t take everything personal, and avoid being demanding. Being positive, understanding and supportive will make others feel more comfortable with you, and their mood will improve as a consequence. Allowing others to be who and how they are right now is the straightest way to a (meaningful) connection.
3. Be flexible. The advantages are huge and numerous. Just think about the limited options of inflexible communicators: basically, they can only keep their attitude, or (maybe) accept defeat if their point of view is proven wrong within the same logic. Being right or wrong is highly subjective, and if you stubbornly cling to one of the two, you are blocking communication. Focus more on connecting and less on making a specific point in a specific way. There are many ways of saying the same thing, and many scenarios can have a similar outcome. Always choose to be the one who is aware of possibilities and experiments with them.
4. Use differences to your advantage. I personally am not fond of conflict, and would rather confront it quickly and effectively, so that it’s out of my way ASAP. However, I also recognize (and try to take advantage of this whenever I can) that differences can trigger explosive conversations, with wonderful potential for personal growth. First of all, you are pushed into self-control. If you manage to keep your calm, then it’s time to learn to respect different opinions – they are valid to the person who has embraced and nurtured them for a while. Even if you think they’re wrong, others may think exactly the same thing about your ideas. Use this to your advantage, and, for the sake of communication, validate them, respect the difference. Try to find and enumerate reasons why their idea is valid for them. This way, there’s no conflict, only you becoming a calmer person, more focused on establishing connections rather than butting heads with others. Remember that deep inside you’re not agreeing with the ideas, you’re agreeing that different people think different thoughts. Moreover, if a different approach makes sense to you, you can even update your own views.
5. Watch your gestures and behavior. Body language sends a much more powerful message than your words. The tricky part with this is that this subtle communication is received in a similarly subtle manner. Rarely (if ever) non-verbal communication is brought into discussion and clarified. If, in a verbal exchange, you ever defend yourself saying “I did not say that!”, you’re lucky to get a reply such as “You didn’t say it, but you implied it.” That rarely happens. Often, it’s only bruised ego, reproaches, pouting and/or shouting, with no hint to what caused the misunderstanding. People trust their own judgement more than they trust your words. You can’t influence most of the factors involved in their judgement, but you can pay attention to sending the same message in both words and attitude.
The conversation about communication is vast, and I will probably come back to it. I’ll wrap this up now with a final tip: people listen to those who listen to them. If you don’t listen first, all the time while you’re talking, the other will only wait for you to finish, so that they have the opportunity to speak. We all want to be heard when we choose to speak 🙂