Lessons on communication from an (almost) therapist.
Oh communication, the most essential skill in the world - and something we all like to think we're very good at. Yet despite the enormous amount of technology and means of communicating - morning. noon and night -most of us still have absolutely no idea whats going on. I'm no expert, but a lifetime of talking to anyone and everyone (regardless of whether they wanted to engage or not) has taught me a few things id like to share...
1) If you want to know someones true intentions, look at what they're doing, not what they are saying. Anyone can say anything they want but what people do - shows you who they really are and where their interests really lie. You can also apply this insight if you want to get to know yourself a bit better; you are what you do, not what you say you're going to do. I see a lot of people say things like; 'oh I love reading, Im really into running etc etc. Then when you ask the last time they went for a run or read a book they're like..'hmm well a month ago?' hmm ok then. To use an example; when I was in med school I used to tell everyone I was super duper interested in the human body..yet to be honest I got pretty bored after reading a text book for 10 minutes...and then would skip straight to the psychology section and read for two hours..hmm.
2) Love is like language - we all have the same intentions - but often wind up speaking in different tongues. I have a friend who is a relationship counselor and to quote her; "sometimes I sit there and its like one person is speaking in French and the other in Chinese - and neither can actually see that. So the drama continues..."
3) We have lots of conversations everyday and rarely remember every detail said. When you've been talking to someone for a while, pay attention to the things that stick in your mind afterwards - or the next day or the following week - or really just forever! (I think we all have those 'I cant believe she said that! Im not like that!' moments - even if you're saying it about something that happened 10 years ago.) Those are the insights into what interests you, what you value and even what your insecurities are.
4) Silence can be very very loud. (Anyone ever been left on 'seen'...? yeh.)
5) You don't really need words to communicate as we do it mostly with our eyes and our bodies. How many times have you looked someone in the eyes and known just how they were looking at you - or what they were thinking. Exactly, trust it.
6) Instincts don't lie - but feelings can. The best explanation I have ever heard in how to differentiate between the two was from the New York psychotherapist Katherine Schafler: Feelings often change or go away as we get to know someone, but instincts are that instant visceral I-dont-know-how-I-know-I-just-DO reaction you have about a place, person, decision or thing - that keeps coming back.
7) If you want someone to open up more on a subject, then when they've finished speaking- allow the pause - and its likely they will continue and tell you more. Us Brits are SO uncomfortable with The Pause and will talk absolute rubbish about anything and everything to avoid it. However, if you want to create the space necessary for others to process their true thoughts and feelings on a subject, you're going to have to get comfortable with a bit of silence.
8) Everything before the 'but' doesnt matter. Think about it - imagine you've produced a piece of work or pitched an idea - or even gone on a date.'You're great but..', 'It was brilliant and you have some great ideas but...' . You don't really ever remember what was said before the 'but'. The same goes if you want someone to listen to how you feel and respect your wishes. 'I was really upset you did that...but I understand why' - If you say this the other person may not fully hear that they hurt you - they may just hear that it's ok.
9) Being direct is not being confrontational. - there is a difference. I once worked as a receptionist for a media marketing company and got constant cold callers and sales calls. They would ring up and give me all sorts of round about spiel to get me to listen. I remember one particular time someone asking me about the 'company values' - is your office open plan? Do they like to drink coffee? I asked him where he was calling from - 'oh we're a boutique coffee company specializing in the corporate industry' so I said 'oh I see so you're asking me about my values in order to try and sell me some coffee?' 'erm..yes?' he sounded a bit shocked that Id been so direct - but we had a great conversation after that and he respected that Id been so straightforward. Most people make an excuse and fob you off the phone. Other callers thought I was being confrontational and would Be quite affronted; 'So you're selling printer paper?' 'Well you don't have to be so rude!' - I mean wasn't..I was just speeding along the call?..and if you'd laughed and agreed we could of had a nice chat and Id have been much more likely to recommend you to the I.T. department..but hey.
10) If you're struggling to see eye to eye with someone or you're feeling misunderstood trying using the question 'When I say ... what are you hearing? Often when one person says one thing, we respond to them based on how we interpret what they're saying - rather than what they are actually saying.