Thursday, June 24, 2010
1. Body Language Body language is a huge component of how we communicate. I think that is part of why it is so much more difficult to "read" people online. There are no visual cues. When you enter into a conversation with someone face to face, you automatically learn about their mood, demeanor, and intent based on body language. The expression on the face, the posture, eyes up or down, stance. All of these cues set us up to have an expectation of what's coming next. Someone who is scowling and frowning with a furrowed brow, terse lips, arms crossed vs someone with arms at sides, relaxed shoulders, and a smile. You will approach each person in a very different way. You will have different assumptions about their purpose and their mood and their reactions because of those body cues. Take an assessment of how you appear to the world around you. Pay attention to the muscles in your face. Are you frowning or smiling? Are your eyebrows scrunched down or relaxed? Does your jaw feel tight? 2. Tone of Voice This is another one that can really set the tone for a conversation. Have you ever sat down to talk to someone and their voice was terse or they clipped their words or enunciated their syllables? Did that indicate emotion- maybe anger or frustration? Or maybe you hear a voice down the hall and the pace is fast, the pitch is higher- you assume that someone is excited or happy. Next time it seems like you aren't getting the reaction you expect from someone, check your tone of voice. Maybe you sound gruff when you mean to sound calm. Maybe you sound chipper when you mean to sound morose. Maybe you mean to sound forceful and instead sound wimpy. If your tone of voice doesn't match your message... maybe your mood isn't matching your purpose, maybe you've just had a really awful day. But if you want to communicate effectively, your tone has to match your message. 3. Connection Once communcation begins, connect in to the conversation and stay connected until done. Maybe you start with a handshake or a smile... then you make sure to lean in or maintain eye contact. Listen to what's being said and respond appropriately. Stay connected to the person you are talking to- whether they are your friend, your spouse, your parent, your child. Focus on what they are saying and what their body language is telling you. If you talk to someone while staring at your plate or keeping your eyes on your computer or while distracted by something on TV, you send a message that the other person is less important than the thing that has your attention. A great way to connect to a child is through touch- holding hands or a hand on the cheek or shoulder. Also, kneel or squat down to get to their level. When appropriate, these are great ways to establish or maintain a connection to an adult, too. How do you stay connected in a conversation or when in a group? Do you disconnect and focus on a distraction? Do you withdraw inside yourself? Do you mope or pout? Do you make eye contact, smile, and maintain focus on what is happening at that moment? 4. Say What You Mean Using words effectively might seem like the most basic part of communcation- simple and one everyone does. Not so! If you want to convey something to another person, you have to use the words that describe what you mean. There is a time and place for "reading between the lines." But to really have strong communication, it's best to say what you mean and not expect others to understand you or read your mind. I've never encountered an actual mind reader outside of books and TV shows and movies. No one has ever read my mind and known what I was thinking with no communication from me. I've tried- in restaurants, I will stare down the waitress and try to scream my order into her head. I've yet to be heard. If you want someone to know something, tell them. If you want someone to know how you are feeling, what you want to eat, what you need them to do... tell them. 5. Mean What You Say Your words have to be genuine. Those other things up there- connection, body language, tone of voice- are a great bullshit meter for other people when they communicate with you. When asked "How are you?" and you reply with a grimace and tensely reply through gritted teeth, "fine," chances are you won't be believed or taken seriously. If you want someone to believe that you are fine, mean it when you say it. *** Good communication skills are an essential building block for strong and healthy relationships. It doesn't matter who you are trying to communicate with- good communication skills can help you along. You approach your boss to ask for a raise. Your boss comes to you and asks you to take on more responsibility. You want to talk to your spouse about money. You have to fire someone. Your young child has been acting up at school. You want to talk to your tween about sex. You've been asked to choose the restaurant for girl's night out. We communicate throughout the day. How we communicate determines the strength of the relationships we have with those that we communicate with. Are you helping to build your relationships with effective communication skills? Will your kids look back on their relationship with you and remember the great talks you had? Do you remember your communcation relationship with your own parents? Could you talk to them about anything or nothing? Did your dad talk to your mom in a loving and compassionate way? Did your mom talk to her friends or your friends in a way that was demanding or demeaning or passive? What can you do to become a better communicator in the relationships that matter the most to you?