“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” ~ Fred Rogers
“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” ~ Brian Tracy
“When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret.” ~ Shannon L. Alder
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” ~ Anthony Robbins
“Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor in determining what happens to him in the world.” ~ Virginia Satir
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ~ Steven R. Covey
Communication is a ubiquitous word – and concept. We are bombarded with information. We have countless technologies at our disposal that propose to make communication “easy”: emails, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, blogs, webpages, and the list goes on and on. We communicate a lot, but what do we really say? What meaning are we sharing with each other? Have we focused on quantity at the sacrifice of quality?
We comment on the weather, share what we ate for dinner, and complain about work. We post our vacation pictures, talk about our exercise routines (or lack thereof) and complain about everything that is wrong or lacking in our lives. But how often do we take the time to have real and meaningful conversations? When do we sit down with another and share our dreams and aspirations, our hopes and fears, our goals and emotions? When do we have conversations about the things that really matter to us – the things that impact the quality of our lives? Not nearly enough, I think. Sometimes I worry that we are losing the language to do so. We eventually lose sight of that which we don’t communicate. Many of life’s most difficult struggles could be eased (or even alleviated) if we talked freely and honestly about them.
Understanding the principles of communication may help us take it more seriously and intentionally use our limited time together to enlarge our experience rather than diminish it.
Four Principles of Communication
Communication is vital not only to our quality of life, but also to life itself. Without the ability to communicate there would be no relationships, no institutions, no governments, and no meaning. But most of us take communication for granted. Because there is no shortage of messages and methods, we seldom focus on the content and quality of our communication. Consider these four principles of communication and how the fundamental truths of them impact your life.
Communication Is Inescapable
We can’t not communicate. Even the attempt to not communicate communicates something. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, we are wired to share meaning by sending and receiving messages.
Communication Is Irreversible And Unrepeatable
You can’t put spilled water back in the glass. Even if you fill the glass back up, the water is not the same. This is also true of communication. Have you ever said something you wished you could take back? Even after an apology, the effect of the communication remains. Because of its irreversible and unrepeatable nature, each interaction has the potential to be life-changing, to become a sacred event. When you realize just how precious and unique each interaction is you begin to realize the power they hold to hurt or heal, to nurture or destroy, to build up or tear down. Communication is never neutral – never.
Communication Is Complicated
Communication is complex because of the seemingly limitless number of variables. Many theorists suggest that whenever you communicate with another person there are at least six “people” involved: who you think you are, who you think the other person is, who you think the other person thinks you are, who the other person thinks she is, who the other person thinks you are, who the other person thinks you think she is. It’s no wonder that we so frequently misunderstand each other. But yet we often assume that our message is clear and the other person fully comprehends what we mean. Aren’t assumptions foolish?
Communication Is Contextual
Communication does not happen in isolation – it is surrounded with context. Each participant brings with them a unique set of values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, not to mention their desires, goals and intentions. Each relationship, situation and environment is unique. The combination of who, what, when and where add another layer of complication to the sharing of meaning. Each culture also has a set of learned rules and regulations that govern what is appropriate and differences in culture can create misunderstanding.
And all this time you thought you were just having a conversation. With all of these variables, it’s no wonder that we frequently misunderstand each other. The irony is that we tend to overestimate our level of understanding. The ego assumes that everyone understands us and that we understand everyone. This can result in conversations that leave us feeling diminished rather than enlarged.
Enlarge or Diminish?
Communication has tremendous power. With just a few words we can encourage another person or tear them down. And we all know from experience that it’s not the words themselves, but the emotion they convey that is so powerful. That’s why non-verbals communicate so much meaning.
Dr. Frank Luntz, author of Words that Work, explains that most communication is based on feelings rather than information. “Eighty (80) percent of our life is emotion, and only 20 percent is intellect,” Luntz says. “I am much more interested in how you feel than how you think. I can change how you think, but how you feel is something deeper and stronger, and it’s something that’s inside you. How you think is on the outside, how you feel is on the inside, so that’s what I need to understand.”
