Words matter. It’s easy to say that nobody really cares about being precise with their words anymore, but I think there is a different reason that reaches far deeper than whether or not someone cares. That is the reason for this post.
We live in a busy world where efficiency and speed of task is rewarded. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost. Many of us are too busy to pause and listen. Not only to others, but more importantly to ourselves. Doing so would reap huge rewards in the realm of communication. Think about it.
How often have you:
- tried to explain your position to someone in an effort to communicate better only to end up in an argument while wondering what went wrong?
- asked someone how they were and then was surprised to hear them actually answer with more than the obligatory “good and you”?
- tried to get your authentic beliefs and vision across only to receive skeptical looks and negative body language back no matter how much you emphasize your point?
It would be nice if these types of scenarios were rare, but they are not. Next time you find yourself in one of these situations, try these following strategies. I am certain that once you see how useful they are you will begin to think about them before engaging with others. After all who doesn’t want better conversations from the start.
Speak with an assumption that the audience believes in your authenticity.
How often has someone spoken to you and gets to a point where they say; “Look, I’m going to be real honest with you.”? There are other similar phrases, but think about what this implies. Personally, the first thought I have focuses on why would they have to convince me that they are going to be honest now. Have they not been honest up to this point? We all know how the rest of a conversation in which a person’s credibility is questioned progresses. If you are discussing a belief, viewpoint,or vision that you hold; you should never be communicating from a position of questionable credibility. Be careful to not open that door.
Speak to people with an understanding that their experience is different than yours.
Too often we get caught up in our own existence and our world (viewpoint) narrows. We lose sight of any other context that we do not personally experience. I tried an experiment that is now a habit. I encourage you to do the same. instead of asking people how they are doing when I see them; I ask the how they are doing today. I know it is a simple change, but it makes a world of difference. There are many individuals who may have bad lives, but be experiencing a good day. Asking them a global question may bring them down. Narrowing it may help them focus on a positive moment or give you a chance to help them. Work to listen and empathize when speaking to people. Whenever you ask someone something, make sure you are genuinely interested in their answer. If they give a canned response such as “fine” or “good thanks” don’t wait for them to ask you back. Follow up with a “that’s great to hear” or “I’m sorry to hear that” or even “why?”. The key is to relate and you can only do that by listening and empathizing in an effort to understand a little of their experience.
Use positive instead of judgmental language.
I have struggled with this one, but have noticed an immediate improvement since I started practicing its use. Whenever you start a conversation with a judgmental word or phrase you only leave two options for the person you are speaking with; agree or disagree. The key is to start a conversation in a positive way so that it can be more of a dialogue. If the person agrees there is no need to continue. If they disagree they now have to explain why they think you are wrong, which causes you to push back. For example: I caught myself commenting on the return of the show Will and Grace. My wife loves the show. Me, well, not so much. I told her I thought the show was bad. In fact everything about it was awful; the writing, the characters, and the acting. I saw her instantly get defensive and tell me why she thought I didn’t like it. The conversation instantly became about me rather than the show because I made it that way. After apologizing, I scratched my head thinking; why didn’t I just say that the show didn’t appeal to me instead of attacking it? This is a subtle difference in practice, but huge in the result. Don’t get me wrong. There are times when judgement is needed, but even in those moments a positive interaction always leads to the desired result while keeping the relationship.
We all struggle with conversation at one point or another. The key is to be present as we speak. Forget about the current agenda running through our head, stop, pause, and actually engage. Remember it isn’t that we cannot think of all of these things; its that we don’t take the time to recognize these moments as they pass. Unfortunately, many times they don’t come back. I have found time after time that the best way to communicate for any reason is to keep the conversation and attention where it belongs. With the person you are having it with. You can do this by authentically seeking to empathize in a positive manner. Or in short; speak to people with a respect for who they are rather than what you are trying to say.