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3 Communication Practices That Will Enrich Your Life

By Claire Laughlin (1562 words)
Posted in Communication Skills on February 3, 2014

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Just as high quality ingredients make every recipe more nutritious and delicious, a specific set of healthy communication practices can make every relationship more nourishing and life affirming. Read on to learn more about foundational communication practices that will enrich your life.


“Assertiveness for Women.” “Powerful Speech.” “Being Charismatic!” The list of self-help communication titles is endless. And it is true that to be a very competent communicator, it behooves you to stock your communication pantry with a generous number of skills so that you can apply just the right ingredient for a given situation. 


That said, I have found over many, many years of studying and teaching communication, that there really are just a handful of skills that can serve as your “go-to” skills for almost anything. (The, “when in doubt, try this” set of skills.) These few key ingredients can help you be a better team player, a better leader, a better mentor or mentee- even a better parent or partner. These few skills are the ones that we should practice everyday, all the time, and keep at the forefront of our awareness. They influence everything. 


3 Communication Practices That Will Enrich Your Life


1) The first of these ingredients is knowing “how you show up.”   


The path of self-discovery is an interesting and winding road, and in my opinion, it should never end. We evolve and grow, and our daily circumstances make an impact- changing us and affording us new opportunities to be our best. So no matter what you discover on your journey to inner wisdom, it will very likely change. Nothing is permanent. But, I do believe that we have tendencies and that we can work to understand those tendencies better. (Caveat- I am really focused here on our communication tendencies, not on our inner psychology.)


When you communicate with others, are you a judger or a learner? Are you a problem-identifier or a problem solver? Are you a harmonizer or one who stirs the pot? Do you like things to be predictable or are you bored stiff unless there is action and change? Are you a student or an expert? 


There is nothing wrong with any of these ways of “showing up.” The problem only arises when we are unconscious about our habits and we apply the wrong skills at the wrong time. An intricate understanding of yourself and your tendencies is a great way of raising your awareness and making conscious choices. 


You can work on understanding yourself better in a number of ways. Here are a few suggestions. 

  • Ask people how they see you. 

    • Ask your friends and co-workers to give you 3 words that describe you, and then ask them to explain. This can be very illuminating!

    • Ask for feedback at work- not just on the results you are getting but on what you bring to the team. 

  • Take some self-assessments. 

    • The Meyers-Briggs, when interpreted by a professional, is very rich and can lead to profound insights. 

    • A conflict style assessment, such as the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, is also a great tool.

  • Do some writing about the things that matter most to you. Then think about how you express those values in everyday interactions. 


2) The second ingredient for effective communication and relationships is being an active listener. 


Listening can be a very elusive skill. You can appear to be listening, while you are really not present at all. Many people think they are great listeners, because they have not had training in what it means to truly be open and present to another person without an agenda. 


The first and most important aspect of being an active listener is to clear your mind. You must be present to the other person, without judgment or criticism. I once heard the phrases, “create a bubble of attention” around the speaker, and “listen to understand, not to react.” I like these two bits of wisdom because they remind me about the qualities of good listening that are imperative no matter what other skills you are likely to employ. 


But, sometimes we need to focus on skills in order to build competence, so here are a few tips. 


    1. As many times as necessary, clear your mind and focus your attention back on the speaker. Practice daily; practice hourly; but definitely practice. 

    2. Reflect back to the speaker what you think she or he is saying. Say, “Let me make sure I understand,” and then recount to the other person your summary of both their main points and even their feelings.

    3. Don’t rush. The moment that we start to want to speak, we have abandoned the true quality of listening. Come back to that bubble of attention.


This skill alone may take a lifetime of practice. First, try it with people and in situations that are easy for you. (Best friends and young children are a good start.) Then, challenge yourself to remain present with a person or with a topic that is annoying or difficult for you. Those situations are where transformation really happens. (Imagine a neighbor who has opposite political views.)


If more of us could cultivate our quality of truly listening, we would find solutions to our problems much more readily. We need to “suspend belief” in our own well-rehearsed stories in order to listen in this way. 


3) The third ingredient for effective communication, is speaking from the heart. 


In addition to listening, it is very important to practice speaking up. There are many ways to do so, but one of the most under-utilized skills, is to simply name our feelings with some attention to being accurate and authentic. 


You may know how to formulate an “I-statement.” These are statements that follow a certain kind of pattern. “I feel _______ when ________. “ This helps to isolate our feelings without blaming the other person or handing our power over to the situation. It gives us ownership. We can then decide whether we want to make a request of the other person or handle it on our own. 


For example, if I am feeling tense when I come home from work and the house is a mess, I could say, “I hate this messy house! I wish everyone would learn to clean up after themselves!” (Hint: This is NOT an I-statement.) While this may feel authentic at the time, it is actually several steps removed from my real experience. It would help me a lot to be able to say, “I feel tense when I come home and the house is messy.” Then, I can either make a request like, “Can you please take 10 minutes to pick up?” Or, I may want to just go to my room and re-group. In either case, this statement acknowledges my feelings and does not mask them in the form of a complaint or an attack. 


The better I can get at expressing my true feelings without all of the baggage that commonly surrounds them, the more I learn about myself (see ingredient #1). 


I imagine that these skills can feel very personal. “What does this have to do with leadership and management?” you may be asking. Well, the applications for these skills are vast. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of a single situation in which having a raised awareness of these skills would not be a benefit. From managing to mentoring, from parenting to partnership, making sure that these three top quality ingredients are part of your communication on a daily basis will definitely help you serve up more nourishing relationships. 



{#/pub/images/ClaireLaughlin.jpg}Written by Claire Laughlin, Consultant & Trainer, Leadership 4 Design- As an independent consultant and trainer with 20 years of diverse experience, Claire Laughlin brings a passion for improving relationships, experience in management, and a relentless dedication to transformation to all of her work. She is fully committed to working with individuals, teams, and organizations as they learn and cultivate the habits and practices that make their organizational dynamics healthy and highly productive. Claire's experience spans Leadership to Communication Essentials to Project Management & Customer Service and has designed and taught over one hundred courses at over 60 organizations and seven different colleges and universities. In addition to her consultancy work, Claire directs Cabrillo College's Corporate Training Program.


Do you have a question for Claire?  Please visit our Workplace Communication Skills Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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Here are some related articles you may be interested in: 


Lessons Learned Templates & Guide: A Managers Toolkit for Continuous Improvement

14 Steps to Using Surveys As Powerful Communication Tools

A Model for Active Listening: Master a Skill That Can Boost Your Career

Overcome Complacency in the Workplace

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: How to Develop Yourself & Your Team



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Comments (1)

Sai sree posted on: February 27, 2014

Phenomenal article Claire. The 3 best ingredients for effective communication mentioned by you is very important for every individual in their professional or personal life. Communication plays a vital role in every one’s life.
The same point is emphasized by Dr. Sridhar Pappu through video sessions how to Communicate Effectively by showing audio, video, email and newspaper excerpts where seemingly minor mistakes could convey drastically different messages. http://beyond.insofe.edu.in/communicating-effectively/.

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