Communication should be easy, right? I say something and you listen. You say something and I listen. However, communication in which each person feels heard and acknowledged is actually quite rare.
In the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program I taught this week, we did an exercise in which one person talks and one person listens for 2-3 minutes. People commented how different this was from their normal conversation. Many had not ever experienced listening or being listened in this way and decided it would probably really help if they did. Good communication starts with good listening.
Reflect on your recent communications. How did they feel? Did you feel acknowledged, appreciated, and accepted? Do you think the other person did? If not, then there might be a number of things going on. Too often we are so busy thinking about how something will impact us, how it relates to our experience, and what we will say when we have a chance, that we don’t really hear the other person.
Another big barrier to communication is we are all VERY BUSY and don’t take the time to really be present for another person. Today, like most days, I felt very rushed by everything I needed to do for work. I ran home to meet the Culligan man so he could carry salt downstairs for my water softener. Instead of being impatient and in my “I’m busy” mode, I decided to be simply present for this other human being who was showing up in my life. Because I took just a few more seconds to be open, I had the most wonderful interaction. I found out my Culligan man is a musician on the side and is working on a song for veterans that might be part of a larger project to help veterans. He found out I was a health psychologist and I gave him tips on how to get running back into his life and perhaps eat a little better. It didn’t take much longer than if I’d tried to rush him along (maybe a minute or two). The gift of connection was priceless and impacted how I felt the rest of my day.
Here are some tips for improving your communication skills.
- Be present and listen more during the first three or four minutes of any conversation. This will completely change your relationships with others.
- Paraphrase what you heard the other person say so that you’re sure you understood her. We often only hear our version of what the person said.
- In difficult communications, connect with the sensations of your body (feel your feet on the floor and feel your breath) as a way of staying open to what the other person. Difficult communications often bring up fear in us and staying with the breath and the body can help ground you.
- Before giving someone your advice, ask if it is wanted. We love to help but sometimes people just want to be heard. Generally having a sounding board will help someone tap into to their own internal wisdom about what to do.
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Epictetus