by Andrew Cromwell
Whenever I counsel with couples, invariably the main thing they want to improve on is their communication skills. Often when people complain about work, they mention the poor communication skills of their boss or co-workers. Communication is so fundamental to our humanity — there is a deep and fundamental need inside all of us to be heard and understood.
But how do we get better at communication? The truth is some people love to talk, talk, talk and while they might be good with words, often their closest relationships still suffer. Then there are people who are fairly quiet, but when they speak, they do so in a way that really connects and draws people in. Communication is not just about words, it involves the heart.
If you’re like me, you want to have deeper, more significant connection and communication with your spouse, your kids and your family. Here are three quick tips on being a better communicator.
First, be willing to invest the time. Good communication takes time. Far too often we are in such a rush to move on to the next thing that we fail to allow true connection to happen. As a father, I want to connect at a heart level with all of my children. But I have learned that they are all unique in their needs and styles of communication. One of my children simply will NOT get down to a heart level unless I get him alone and without distractions. This usually means right before bed. The very moment that I am trying to escape and have some “me” time is the moment when he wants me to sit on the edge of his bed and just be with him. It is in this moment that his heart is revealed. You have to be willing to invest the time to get to the good stuff and that might mean cutting some things out of your calendar!
Second, be willing to think about others. At first this seems obvious, but we are usually not very good at it. We tend to be self-centered and self-focused. The main principle of Dale Carnegie’s famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People is simply this, stop talking about yourself and start asking questions of others. Why? Because people LOVE to talk about themselves!
If you’re going to think about others, this means that you need to adjust yourself to them, rather than forcing them to adjust to you. Have you noticed there are different kinds of people in the world? Some people are outgoing and gregarious, others are shy and dislike crowds. Some people are list makers and some people are rule breakers. Our tendency is to approach everyone the same way, but the best strategy is to approach people the way they are. This requires us to THINK about others and be willing to adjust ourselves. Try it and you might just be surprised!
Third, be willing to listen. Again, this is a tip that seems obvious. If there is one reminder that people are given in communication it is this one. The reason is that we are really LOUSY at this one! We tend to listen to the first few words that someone says and immediately think of an answer.
In the relationships that are most significant (like our spouses or kids), as soon as they open their mouth we stop actually trying to understand them and instead position yourself for a quick response. And God forbid that they use one of those “hot button” phrases. You know the ones, we all have them in our closest relationships. They are the phrases that always result in a fight. This is because instead of listening deeply, all we can hear is the noise from the past.
When we focus on intent rather than content, we are halfway there. Stop focusing on the exact words and phrases and listen behind the words. And if you want to go all the way, then put yourself in their shoes and try to see things from their perspective. That’s not easy, but when we do it, then we are well on the road to REALLY listening.