How well you build relationships can make a massive difference in your life. The cornerstone of building relationships is effective communication. How well do you communicate? In today’s post, I will give you five simple tips to think about and practice in your conversations. Take the time to put them to the test.
Last week, I mentioned a book called Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman which details the two systems in our brains that govern our thoughts and actions. The reason this is a powerful book for today’s message is that when you are engaged in a conversation, you are typically only using your system one in your brain – the system that is kind of like auto-pilot. We just get free-flowing and go where the conversation takes us.
The system two part of our brain is the one I am asking you to start tapping into during your conversations over the next while. It takes practice, but once you start bringing both systems into your process, you begin to enhance your skills in effective communication.
1) Agree and Add (Yes/And vs Yes/But)
The first tip is really a basic shift in language that will totally change the direction of many of your conversations. Something that drives me crazy is talking to people who I affectionately call “Yes butters.” You know, those people who during your conversation always make you feel they aren’t listening to your side. Well, we all do it! We don’t mean to, but when we say things like, “Yes, but” or “That makes sense, but” or “Sure what you’re saying is true, but…” we end up invalidating the other person’s point. Moreover, we create a conflict and can unintentionally create an atmosphere of picking a side.
Instead of being a “Yes Butter,” start saying, “Yes, and” when bringing up your point. By doing so, you validate the other person’s point, while explaining your side of it. In a previous post on tough decisions, I talked about the concept of “you and me against the problem” instead of “you against me.”
When you start agreeing and adding, you open up a new way of communicating with others, especially when you are negotiating, selling, or in a major conflict. You reduce the chance of getting into unnecessary arguments on the wrong points, decrease the anxiety, and increase the chance of your point being heard. Try it! It will change your own demeanor as well because you will begin thinking and speaking in more collaborative ways.
2) Body Language
We all know the power of body language in effective communication, but do you actually apply it? In your next conversation, tap into that system two and do a quick mental check of your:
- Posture – are you standing upright, facing the other person?
- Eye contact – are you focused on them speaking or do your eyes wander?
- Arms and legs – are they crossed and blocking or more relaxed and welcoming?
- Face – are you smiling, neutral, or frowning?
- Active listening – are you acknowledging the person while they speak or are you a reactionless statue?
The trick here is to not get self-conscious, but to practice being more self-aware. I know that my natural expression is typically neutral so when I am listening because I am focusing on what they are saying, so when I do my quick self-check, I tap into my system two and remind myself to smile and acknowledge more. It takes about two seconds, but it gets me into the right state for listening and effective communication.
I like to say that often during conversations, we are waiting for our turn to speak, just like “double-dutch.” You know, that skipping rope game? Effective communication really comes from our ability to listen and be patient. We all have something to add to the dialogue, but when you add it at the wrong time, it can derail the discussion. No one likes to be interrupted, we all know that. But patience also applies to that pause that happens right after someone finishes what they are saying.
After someone speaks, add a brief pause before you begin what you have to say. It shows the other person that you have listened to what they had to say and also you make sure they were actually finished. You can fill the pause with some active listening like a head nod, a smile, or even a re-shift of your body posture. Just signal that you have heard them. Alternatively, you can also fill that pause with a verbal acknowledgment like:
- “Hmmm, interesting”
- “That makes total sense”
- “I’ve never heard that before”
- “Very cool”
Whether verbal or nonverbal, adding the pause before you begin your contribution shows that you respect the other side, and they are more likely to support your ideas. You will also model the proper speaking behavior and challenge the other person to show you the same respect. And respect is a foundation for effective communication. So add that to your mental checklist during your next conversation.
Similar to the body language tip, we must do a quick self-check to ensure we are actually focused on the other person. Are you actually listening, or are you in that “double-dutch”mode waiting for your turn to speak and already forming your sentences? Are you looking around and zoned out, or totally listening with focus on what they are saying? Don’t miss out on key words or cues because you are somewhere else.
One of the ways we can get re-focused is to adopt the mindset of “their words.” A totally powerful way to get buy in from another person is to use their words and ideas when you present your thoughts. It amplifies the effectiveness of your message dramatically. So use your focus not only on listening, but on actively searching for those key things the other person says that you want to elaborate on. Then you can use the “Yes, and” concept in the most effective way! Understand the context from the perspective and context of your audience.
This kind of focus taps into your system two very well. In a sales environment, being able to present your ideas in their words is one of the most important skills you can develop for effective communication.
All of these tips for effective communication only work if you take the time to apply them. Understanding your two systems is only the start – you have to work at using them effectively. The quick self-check is a great start, but to make the most of it you need to practice it. At first it will seem weird and it will make you feel uncomfortable, but once you get a bit more aware of your body posture, your focus, and your patience, you will start to see big changes in how people respond to you.
Another great article on effective communication I recently read was from Anxiety BC and it gives some great tips. One of them has to do with practice and the suggestion of just observing others. Do some people watching and actively look for the tips I outlined above. Watch posture, watch for people jumping in too soon, watch for combative language. But watch. See if you can identify effective communication in action.
I would love to hear your comments on how you apply these tips and other thoughts you have on this subject! And remember to like and share this post.
Photo by soycamo
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