The art of having a great conversation seems to be lacking today. Blame it on technology, blame it on divisive politics, blame on the rain if you’re a Milli Vanilli fan and that makes you feel better. But much like chivalry which I don’t believe it’s dead, I just think it’s gone into hibernation; it could use a little prompting to come back into full force.
Let’s face it, communication has always had its challenges from cave drawings to grunts, you know there was always someone on the other end to misinterpret the original meaning. I’m sure Ugh’s buffalo wall painting was mistaken for a mammoth and a heated debate ensued.
Miscommunication has been a constant through-line since the beginning of mankind. Take the #1 bestselling book in the world, the Bible. It has been translated over and over again for centuries, from its original Aramaic into Greek and Latin and then into dozens upon dozens of other languages. Let’s not forget the additional influence of scholars, clergy, and kings who had the authority to make changes as they saw fit making the Bible essentially the longest-running game of “Telephone” ever!
Fast-forward to today where even in the 21st century with all the multiple modern ways we have to communicate it is easy to misinterpret someone’s email or text because without hearing the other person’s tone or inflection; even a missed comma all meaning can go to hell in a handbasket. And I’d be remiss to discount how the use of CAPS can tarnish a relationship.
So, you’d think we could easily correct this giant margin of error with face-to-face interaction but that has become a challenge in and of itself for multiple reasons. To list a few, we’re: distracted, anxious, fearful, arrogant, harried, scared, impatient, or D- All of the Above. Can you remember the last time you turned on any “news channel” to see people simply sharing, instead of shouting their opinions and ideas at one another as if the louder they are the more the person will understand them?
Sometimes it’s like watching my Aunt Suzy Belle, bless her heart, speak louder when I introduced her to my seeing-impaired friend. It is fascinating and comical how people honestly think being loud and repetitive is how they will sway the opinions of others. The irony of course is they are barely listening to the other person and forget about the poor moderator if there is one.
The Best Ways to Have Better Communication
Everyone wants to be heard more than they seem to want to listen. And this isn’t just the case on TV, it’s happening at work, in our families, with our friends and certainly on social media.
This is why I want to share 10 ways to help you get GREAT CONVERSATION back into your life (‘cause I know you miss it.)
1. Take a Step Back
Or in laymen’s terms, chill for a second. Put yourself in a self-imposed mental timeout for a few moments to calm down and reflect on what is really happening in the conversation. The benefits will be far outweighing any discomfort having to pause will cause you. Have you ever been in a heated argument with someone only to realize at the conclusion you were both saying the same thing? (By the way, this is a regular thing in marriage) Well, taking a step back allows you to get to that place without having exerted all that unnecessary energy.
2. Be Present
Actually pay attention to what the other person is saying. It’s easy to daydream and or think ahead. Don’t cheat yourself or them. RIGHT NOW is a gift that’s why they call it the present. If you don’t know how to connect to the present, try going zen for a moment or think about yoga. A quick exercise is to take a few deep breaths…in and out; and your breath will refocus you on the here and now.
3. Look the Other Person in the Eyes.
Many ancient cultures say the eyes are the window to the soul for a reason. You can see more and understand more from looking into people’s eyes and watching their facial expressions than from their words sometimes. What’s really cool is there is actual science behind it as well.
4. Put Away Your Devices
Have you ever been out to lunch or dinner with a friend, colleague, or significant other and they are constantly checking their phone? How infuriating is that?! Put your technology away (not face down on the table- actually away in a pocket or bag) and pretend it’s 1990 and have a face to face conversation with no other distractions.
5. Don’t Listen to Respond, Listen to Hear
This is called Active Listening and it is crucial to having a great conversation. If you are having issues because you think more about what you are going to respond with instead of what the person is trying to say, you are NOT an active listener. One great way to participate in active listening is to repeat back what was just said. Try it and see how much a) the person appreciates feeling heard and b) how much better your exchange will be. A fun little FYI – the same letters that make up the word LISTEN also spell SILENT. Deep, right?!
6. Ask Questions
Enhance the conversation and get more out of the dialogue with some good questions. Don’t ask a question that will be met with a one-word answer, turn the questions into a conversation about the topic at hand.
7. Remember What it Feels Like to be Ignored
Whether it happened to you as a child, in a group of friends, or at a brainstorming meeting last week. It doesn’t feel good. So, remember to give the courtesy of giving your time and attention to the person who is speaking to you. That’s really more manners than anything else.
8. Check Your Watch and Environment
Make sure you have time for a conversation, this is more than a tweet or post; it’s live and in-person so you need at least 5-10 minutes. If you don’t have the time, reschedule for when you do. Also, look around at your environment, is this an ideal place to speak? Steer clear of the loud places where you can barely hear or be heard. Source out a conducive place to converse. Think coffee shop off the beaten path or even an outdoor space is ideal, maybe sign up for a conference room just to ensure that quality time is quality. It will be worth it in the long run and the conversation will go over much smoother with a few extra minutes being in the right place.
9. Find a Common Ground
If you should find yourself in a conflict or with seriously contrasting views, what is it that you can both/all agree on? Connect with your shared values and touch on those for a bit.
This may sound so silly and simple, but it works. Smiles are inviting. When done sincerely and genuinely a smile will immediately put people on the receiving end of at ease. Smiling also sends subliminal messages to your own brain that “You’ve GOT this!”. It’s truly one of the easiest things to do to get people to open up and share.
This post was written by Fierce guest writer, Karith Foster. For nearly two decades, author, speaker, and humorist Karith Foster has taken her passion for entertaining and critical thinking nationwide — from the airwaves to organizations, from universities to corporations, creating a seismic shift in mindsets and revolutionizing the way we address issues of diversity and leadership.