Communication is an art form that is crafted throughout our lives.
Two men riding a bicycle built for two came to a long, steep hill. It took a great deal of struggle for the men to complete what proved to be a very stiff climb. When they got to the top, the man in front turned to the other and said, “Boy that sure was a hard climb.” The fellow in the back replied, “Yes, and if I hadn’t kept the brakes on all the way, we would certainly have rolled down backwards.”
Have you ever had an experience like this one when you just seemed not to be working on the same page with someone? Henry Winkler once said: “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” Always find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings. Remember the words of George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” And also remember this: we must never put people in a position where they have to read our minds.
Brian Tracy adds, “Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or playing a musical instrument. If you’re willing to work at it, you can improve the quality of every part of your life.” I made a decision over 40 years ago to really study communication principles and styles to help me to become the best communicator I could be. That doesn’t mean I always get it right. We all are continuous works in progress. It is important that we take advantage of every opportunity to practice our communication skills.
Always find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want.
What are some of the negative costs of making assumptions? Max DePree writes, “There may be no single thing more important in our efforts to achieve meaningful work and fulfilling relationships than to learn to practice the art of communication.” To whom you’re born and where you’re born is luck. But friends and solid relationships…that takes work and trust and is a part of your legacy. Call me old fashioned if you like, but I actually take relationships seriously. Greg McKeown adds. “What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we spend listening, pondering, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?"
Communication is a process (either verbal or non-verbal) of sharing information with another person in such a way that they understand what you are saying. It doesn’t matter how much you communicate with a person if they don’t understand it. Effective communication isn’t just about talking; it is also the ability to listen and understand, to read and interpret body language, and to know how to approach another person so you can get your point across in a respectful manner.
Jim Clemmer writes in Managing at the Speed of Change, “It’s ironic but in today’s age of instantaneous communication and technologies that have made us a global village, communication breakdowns are the single biggest complaint I hear from our clients. In many cases, people don’t have the skills to address tough issues with each other. And they do it so poorly, it raises up defensiveness in the other person. Adding to the noise of communication issues is the technology overload. Lots of people confuse ‘communicating’ with ‘dumping information’ through copious electronic messages. This in reality reduces meaningful two-way communication.”
Two birds are sitting on a fence looking over a farmer’s field.
"Is that a human?" asked bird number one.
“No, don’t worry, it’s a scarecrow” replied bird number two.
Bird number one, “How can you tell?”
Bird number two replied, “He’s not looking at his phone!”
Carrie Barron wrote in The Creativity Cure, “Does technology threaten to supplant face-to-face intimacy? With devices in hand, we can avoid human exchange and the potential awkwardness therein." She adds, “An older person was baffled by a teen’s suicide since the deceased had 40 Facebook friends. A younger person explained that Facebook friends are not necessarily real friends. You may have never met them and they may not actually care if you had a bad day. Facebook friendship no longer connotes a precious relationship. Recent studies show that empathy is decreasing rapidly in rising generations. Device dependency can compromise a deeper relationship with both the self and others.”
Effective communication isn’t just about talking.
Albert Einstein once said that he feared the day when technology would surpass our human interaction. How would he react today when the most important relationship some people have is with their WiFi. Seen on a t-shirt: “My WiFi went down for five minutes, so I had to talk to my family. They seem like nice people.” I personally love these technologies, but in moderation. Adrianna Huffington sums it up so effectively: “Disconnecting from our technology to reconnect with ourselves and others is absolutely essential.” Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master.
Let me ask another question: How well do you really connect with others?
Brene Brown defines connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued: when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship. The ability to connect with others begins with understanding the value of people.
The term connect refers to spending time with our friends, colleagues, family, or generally our communities. Connecting with others is a good way to boost our well-being as building relationships with those around us makes us more secure and gives us a greater sense of purpose. Connecting is never about you. It’s about the person with whom you are communicating. There’s a message in the way a person treats you and there is a message in the way you treat others. Just listen…and watch. Maturity is the ability to see and act on behalf of others. Immature people don’t see things from someone else’s point of view; maturity does not always come with age; sometimes age comes alone.
Who do you bring to the party? Oscar Wilde wrote, “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.” The former talks about the people who bring joy and happiness with them; the latter talks about people who bring joy and happiness in their wake, that is, when they leave. Your energy introduces you before you even speak. John Maxwell adds, “People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.” Within five seconds of meeting someone, you make a lasting impression based on the following order: First, how you look, second, how you sound, and third, what you say. Comedian George Carlin joked, “Scientists announced today that they had found a cure for apathy, However, they claim no one has shown the slightest bit of interest in it.” Your energy introduces you before you even speak. Imagine if everyone took personal responsibility for the energy they bring to the environments they visit.
