Just because you speak English, does not follow that the people you live and work with know what you mean when you communicate. Misunderstandings lead to grudges, arguments, and hurt feelings. We think we’re clear and clever but end up confused by the other’s reactions and criticized. Given how important good communication is for our personal and professional relationships, it always amazes me how little time we spend cultivating the skills it requires. We’d rather suffer the consequences of indignation, embarrassment, and frustration, than to humble ourselves and learn how to effectively express our thoughts, needs, and desires.
The hardest, but by far, the most useful skill I learned and apply as a professional life coach is the skill of actively and patiently listening. If we don’t listen, we are not actively present with the person and whatever they are trying to express. We might be two feet apart, but our minds are universes away. You know you are not with the person, when all you hear are your own thoughts reacting to the snippets of information barely filtering through. If you listen carefully, you catch significant words and themes that are important to the other person. They may be different than what you think is important in the moment. Even when two people have the same goal in mind, they may have completely different reasons for wanting it, and different ways for reaching it. Listening will help you understand these nuances.
The easiest skill to learn is to stop multitasking. Contrary to popular opinion, you are very ineffective when multitasking. You miss important details when your focus is divided. It’s stressful because the mind strains to keep track of multiple activities that are unrelated to each other. The person you are supposed to pay attention to feels the gap in your focus and automatically lowers their level of engagement. Research also shows that we all make more preventable mistakes when we multitask. It saddens me that “ability to multitask” is a job requirement these days. Imagine what would happen if a brain surgeon decided to check Facebook while digging into your brain. If you can’t lift your eyes from your phone when talking to your significant other, you are really showing what’s more important to you, and clearly, it’s not them. Even my dog stops playing with me when I pick up my phone while trying to toss a toy for her.
The most interesting mistake we all make is assuming that every conversation is about us. “The weeds need pulling,” becomes “You didn’t pull the weeds.” “Someone needs to call the client,” becomes “Why didn’t you call the client?” When someone tells a story, we have one of our own to top it off. We infuse almost everything that comes our way with judgements. If not self-judgment, then judgement of others. Knowing this we need to pay close attention to our assumptions and perceptions, checking ourselves and checking with the sender to make sure that communication coming our way is received as intended. At the same time, this knowledge helps us understand the reactions of others and hopefully makes us more thoughtful about what we say and how we say it.
A lot more can be discussed under this topic. But if you choose to practice one of the three things above and get good at it, you will be this much better than you used to be, and probably better than most. The quality of your life and relationships depend on your ability to communicate well.
Valentina Petrova has been helping people with life, health, relationships, financial, career, professional, and business challenges since 2015. She has a master’s in Psychology and is a certified Life Coach. If you want to learn more about effective communication, check out the Cuesta College Fall catalog for her “How to get what you want” class on Oct. 15 and 22. You can find Valentina at the Morro Bay Library on July 27, at 10- 11:30 a.m. for the free “Art & Science of Building Relationships” workshop.