Use Your Words! Communicate Clearly — And Often
Each month, I feature one of my top-ten core values. This is my eighth: Communication.
What causes more problems at work and in daily life than just about anything?
It’s not a lack of resources. Or lack of talent. Or even lack of effort.
It’s lack of good communication. Or any communication at all!
And what an unnecessary problem! Think about it. At almost every opportunity we have the chance to communicate (or not). We have the ability to learn effective communication skills (or not). And we have the choice — to be willing — to communicate (or not).
In fact, two-way communication is so important — because it applies to so many situations — I can’t believe I didn’t make it my #1 top value!
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Let’s look closer. When you’ve got a problematic situation involving someone else, what do you do? Do you talk it out with them? Or sweep it under the rug? Too often, we think we can get away without having to communicate. Without needing to have one of those “hard talks.”
And honestly, the other person probably doesn’t relish the idea of a hard conversation, either.
But I’ve found, if you really look at a troubling situation, most times it can be resolved or rectified — or at least mitigated — if you step up and communicate. By speaking and listening.
Avoiding hard talks sure feels a lot easier. But then the whole thing festers, getting bigger and bigger.
And that just makes it worse.
You can probably guess by now I advocate communicating sooner, not later.
And communication as a value applies beyond problems. So often we neglect to clearly share our expectations or needs with others. Then we wonder why our employee, colleague, friend or spouse is not on the same page with us.
Good stuff deserves communication, too. Do you thank others for their efforts? Do you communicate the positive impact they’ve made, what they did right? Do you champion them to inspire them to keep going? (I know I don’t always do this, but I should, and you should too.)
Failing to communicate the positive things can be just as detrimental as failing to communicate problems, needs and expectations.
I think you’re getting the idea. Communication is key! As you grow into your best self, I’d love for you to consider adopting communication as one of your core values. I’m not exaggerating when I say it can change your life. Read on for a few Power Challenges to get you started!
Power Challenge 1: Be WILLING.
It’s the rare person indeed who enjoys a difficult conversation. Many of us will do anything to avoid it. We hope and pray the issue will just disappear.
But DOES it go away?
Not really! We stew on it. We let it gnaw at us. Some of us might even keep score.
But when we don’t address the issue, our feelings can grow from a slow simmer to a rolling boil. Then the lid blows!
Avoidance rarely makes the situation easier. It’s much more productive to communicate directly from the outset.
Of course, there are skills to being effective in a hard talk. But you also have to be willing to talk through the issue. Willing to be open-minded. And since communication is not one-sided, you have to be willing to listen. Not just hear. Truly open yourself to what the other person might share.
“There comes a point when you can only sweep so much under the rug, ’til you feel lumps under your feet and your path seems to become less comfortable.” ― Stuart J. Scesney
If you’re not (yet) willing, have a little sit with yourself. It’s okay to be nervous. It’s okay to feel you won’t say things exactly right. What matters more is your positive intention.
You want the issue resolved, right? Be real with yourself: Stewing isn’t helping anything!
Draw on your other relevant values to approach the conversation. For example, perhaps you value courage, connection, honesty, work ethic or truth. Or maybe you value humor, trust, faith or clarity. Bring your values to mind — and to heart.
Once the conversation is underway, don’t try to be right. Do your best to remain willing. Willing to sit through the awkwardness or your discomfort. Willing to keep listening. Willing to stay open-minded. And, willing to find out you really had only half the story to begin with.
“The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” — Stephen Covey
POWER CHALLENGE #2: “Practice the Pause.”
We’ve all been there: In a moment of anger or frustration, we react too quickly. We shoot from the hip and say or write something we later regret.
When our buttons get pushed, those knee-jerk or gut responses can be as harmful as not communicating at all. At times, the best move is to excuse yourself, walk away and get composed before continuing the discussion. Or take a break from writing so you can cool off, re-read and re-think before you send.