The ability to connect with others begins with understanding the value of people.
How do you want to be remembered? How do you leave others feeling after an experience with you?
Let’s first take a look at some principles of communicating with others.
Do you avoid conflict by thinking before you speak? Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can only be forgiven, not forgotten; it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out. If the words you spoke appeared on your skin, would you still be likeable?
Naomi Judd writes in Naomi’s Breakthrough Guide, “Words hold the power to get what you want and to help you get rid of what you don’t want. Words become the outward manifestation of whatever’s going on inside your head. They reflect your inner world to your outer world. Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words can never hurt you. My elementary school friends and I used to chant those words at recess. We were too young to understand that words do have power-at times, more hurtful than sticks and stones. Some words inspire us to open and connect. Some words give rise to protective barriers so we shut down and retreat. Words can create or destroy.”
What’s wrong with simple? I read recently in Bits & Pieces this anecdote: “I called an old engineering buddy of mine and asked what he was working on these days. He replied that he was working on an ‘aqua-thermal treatment of ceramics, aluminum and steel under a constrained environment.’ I was impressed until further inquiry, where I learned he was washing dishes with hot water under his wife’s supervision.”
I ask again, what’s wrong with simple? John Maxwell shares this wonderful story in his book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect:
A preschool-aged boy was eating an apple in the backseat of the car. “Daddy,” he said. “why is the apple turning brown?”
The boy’s father explained, “Because you ate the skin off, the meat of the apple came in contact with the air, which caused it to oxidize, thus changing its molecular structure and turning it into a different color.”
There was a long silence, and then the boy asked, “Daddy, are you talking to me?”
Before you say something, stop and think how you’d feel if someone said it to you. Was this dad, who probably gave this communication his best effort, really connecting with his son? I believe it was Albert Einstein who said, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
I always mean what I say. I may not always mean to say it out loud, but I always mean to say it.
- Betty White
When people try to communicate with others, many believe the message is all that matters. But the reality is that communication goes way beyond words. In an important study, UCLA psychology professor Albert Mehrabian discovered face-to-face communication can be broken down into three components: words, tone of voice, and body language. In situations where feelings and attitudes are being communicated:
The words we say accounts for only 7% of the message.
Our tone of voice accounts for 38 percent.
Our body language accounts for 55%.
Amazingly, 93% of the impression we often convey has nothing to do with what we actually say.
Jarod Kintz quipped, “I’m bilingual, speaking English and Body Language. I prefer the latter, because I can speak it silently and without listening and while my back is turned.” Our body language and tone must match our words (congruency).
Some people feel they can’t be held responsible for what their face does when others talk. Some people practically roll their eyes out loud. Again, you must take 100% responsibility when you are engaged in a communication with other people.
Let’s take a look at listening.
A frustrated but confused husband quips, "My wife just stopped and said, 'You weren’t even listening were you?' I thought, That’s a pretty weird way to start a conversation.”
Do you give your full attention to what others are saying? Do you put away your phone, turn off the TV, put down your newspaper and really pay attention to those talking with you? There’s actually an app for that and it’s called ‘respect.’ Michael Nichols writes in The Lost Art of Listening, “To listen well, you may have to restrain yourself from disagreeing or giving advice or talking about your own experience. Temporarily at least, listening is a one-sided relationship.
Writer and Pastor Charles Swindoll once found himself with too many commitments in too few days. He got nervous and tense about it. He writes: “I was snapping at my wife and our children, choking down my food at mealtimes, and generally feeling irritated at all those unexpected interruptions I had experienced throughout the day,” he recalled in his book Stress Fractures. “Before long, things around the house started reflecting the pattern of my hurry up style. It was becoming unbearable. I distinctly remember after supper one evening, the words of our young daughter, Colleen. She wanted to tell me something really important that had happened to her at school that day. She began hurriedly 'Daddy, I want to tell you something and I’ll tell you really fast.'
"Suddenly realizing her frustration. I answered. 'Honey, you can tell me and you don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.' I’ll never forget her answer: 'Then listen slowly.'"
The number one barrier to listening effectively is interrupting others. How many of us have said at some time, “I don’t mean to interrupt people. I just randomly remember things and get really excited.” Sometimes we have a confused notion that listening means agreement. It doesn’t. Whether we agree or don’t is a separate matter; we need to hear what someone has to say without confusing it with whether we see thins the same way. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply, we listen for what’s behind the words.
Now, let’s take a further look at connecting with others.
Tom Ford writes, “The most important things in life are the connections you make with others.” The first thing we all should know about us is that we’re not anyone else. A lot more will make sense after that. Paul McCartney writes, “I used to think anyone doing anything weird was weird. Now I know that it is the people that call others weird that are weird."
The most important things in life are the connections you make with others.
