March Forward #1: Can You Hear Me Now?

Communication is tricky, even face-to-face; even without poor cell reception; even between two people who speak the same language.

The definition is simple: any exchange of information, verbal and non-verbal, between sender and receiver. But because humans are so fascinatingly complex, it is virtually impossible for us to convey isolated bits of data.

Every time you speak to someone you are revealing yourself—often before you even open your mouth. It’s your tone of voice, pace of speech, or facial expression; the clothes you select and the way you wear your hair. Are you crossing your legs, folding your arms, cocking your head? Are your hands on your hips or in your pocket? Are your palms clenched into fists, or open for a handshake? All of these are messages in themselves—messages about you.

What’s more, the people we address interpret what we share in light of their own beliefs and values.

Sometimes, so many variables and hidden messages accrue—casting both light and shadow over any exchange—that the original information is deeply buried. And yet, expressing how we feel and asking for what we need is key to our emotional and physical health. And communication is the thread that binds and strengthens our relationships. How can we effectively communicate our thoughts, feelings and needs?

Slow down. Take a deep breath to get centered, stay positive and focus on the other person and your connection in the moment. Don’t try to conduct an important conversation while doing something else, even if it’s just folding laundry or making dinner.

Speak the truth from your heart. Don’t rush through it, even if it seems tedious or unpleasant. Slow, steady pacing can lend clarity, coherence and calmness without wasting time.

Learn how to listen deeply. Think about the essence of what you heard, and rephrase in your own words. Try to express empathy: “I hear you.” “Tell me more.” “I’m so grateful you told me.” Says Joan Boysenko, Ph.D: “One of the most important ways that we can show respect and love is by carefully listening while another speaks.” Allow the speaker time to fine-tune; and only respond when the speaker seems heard. Listen for the natural pause that implies completion.

Avoid interruptions. No matter how important we believe our contribution is, interrupting squelches the flow of energy and sends a powerful non-verbal message that our thoughts and feelings trump the ones they’re struggling to share.

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