“Practice the pause” is a phrase coined by author Lori Deschene. It’s indispensable for navigating emotionally charged conversations. Psychologists have shown the value of learning to pause before our anger or stress levels reach a high level.
Any time your emotions escalate, take notice. You might feel your heart thumping — or tightness or nausea pangs in your belly. You might get flushed. Your breath could be short and shallow.
Related: Manage Your Anger in the Workplace
The more intense your feelings, the less you’ll be able to truly listen well and remain open-minded. So, as soon as you notice emotion arising, take a “time out.” Then follow these steps, shared by Nancy Scheel, a coach for personal growth:
- Bring your focus to your breath. Notice the rhythm, without changing anything.
- Then lengthen your inhale by about 5% or 10%, and same with your exhale. It’s just a small change!
- Stay breathing at that new rate, noticing the rhythm.
- Then lengthen the inhale and exhale again by another 5% or 10%.
- Stay breathing at that new rate.
- When ready, take in a deep breath and hold it. Exhale slowly. Repeat two or three times.
When you work with your breathing this way, you slow your heart rate and calm your nervous system. It sounds cliché — but it really helps you reach a more constructive state of mind.
I suggest you practice this breathing once a day when you’re not upset. It only takes a minute or two! You’ll then be prepared to “practice the pause” whenever you find yourself in the midst of a challenging conversation.
Try using phrases like “I heard you say …” or “what I’m getting from this conversation is …” to make sure you’re correctly understanding the other person.
Power Challenge 3: Speak Up! Expectations, Positive Feedback and More.
So far, we’ve been talking about proactively addressing uncomfortable situations or problems. Yet when communication is a strong value for you, it applies to much, much more.
Before a project is launched at work, communicate to ensure everyone understands the objectives, their role, the timeline and all other key information.
When a new employee comes on board, help them understand your organization’s culture. Communicate those typically-unspoken expectations and standards for “how we do things here.”
Perhaps someone at work or home goes out of their way. It could be a nice gesture, and act of kindness, or something helpful. Communicate! Give them sincere positive feedback so they know their efforts were seen, and they made a difference.
When you’re doing an employee’s performance review, share the positives along with the constructive feedback. The employee might not even be aware of what they’re doing well!
Maybe you’re thinking, every day is a blur — who has time for all this? I say: You don’t have time to not communicate.
Related: Don’t Move the Goalpost!
So many problems are headed off by communicating from the outset. Problems that would take much longer to solve later!
“People can’t hear what you don’t say. Thinking isn’t communicating.” ― Frank Sonnenberg
When others at work or home rarely hear anything positive from you, problems build. People feel unappreciated or resentful. They may become argumentative or withdraw and shut down. Then you’ll be dealing with much more!
When it comes down to it, choosing to communicate is a good habit. Once you get into the rhythm of it, it comes naturally.
And not only to get you through the hard, icky stuff!
When you communicate your expectations and positive feedback to others, everything runs more smoothly — and you’ll have better relationships all around.
A couple sat down to dinner on a Saturday night. The woman talked with excitement about her day with friends. Her husband listened but didn’t say much. Trying to engage him, the woman shared more of the story — exactly where she’d gone, who she’d seen, and so on. The husband nodded but remained subdued. In fact, he stayed withdrawn throughout the evening. Exasperated, the woman finally said, “Are you upset with me? What’s going on with you?” He looked up and said, “I can’t believe I missed that 3-inch putt.”
Communication is the Life-Blood of Relationships
Our bodies need oxygen, hydration and nutrition to thrive, all circulated by our blood cells.
Similarly, relationships need attention, attunement and interaction to thrive. And what delivers those? Communication. No matter what your aspirations may be in work or life, choose to communicate — and communicate well.
You’ll open doors to opportunity. Enjoy collaborative partnerships in work. Have greater enjoyment with friends, spouse and family. And you’ll marvel at your carpet, free of all the sticky, lumpy problems you used to shove underneath!
Looking for a motivational speaker for your next event? Carla energizes and inspires attendees to be the best version of themselves that they can be. Contact her today