Effective Communication in Five Easy Steps

A man looks through a window, surprised by all that he sees.

Effective Communication Strategies in Five Easy Steps

Instead of gazing out a window, have you ever used it as a mirror – fussing with your reflection? I often use this as an illustration when assisting clients in strengthening their effective communication strategies. It is nearly impossible to build healthy social and business relationships when we do not set our gaze outward.

The Scary Business of Proving Yourself

Having an opinion can be scary: we are social by nature and endorsement feels crucial to our wellbeing. As children, speaking up meant all eyes were upon us: Our ideas and opinions became pivotal auditions for being included or cast aside. Self-absorption was a survival tactic – our moves and opinions were carefully self-measured to insure we did not end up on the unraveling fringes of unpopularity.

However, as we mature, society expects us to gain the confidence to step outside of ourselves – to formulate opinions, not as a way to win a point or reinforce our validity, but as a way to contribute to the collective health of the community we live in.

Unfortunately, many of us have never spent the time or sought the guidance to update our adolescent perspectives. When approval seeking accompanies us into adulthood we treat our social exchanges as mirrors: we seek interactions with others as ways to gain personal reassurance and, with this agenda, we become inattentive or even combative when our conversation partner’s philosophies are not our own.

Using Conversations to Learn and Grow

When our intention is to reinforce our own self-interests rather than contribute our thoughts, our spirits run the risk of stagnation. As your inner-commentary increases, your active listening skills diminish. Competition and judgment prevail: you focus on a counter-response (if only the other person would stop yammering) in an attempt to prove how right you are. But even if you defeat the other person’s point of view, how does that help you learn and grow?

It is far healthier to look past our own agendas and view conversations as opportunities to expand our horizons: This is clearly a way to build solid relationships. Acceptance, by definition, does not require we agree with every perspective we hear, rather, acceptance involves finding a way to put our own ego-struggle down as a way to consider the potential of what the other person is contributing.

The next time you find a conversation strained, ask yourself who is creating this resistance. Take responsibility for any particular thought or idea you’ve personalized – and realize this adherence is limiting your ability to learn something that can, perhaps, benefit you.

Here’s How to Achieve Effective Communication in Five Easy Steps:

  1. It’s a conversation NOT a competition: Instead of attempting to dismantle another’s opinion, get curious about their perspective.
  2. Let your conversation partner know you are actively listening by paraphrasing what you’ve heard: This also helps clarify any misconceptions and keeps you both on topic and engaged.
  3. Find a grain of truth in the other person’s point of view – even if it seems like a speck of sand on a vast beach of unreasonableness: focus on this.
  4. Use tactful curiosity as a tool for clarity: “When you tell me the sky is red, it confuses me because the sky appears blue to me.”
  5. Allow yourself to learn something new (maybe your conversation partner was describing a sunset, or the atmosphere on Mars).
Create your own Windows of Opportunity

Once you are in a mutually respectful place, find ways to strengthen your newly found camaraderie. Differences can prove to be enlightening rather than threatening and, when mixed together, can provide a sum that’s greater than its parts  (for more information, click here).

Windows are best used when looked through toward something newRealize that we are not our thoughts: thoughts are flexible references to life – and life is ever changing. Decide to step away from the limits of your own reflection. Roll up any shades of doubt, throw open the windows of opportunity, and cast your gaze toward a bigger picture – whatever color the sky happens to be.

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