Communication, especially when it is effective and meaningful, is one of the most important elements of success in life. It is incredible how little (if any) training is provided to develop skills for effective communication.
Much of what we learn, is largely focused on ourselves – presence, timing, grammar, syntax, pronunciation, vocabulary – while this is all good and very important, we’re missing a crucial element – How to successfully connect with person we’re speaking to.
Experience is the best tool to learn communication skills for successful relationships. Which means for the majority of us, this experience comes from our acquaintances, work, friends and family.
It is important to put our upbringing into perspective and ask “have I been surrounded by the best role models in terms of communication and relationships?”, “how has the community I’ve been brought up in impacted the way I act?”.
How great it would be to be surrounded by some of the worlds top motivational and communication gurus like Anthony Robbins, Seane Corne, Stephen Covey and the like… though unfortunately this usually isn’t the case.
Not to put a damper on things, but there is a lot working against us in today’s society – conditioning us towards unhealthy ways of communicating; the shift from interpersonal dialogue towards the speed and efficiency of technology, hyper-connectivity to work and social media, a lack of positive role models in our community, etc.
Conditioning means becoming accustomed to a certain way of doing things until it becomes “natural”. When we are conditioned certain ways of doing things slowly become second-nature – we don’t put much thought into doing them anymore.
With what was mentioned above this can lead to; many friends with few deep meaningful connections, a perceived lack of value towards deep dialogue, reactive urges to respond to all incoming forms of communication (texts, instant messages, emails) and unhealthy habits towards personal and professional relationships.
So, how do we take actions into our own hands? Here are two simple communication skills that can radically transform the quality of your relationships, bringing you success and meaningful deep dialogue.
Both of these skills; mindful listening and mindful conversation are based on a simple idea that Chade-Meng Tan from Google’s SIY emotional intelligence program illustrates, “give your full moment-to-moment attention to another person with a nonjudgmental mind, and every time your attention wanders away, just gently bring it back.”
1. Mindful Listening
We can engage this skill when a friend or loved one is speaking to us by setting two intentions; dedicating our full attention to this person and secondly, to be aware when we are analyzing or judging what is being said (something I call a “mindful check-in).
It helps to remind ourselves how valuable this person in front of us is and that they are entitled to all the time and space they need to express themselves. Just note when you’re trying to steer the conversation, question or interrupt and shift towards acknowledgement, acceptance and allowance – you can do this with facial expressions or simply saying “I see” or “I understand”.
Be available to listen again if they run out of things to say and try not to be afraid from allowing for the space for silence when they seem “finished”.
2. Mindful Conversation
This skill is broken into three parts; mindful listening, clarifying, and checking-in on what we’re feeling/thinking (mindful check-in).
Firstly providing and honoring the space to engage mindful listening. Then you transition to “clarifying” and conveying empathy if the situation calls for it – clarification is the art of restating what you “think” you’ve heard and, conveying empathy simply put is recognizing and letting the other know that you understand what they must be feeling at this moment. Google’s SIY program calls this “looping” or “closing the loop of communication”, where one person speaks for a while and the other loops back by saying what she thought she heard the other say. We go back and forth like this until our partner feels satisfied that we correctly understand each other.
We then shift to a “mindful check-in” to notice our own feelings or internal chatter – which is what usually distracts us from truly engaging in mindful listening – we then choose to acknowledge and to the best of our ability bring a non-judging mind to these thought and or feelings. We can notice all of this as we speak, can choose to present our feelings, or if you prefer, acknowledging what is arising and letting it go if it is willing to.