I’m not big on new year’s resolutions. But there’s something to be said about always trying to improve. You know the typical resolutions. Lose weight. Exercise more. Learn a new skill. Be in the moment. Spend less, save more. Enjoy family and friends. In that spirit, here’s how each applies to being a better communicator, professionally or in your personal life.
1. Lose weight
Trim the fat in your writing, speaking and presentations. Simplicity and clarity break through. Figure out how to make your point in half the space or time.
2. Exercise more
Make an effort to stretch your mind. Listen to more (and more diverse) voices, and actively seek contrary opinions. Breaking out of your bubble will bring more perspectives to your thinking, and support richer dialogues with others.
3. Learn a new skill
Maybe the most underrated communication skill is listening. We know it can be important to listen more than you talk. But it’s more than that. When someone else is talking, are you thinking of what to say next or how to argue back?
As an article in Psychology Today says, “We often think that we are listening but we’re actually just considering how to jump in to tell our own story…we are not listening to understand, but rather to reply.” The piece refers to active listening, with real intent, as a form of “spiritual hospitality”.
4. Be in the moment
Don’t just focus on what someone is saying but how. Pay attention to their non-verbal communication: tone of voice, speed, volume, expression, body language and even silences. It’s all telling you something.
5. Spend less, save more
In this case, spend less time judging, and save more of someone’s dignity.
The way in which anyone communicates is informed by their knowledge, experiences, emotions, state of mind, etc. You probably don’t like being judged when you express something. Don’t do it to the others.
Focus on feelings, not just facts. This isn’t an either/or, and you don’t have to always agree or approve. But you can always understand where someone is coming from. That’s empathy. Acknowledge someone else’s feelings. Just by saying something like “You sound like you’re…(fill in the blank) tells them they’re at least being heard.
6. Enjoy family and friends
Do you fear candid conversations? You’re not alone. Emma Levine, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, says: “We’re often reluctant to have completely honest conversations with others. We think offering critical feedback or opening up about our secrets will be uncomfortable for both us and the people with whom we are talking.”
Levine co-authored a paper called “You Can Handle the Truth”, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. For her study, she ran three groups of participants through honesty exercises. One group was told to be totally honest with everyone in their lives for three days. Another group, in a lab, had to answer personal and potentially difficult questions from a close relational partner. A third group had to honestly share negative feedback with a close relational partner.
In all three experiments, participants anticipated that being that honest, that often, would be somewhat unpleasant and socially disconnecting. In fact, Levine reported that honest conversations were far more enjoyable for communicators than they though it would be, and the listeners reacted less negatively than expected.
So stop procrastinating (another good resolution). Here’s to more open, honest, clear, respectful and attentive communications in 2020.
Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.
January 8, 2020