5 Tips for Better Communication

by Nneka Kelly

You know those perky folks who describe themselves as a “people person” in interviews…I’m not one of them. I’m the girl who can crunch the numbers and execute. Pretty good traits to have. However, since deciding that I have a message I want people to hear, I’ve realized that I need to broaden my horizons, drop my prejudices, and become, you guessed it, a people person!

I’m getting on the job training in my IT support position, secretly taking notes from the Approachability Guy, the Relationship Geek, and the Successful Blogger (to name a few), and mirroring real life “people people” that I’ve witnessed in action. Here’s what I’ve picked up so far.

1. Choose Your Mood

The night I interviewed Phil Gerbyshak, he related that he left work, walked 15 minutes to his car in the snow, realized he left his keys, walked back, saw a lit switchboard and proceeded to take calls, and did not leave work until 45 minutes later. He said all this to me beaming with energy. I thought to myself, if I had a day like that I wouldn’t want to talk to anyone. Phil, being the master connector that he is, was his usual exubberant self. He didn’t miss a beat. He didn’t whine or complain. He just moved on and made the interview great.

Regardless of the situation, it’s important that you choose your mood (and make it a good one). Emotions have a way of magnifying situations. If you’re feeling ecstatic, the world seems exciting and inviting, you’re ready to take it on. On the other hand, if you’re feeling morose, the world seems grey and dark, you feel like you’re plowing through mud. When you bring your chipper, excited self to conversations, those around you respond in kind. Even if they are frustrated, irritated, or sad, if you choose to be cheerful, they will walk away feeling less frustrated and might even wonder why they’re now in such a good mood.

2. Stay Present

For 30 minutes everyday I deliberately practice being present. During this time of meditation, I bring my attention back to the present moment, or if I’m feeling really scattered, back to my breath. This practice helps me to stay present in every moment as I fix computer problems all day long. I use the word “help” loosely, as it seems to be infinitely more difficult to stay present when I’m going about my daily life than when I’m sitting with myself.

I’ve noticed, though, that when I am present and totally engaged in conversations, I can pick up all the nuances of the conversation. I recently experienced this with a fellow board member. I didn’t think that he said much, and I found it very difficult to determine his position on a lot of issues. One day, I was accidently paying complete attention to what he was saying. In 10 words, he delivered 3 pages worth of information. His words, combined with intonation and body language, were loaded. Since then, it seems we’ve broken the sound barrier between us. I now completely understand what he is communicating in his one word answers.

3. Listen Empathically

On the Myers Briggs Feeling-Thinking scale I am about 95% thinking. Give me facts, not feelings. This completely clashes with my physical appearance and gender. As a result, I would spend conversations staring blankly at anyone who was the slightest bit emotional. Truthfully, I just felt I should hand them a tissue and move on. As a leader, this behaviour can be misconstrued as not caring. Go figure? ;-)

A few years ago, my mentor looked at me and asked, “Don’t you think that’s a bit harsh?” At that moment, I knew I had to reform. I started to use…the nod. I picked this up from someone else some years back. When confronted with emotion, I would look at the person, and continue to nod throughout the conversation. This was a step in the right direction, but they would still walk away from the conversation feeling unheard.

Lesson: People need to feel heard. Over the years, “the nod” evolved from a gesture to full-fledged engagement. I look people in the eyes when they are speaking. I sprinkle the conversation with verbal cues – like “yes” and “I see” – that let them know I’m listening. I remain present throughout the conversation. I suspend comment. I only think about what they are saying until I am asked a question, then I pause and speak. Listening emphatically is about making sure that the other person feels heard.

4. Say Thank You

I’m used to saying thank you when someone gives me something, but thanks to Scott Ginsberg, I’ve started saying thank you all the time. When a customer calls in a ticket and I fix their problem I say thanks. You know what they reply? No, not “Have a nice day” or just “Thank you.” They launch into their story. I become a friend and I’ve made a friend. If that person has a problem again and I happen to be taking care of it, they’re not irritable when I get to their desk. They’re happy to see me. While I’m fixing their machine we talk about their weekend, grandkids, and shopping excursions. It makes the job so much easier for both of us and we both feel a lot better.

5. Learn to Yield

In the movie Enough, the lead character played by J-Lo was counselled by her boxing coach that it takes more energy to miss than it does to hit. In any human interaction this is true. Sometimes, I start talking to someone and I’m bombarded by complaints. Rather than engage in the complaints or resist them, I just let the person continue to talk until they run out of steam.

The reason I do this is because everybody is walking around with their stuff. 99% of the time when people, myself included, go on a rampage, it’s because of their stuff. Some notion of how they think things should be is being challenged. The greater the challenge, the more fervent the complaint. Countering the complaint with seeming logic only adds fuel to the fire. Engaging in the complaints with me-too’s only gets you worked up as well. Yielding diffuses the situation.

Do you have any “people person” tips that help you to communicate better?

In Spirit,
Nneka

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