Communication is the cornerstone of all relationships and yet we pay very little attention to it until it goes wrong. Whether it´s the family member expects you to read their mind or the boss who is clumsy at giving feedback, we all know someone who could do with a crash course in communication skills.
But how often do we take the time to reflect on our own communication skills and styles? And how often do we take those reflections and use them to inform our next difficult conversation or to actively build deeper connections?
Not very often, and the thing is, by paying a little bit of attention to how you communicate and making small changes you can make a huge impact on your relationships.
In this post I´m going to look at 4 powerful yet simple ways to communicate better so you can have deeper, more meaningful connections.
1. Don´t listen to respond, listen to understand
So much miscommunication comes from poor listening. We have two ears and one mouth, a hint that we should probably talk less and listen more. Deep listening is a skill that can be learnt and practised, so let’s go from passive listening to active listening to deep listening with this simple shift-moving from listening to respond to listening to understand.
Most of us have this habit and when we are busy thinking of what we want to say next we are not giving our full attention to the speaker. By shifting our focus towards really understanding what the speaker is saying we begin to practice deep listening, and nothing enhances communication quite like the feeling of being heard. So next time someone is sharing a story with you try to understand it by fully focusing on the other persons experience, you don´t have to respond immediately so stop thinking and start listening.
2. Be fully present
If we want to develop any new habit, we need to make a conscious effort until it becomes natural. We need to prepare ourselves to be fully present. How? Get rid of distractions, turn off the TV, phone out of sight and on silent. Make sure you´re grounded, in the present moment and not thinking of all the things still on your to do list or what you´re making for dinner.
Take a minute to arrive physically and mentally, become present in your environment, whether your conversation is in person or by phone. Set the intention of spending the next however many minutes in the present moment, paying full attention, and if your mind drifts, gently bring it back to the words the other person is saying.
3. Avoid me too communication
Me too communication is often the by-product of listening to respond. In attempts to show empathy we jump to share the similarities we recognise in another’s tale, this is fine if you´re having a bit of banter over drinks but if you really want to develop a deep connection put it to one side for a while and ask open ended questions instead.
If you are practising listening to understand you are already half way there, go a step further by keeping your experiences out of the communication. We all view life through our own unique lens and by trying to see the other persons lens leads to new insight.
Adopt a beginner’s mind, one where you don´t know the answers, the reasons behind something or how the other person feels. We make assumptions based on our experiences, it is a way our brains have developed to be efficient. Break the habit and develop curiosity.
4. Ask better questions
You might be wondering what asking questions has to do with listening, by asking powerful open questions you encourage deeper more open communication.
Powerful questioning is not about gathering information, it is about gaining clarity. Because of our shared human experience we often make assumptions about how other people see and understand the world, we tend to believe that they see things the way we see things, by asking more open questions we not only gain a deeper understanding of other people and ourselves but we may even give them the opportunity to know themselves better through their answers.
An open question (one that begins with what or how) allows us to go deeper and encourages the speaker to explore things in ways they might not otherwise do. As you seek to understand ask more open questions to move beyond assumptions. Ask people what things mean to them, or how they experience things, you will be amazed by what you discover.
If you ask 10 people what success or freedom or fun means to them you´ll get 10 different answers, if 10 people experience the same thing or one person experiences the same event 10 times it will be different every single time. Let´s use the uniqueness of our experiences to get closer and to foster love and understanding.
Who can I listen deeply to this week?