3 Communication Practices That Will Enrich Your Life

To make every recipe more nutritious and delicious, you use high quality ingredients. Similarly, a specific set of healthy communication practices can make every relationship more nourishing and life affirming. I want to share about foundational communication practices that will enrich your life.

You have known about these titles:

  • Assertiveness for Women
  • Powerful Speech
  • Being Charismatic!

You can apply just the right ingredient for a given situation.

There really are just a handful of skills that can serve as your “go-to” skills for almost anything. (The, “when in doubt, try this” set of skills.) These few key ingredients can help you be,

  • a better team player
  • a better leader
  • a better mentor or mentee
  • Even a better parent or partner

You should practice these few skills everyday, all the time, and keep at the forefront of your awareness. They influence everything.

1) The first of these ingredients is knowing “how you show up.”

The path of self-discovery is an interesting and never ending winding road. You evolve and grow, and your daily circumstances make an impact- changing you and affording new opportunities to be your best. So no matter what you discover on your journey to inner wisdom, it will very likely change. Nothing is permanent.

I do believe that you have tendencies and that you can work to understand those tendencies better.

Ask yourself –

  • Are you a judge or a learner?
  • Are you a problem-identifier or a problem solver?
  • Are you a harmonizer or one who stirs the pot?
  • Do you like things to be predictable or are you bored stiff unless there is action and change? Are you a student or an expert?

There is nothing wrong with any of these ways of “showing up.” The problem only arises when you are unconscious about your habits and apply the wrong skills at the wrong time. An intricate understanding of yourself and your tendencies is a great way of raising your awareness and making conscious choices.

You can work on understanding yourself better in a number of ways.

Here are a few suggestions.

  • Ask people how they see you.
    • Ask your friends and co-workers to give you 3 words that describe you, and then ask them to explain. This can be very illuminating!
    • Ask for feedback at work- not just on the results you are getting but on what you bring to the team.
  • Take some self-assessments.
    • The Meyers-Briggs or Pathfinders, when interpreted by a professional, is very rich and can lead to profound insights.
    • A conflict style assessment, such as the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument or Pathfinders Conflicts, is also a great tool.
  • Do some writing about the things that matter most to you. Then think about how you express those values in everyday interactions.

2) Be an active listener

Listening can be a very elusive skill. You can appear to be listening, while you are really not present at all – you are only hearing. Many people think they are great listeners, because they have not had training in what it means to truly be open and present to another person without an agenda.

The first and most important aspect of being an active listener is to clear your mind.

You must be present to the other person, without judgment or criticism.

“create a bubble of attention” around the speaker, and

“listen to understand, not to react.”

These two remind you about the qualities of good listening that are imperative no matter what other skills you are likely to employ.

However, sometimes we need to focus on skills in order to build competence, so here are a few tips.

    1. As many times as necessary, clear your mind and focus your attention back on the speaker. Practice daily; practice hourly; but definitely practice.
    2. Reflect back to the speaker what you think she or he is saying. Say, “Let me make sure I understand,” and then recount to the other person your summary of both their main points and even their feelings.
    3. Don’t rush. The moment that you start to want to speak, you have abandoned the true quality of listening. Come back to that bubble of attention.

This skill alone may take a lifetime of practice.

First, try it with people and in situations that are easy for you.

(Best friends and young children are a good start.)

Then, challenge yourself to remain present with a person or with a topic that is annoying or difficult for you. Those situations are where transformation really happens.

(Imagine a neighbor who has opposite political views.)

If you could cultivate quality of truly listening, you would find solutions to problems much more readily. You need to “suspend belief” in your own well-rehearsed stories in order to listen in this way.

3) The third ingredient for effective communication, is speaking from the heart.

In addition to listening, it is very important to practice speaking up. There are many ways to do so, but one of the most under-utilized skills, is to simply name your feelings with some attention to being accurate and authentic.

You may know how to formulate an “I-statement.” These are statements that follow a certain kind of pattern. “I feel _______ when ________. “

This helps to isolate our feelings without blaming the other person or handing your power over to the situation. It gives you ownership.

You can then decide whether you want to make a request of the other person or handle it on your own.

For example, if you are feeling tense when you come home from work and the house is a mess, you could say, “I hate this messy house! I wish everyone would learn to clean up after themselves!” (Hint: This is NOT an I-statement.)

While this may feel authentic at the time, it is actually several steps removed from your real experience.

It would help you a lot to be able to say, “I feel tense when I come home and the house is messy.”

Then, you can either make a request like, “Can you please take 10 minutes to pick up?”

Or, you may want to just go to your room and re-group.

In either case, this statement acknowledges your feelings and does not mask them in the form of a complaint or an attack.

The better you can get at expressing true feelings without all of the baggage that commonly surrounds them, the more you learn about yourself. You imagine that these skills can feel very personal.

“What does this have to do with leadership and management?” you may be asking.

Well, the applications for these skills are vast. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of a single situation in which having a raised awareness of these skills would not be a benefit.

From managing to mentoring, from parenting to partnership, making sure that these three top quality ingredients are part of your communication on a daily basis will definitely help you serve up more nourishing relationships.

Few of my clients are gathering to practice and learn such communication techniques. Please let me know if you want to share or learn more (than what you already know).

 

Suresh Shah, M.D., Pathfinders Enterprise

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