Over 35 years ago, I became a certified facilitator in Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator to study the different temperaments that caused people to think and act differently than I did. I actually worked for about 5 years with a church offering Myers-Briggs as an essential segment of their marriage preparation course.
John Maxwell adds, "For the first time I recognized that different temperaments caused people to think and act differently than I do. That may seem obvious to you, but it was an important eye opener for me. More importantly, I realized there is no right temperament. As a result, I tried to convert people with other temperaments to mine. How ridiculous! I was like the lady who was disappointed with the result of her husband’s eye surgery. She told her friend, 'We spent over $4,000.00 on laser surgery for his eyes, and he still can’t see things from my point of view.'"
Communication is key. Two people can be in the same relationship and yet see it in two different ways. Understanding personality types can help you connect with others better. We must learn to manage personal differences and demonstrate tolerance with others. Other people are not ‘defective’ if they have a different temperament or style than we do. Understanding personality types can help you connect with others better; understanding and respecting differences are definitely signs of maturity.
As an example, introverts want company just as much as extroverts do, but they prefer it in either short doses or with people they know well. Introverts have been heard to say, “Peopling is hard; I can’t people today.” Extroverts will often mistake introverts need for privacy as personal rejection. We all have different needs to re-charge our batteries. How large is your social battery? Should you ever have the opportunity, I would highly recommend you take a Myers-Briggs course. It was a life-changer for me in better understanding others.
The following are connection killers:
Not holding appropriate eye contact
Finishing other people’s sentences
Being overly critical
Being a know-it-all
The following are connection enhancers:
Being genuine: have a genuine interest in the person with whom you are trying to
communicate and connect.
Being teachable. You’re not always right. Is your need to be right, greater than your need in establishing solid relationships with others?
Being open to learning: always be open to hearing other people’s ideas and stories. Resist the urge to always try and ‘one-up’ someone with your knowledge or expertise.
Being of service to others: find ways to make yourself invaluable and people will appreciate you.
Being present: pay attention. Wherever you go, be there!
Feeling empathy and kindness for other people: anger closes us down to connection, as does judgement and criticism.
Remembering names: remembering people’s names will instantly make them feel acknowledged and welcomed.
Remaining unforgettable: make an effort to continue your relationships.
Send birthday cards, remember special anniversary dates, send personal notes occasionally. Follow up on something the person mentioned before.
Making others feel comfortable: a great way to connect with others is to make people you already know comfortable; make them feel at ease in your presence. My great friends Norah and Doug, after sharing dinner at their table, will always suggest we move to more comfortable chairs so we can ‘sit soft’ and carry on our conversation from there.
Thanking people: take the time to really thank people; this makes them feel appreciated. Making an effort to show gratitude really helps you to connect with others.
To close this blog, think about the following question, “Do you act differently around different people? It’s not because you are fake. It may be because you have a different comfort zone around certain people with whom you have established trust, rapport and connected with. In my mind, you are not required to or even supposed to connect with everyone. That could be exhausting and in some cases an exercise in futility.
Not everyone gets the same version of me. One person might tell you I’m a wonderful person while another may say I’m a cold-hearted… Believe them both. I act accordingly.
We spend way too much time analyzing why the wrong people are the way they are and not enough time walking away from them.
Previous month: Procrastination is the "Thief" of Time
Next month: Anger is One Letter Short of Danger
Think of your favorite elementary or high school teachers. What made them so memorable for you?
Think of a time when you made an assumption that led to a communication breakdown. What are some of the negative costs of making assumptions?
Which is more important: what you say or how you say it?
Try to recall two or three best experiences you’ve had with people in your life. What do these experiences have in common? Did you feel these people genuinely cared about you?
One of the first episodes in the Andy Griffith TV series depicted the following: Following the death of his wife, Sheriff Andy Taylor decided to invite his spinster Aunt Bee to come and live with Opie and him, thinking that she would add the missing, feminine touch. Surprisingly, Opie is not too pleased to have Aunt Bee come in and ‘replace’ his mother. Andy tries to help the situation by inviting Bee to go fishing and frog-catching with them so that Opie can become attached to her. Instead, she fails miserably at fishing and frogging and later at football. Finally, late at night, after Opie is in bed, Aunt Bee talks Andy into taking her to the bus station. Opie hears her crying beneath his bedroom window and guesses she is leaving. He runs down the stairs and out to the truck, exclaiming, “We can’t let her go, Pa, she needs us. She can’t even catch flies, take fish off the hook, or throw a football. We’ve got to take care of her or she’ll never make it.
If speaking kindly to plants helps them grow, imagine what speaking kindly to humans can do.
Five things you will never recover in life: a stone after it’s thrown, a word after it’s said, an occasion after it’s missed, time after it’s gone and trust after it’s lost.