We could develop stronger more meaningful bonds with others if we took Luntz’s advice. Every time you communicate with someone, you either enlarge or diminish them through your interaction. Knowing this makes it a matter of choice. In his book, The Natural Speaker, Randy Fujishin explains six specific ways that you can enlarge others through your communication with them:
Don’t take communication so personally
The single most important thing you can do to be more effective in your communication is to give the ego a break. Remember that it ain’t about you because the understanding of your message lies in the other person. This awareness helps you become less self-centered and not take the process so personally. It also provides space to cultivate empathy for the other person. Consider asking yourself these questions when you’re talking (and listening) to someone else:
- What is this person’s point of view?
- What does this say about this person?
- How is this person feeling?
- Where is this person coming from?
- How does this person see this situation?
- Who is this person?
Without this ability, our communication will be self-centered, superficial and often defensive. Instead of really seeking to understand the thoughts and feelings of the other person we will be focused solely on the echoes of our own mind. That’s not really communication.
Listen without verbal interruption
Once we are able to give the ego a break, we will be able to give the other person time to speak without interruption. Most of us tend to verbally interrupt another person every 12 seconds during a conversation. “That’s wonderful!” “That’s terrible!” “I’m sure.” “That reminds me of…” “If I were you, I would…” “No, that’s not true, because…” “Oh, I know…” “It was even worse for me…” and the interruptions go on and on and on and on. It’s no wonder we seldom feel truly heard, taken seriously and fully understood.
One of the most enlarging things we can do for another person is to practice deep listening – listening for meaning and without interruption. Try practicing it and see the difference it makes. Consider these tips to help you practice deep listening:
- If the person is important to you, treat them that way.
- When the other person has stopped talking, wait a few seconds before you respond. They may have more to say.
- Ask permission before giving your opinion.
- Listen reflectively.
Listening reflectively means mirroring back to the speaker what she is saying – without verbal judgment. The simplest way to accomplish this is to ask questions rather than assuming you understand everything, because you don’t. The following examples will help you practice mirroring by using reflective questions:
- “Are you saying…?”
- “What I hear you saying is…?”
- “You think…?”
- “You believe…?”
- “Are you feeling…?”
- “Your point is…?”
- “Do you mean…?”
Imagine how questions like these can greatly reduce miscommunication and enhance understanding. It takes the burden off of you to fully understand everything the other person means. Mirroring gives them the opportunity to clarify and you can simply be present.
A sincere compliment can give new life to the person receiving it. We all know how great it is to receive a compliment but we seldom give them as often as we could. Giving compliments is a skill that can be developed, once you decide to nurture it. It starts by choosing to see the best in others and allowing you to give them credit when they show worthy character traits, put forth sincere effort or achieve a goal. You can even compliment individuals for things they don’t do. For example, you can offer a compliment to someone for not swearing, constantly interrupting, or criticizing. Offering sincere compliments is a powerful way to enlarge another person and help them feel validated, valued and heard.
Reframe what is said
Reframing involves seeing a situation or experience from a different perspective. Most of us can get stuck in a limited way of thinking because of our own baggage, experiences and perspectives. Reframing invites the other person to consider multiple perspectives and attempt to see the lesson or opportunity in difficult or unpleasant experiences.
When attempting to reframe remember rule #1 and don’t take their response to your reframing personally. They don’t have to accept the new perspective in order for it to be beneficial. The goal is to begin looking for new ways of seeing – to change the lens. Every story has multiple endings and you can choose the one you want.
It may seem obvious, but we often overlook the power of touch. Touching another person helps them feel cared for, acknowledged and loved. There are times when no words are sufficient, but a deep hug conveys just the right thing. Of course, there is no fast rule for when (or how much) touch is appropriate. It depends on the individual, the situation and the intent. But when appropriate and well-intentioned, human touch is one of the most powerful ways that we can enlarge others and ourselves.