This is a guest post from Tim Brownson. You can check out his blog here.
Communication, or rather the lack of it, is one of the biggest problems facing mankind today. That was the rather contentious statement that I made in my thesis when I was training to become a life coach and one that I still stand by almost 4 years later.
Have you ever posted some seemingly innocuous remark on a message board and been shocked to see a stream of vitriol aimed back at you by people that misunderstood what you meant? What about forwarding a joke to a colleague at work only for the recipient to take offense and before you can say “Lighten up Larry” you’re discussing alternative career options with those nice people in Human Resources? Or have you ever received an e-mail that annoyed you so much and you’d shot off a scathing rebuke quicker than you could say, “Step away from the reply button Beavis”?
If you aren’t personally familiar with any of the above situations, I bet you know at least one person and probably several that are.
The examples at the beginning may seem trivial in comparison with major issues such as drug abuse, terrorism and global warming and of course they are, when viewed in isolation. However, they’re indicative of an inability of people to communicate with one another and the reason that people don’t communicate effectively is paradoxical, because they think they do!
After all, communication is easy, anybody can do it. You open your mouth and you talk, you close your mouth and you listen, what’s difficult about that? As for written communication, well that’s even easier because there’s no tonality or body language to deal with, you just say write or type what you think and hey presto, you have communicated.
Unfortunately there are two sides to any communication and if the person listening, reading or seeing gets a different message to the one that you intended then you have messed up just as much as they have. There is a duty of care for both parties to try and understand at a deeper level what the other person is trying to say.
The book that kicked off NLP was called ‘The Structure of Magic Vol 1 by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. It’s not the easiest of reads and I’m pretty sure you’ll not be wetting yourself reading it, unless of course you have a urinary problem. The book dives head long into the murky world of the Meta Model of language. The basic concept is that we all generalize, distort and delete information when we are communicating. This is an absolute necessity to stay sane, but it breaks down when we start to map across our interpretations onto other peoples communications.
If I have a client that has issues with his boss and this has been the main area of our work together and he comes in one day and says something like “He’s done it again! He’s driving me nuts with that his behavior, everybody knows it’s the wrong way to conduct yourself” It would be easy for me to think I know what he’s talking about and set off trying to help. The reality is that I can’t be sure about anything from those words other than he’s probably not that happy.
Is the ‘He’ really his boss or has something else happened that I’m unaware of? What does ‘driving me nuts’ actually mean? Who is ‘everybody’ and what does he mean by ‘wrong.’ This may seem pedantic, but in actual fact it’s absolutely critical that I get more information if I want to avoid jumping to inaccurate conclusions. The thing is that I am paid to do that and I have to do that, most people aren’t and so don’t.
If you ever have a spare day and can’t think of anything better to do, search for a political speech. Any speech will do because they are pretty much all written in the same manner, although speeches during national crisis are usually the best examples. What you’ll find is any number of ambiguities and sentences constructed to allow the reader/listener to fill in the blanks and take whatever meaning they want from it. This is called artfully vague language or the ‘Milton Model’ (named after one of the worlds greatest hypnotherapists Milton H Erickson). This is the same method that horoscope writers use. Make it as vague and general as possible and 20 different people will jump to 20 different conclusions. Unfortunately, people tend to naturally gravitate towards this kind of language. That is when the problems arise, because nobody really has any idea of what the other person thinks, but unfortunately, think they do.
If you want to excel in life learn how to communicate properly. People that have that ability are always in demand and always will be. They’re the difference makers, they’re the people that can and do change the world.
So how do you learn to communicate well? Like any skill it takes patience and practice.
Take the time to listen to the language you are now using. Is it always clear what you want? Do you expect people to mind read you by leaving out crucial information? Are you aware of your tonality and the impact that can have? Then think about your body language. Are your words, tonality and body language congruent? By that I mean, is your voice saying yes whilst your shoulders slouch and you sound like it’s a real effort, which suggests you’re thinking no.
Listen actively and pay attention. Too many people are listening purely for a gap in delivery so they can dive in and give their own opinion or worse still, not listening at all because they’re trying to multi-task or their mind is elsewhere. Try and really understand what the other person is meaning by staying engaged. If you’re at all unsure, ask for clarification, or better still repeat back to them by saying something along the lines of “So what I think you mean by that is….”
Study great communicators. This is the easiest way to succeed in life bar none. Look for what they’re doing that you aren’t, and then just do it! You’ll screw up from time to time, but who cares if you are working towards world domination?
Don’t take it for granted that you’re a good communicator because if you do, you probably aren’t. If you can’t communicate properly you’re destined to be misunderstood and trust me, that aint the rest of the worlds fault, it’s yours.
Tim Brownson is a UK born Life Coach and NLP Master Practitioner now living in Orlando, Florida. He coaches people one-to-one either face-to-face or via the telephone. If you have enjoyed this article you can read his blog at www.adaringadventure.com/blog/wordpress