From a young age we experience different styles of communication, initially from our parents, teachers, family and friends and later from our peers and communities; some more inspiring and effective than others. Communication forms a huge part of our everyday personal and professional life.
Poor communication can be the cause of deep distress, anxiety and loneliness
How we communicate impacts our relationships and our relationships form the basis of our connection with our families, friends, colleagues and communities. Poor communication can be the cause of deep distress, anxiety and loneliness whereas good communication can be the source of loving relationships, joy and authentic community.
In this blog I want to share some of what I’ve learned that helps me to communicate better and be a more effective coach, trainer and friend in all areas of my life.
Good communication can be the source of loving relationships, joy and authentic community
There are many aspects of communication that I could have chosen. Here are four which I have found to be beneficial to my relationships.
1. Listen genuinely
One of the most effective lessons I had about the importance of genuine listening was displayed by an actor in my life coaching training. He sat on stage and invited a volunteer to go and sit opposite him for the demonstration. It went something like this:
Actor: “So you said earlier that you want to have a holiday of a lifetime to celebrate your 60th birthday, where are you thinking of going?”
Volunteer: “I’m not sure. I want to go where I can see animals in the wild and I quite…… (actor butts in)
Actor: “Oh, you should go to South Africa, I went there with my husband for our wedding anniversary, we stayed in a lodge. Oh my, it was amazing, we saw elephants, zebras, hippos, you name it. Do you fancy Africa?”
Volunteer: “Yes, it’s one of the places on our list, but I was ……… (actor butts in)
Actor: “Oh, and if you want to go horse riding out there’s this amazing place where you can ride out and see the wild animals from horseback. I’ll get you their details” …………………
I could feel my cheeks go red! Watching this drama play out was a pivotal moment in my life, however it was only the beginning of changing a very old pattern I knew that I had, of butting in and not listening genuinely! I realised that, I too, had the ability to ask questions and not genuinely listen for an answer, rather jump in with details of my own ideas or experiences. However, equally I have been in the place of the volunteer and have not felt heard. In an instant I could see the situation from both perspectives!
Since then my ability to listen genuinely has improved dramatically, even though it took quite some time to change my habit of talking over people!
To listen genuinely it’s firstly important to listen to what the other person is saying. Notice the facts that they are sharing, the stories or metaphors which are interwoven into the conversation and notice what’s not being said, what is inferred in some way. Listen to the emotions that are evoked and whether they flow as the story unfolds, escalate or become dismissed. Does the person become absorbed in their story or do they have an ability to step back and see that their opinions are purely their own perspective?
There is so much we can learn about another when we listen genuinely and if our aim is to communicate better then it’s absolutely vital that we do.
To empathise is to put ourselves in the shoes of the other. It’s the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings and situation from their point of view rather than from your own. It involves consciously feeling into what others feel.
Sometimes we may have been in a similar situation to those we are in communication with (even though we have our unique experiences) but often we have not. To communicate better it’s essential that we can set aside any preconceived ideas or judgements and really imagine and understand being in that person’s shoes.
3. Ask inspiring questions
This is something else that I learned through my coaching training and which I realise is of utmost importance to communicate better in all relationships. There are many styles of questioning and each are helpful in different situations, but equally the wrong question can block clear, open and honest communication.
I used to wonder why I would get into an argument with my Mum when all she did was to ask me a simple question! For example: “You will be coming to the Church Barn Dance, won’t you?” Can you see my dilemma? The only answer that would be acceptable and not cause an argument was ‘Yes’. But most often I said ‘No’ and the argumentative discussion ensued! It was such a relief to realise that it was the style of question which was causing this lack of harmonious communication and not me being argumentative!
I don’t believe that there is a right question for each situation, rather I aim to listen to my intuition and choose the style of question which inspires my client, colleague, friend or family member to stay open and honest in their communication in each moment.
So, rather than asking “Do you want to go to Africa?” which invites a Yes or No answer or “Do you fancy a cruise or an adventure holiday?” slightly more open, but still limiting, a more inspiring question could be “What is most important for you to experience in this holiday?” However, it’s also key once you have asked an open question, to be prepared to wait and truly listen for the response!
4. Support effectively
To, me it’s also of ultimate importance that we end our communication with a client, colleague or friend with effective support. How can we best support others?
Having taken the time to genuinely listen, empathise and ask inspiring questions it’s important not to overshadow the conversation with our own agenda, ideas or opinions, needing to ‘have the last word’? It’s so easy to do! (As you’ve probably guessed, the fact that I’ve written it, means that I’ve done it!!)
It is far more beneficial and helpful for clients, colleagues and friends if you find out what support they would like (if any). Perhaps ask a question such as “What are you going to do next?” or “Who can support you?” or offer support with a comment like “See how you get on and let me know if I can help you in any way”.
Of course, the quality of the conversation will be different if you are interacting with a client rather than a colleague or friend. However, the point I’m making here is that communicating better helps to build deeper connections and more healthy relationships in both personal and professional settings, because we all need to be heard, understood and accepted for who we are.
When we can genuinely listen, empathise, ask inspiring questions and support our clients, colleagues, friend and family effectively, not only do we communicate better, it is a gift to humanity.
I’ve previously written about the benefit of listening to yourself and of conscious communication inspired by horses, I hope that in this blog I have inspired your ability to listen to others, so that you can be a more effective coach, trainer and friend.
Do let me know if you have any questions about my approach to coaching.