Fundamental to how we move through our world is how we communicate. At a very primitive level, I believe, we’re interpreting signals from one another constantly. From body language, through tone of voice and choice of words, we’re attempting to connect with each other . . . to read each other and to be read.
Since communication isn’t on the curriculum (yet) in most education systems, where do we learn about it? How do we become so unconsciously fixed in our communication style? And how do we improve the quality of our communication to create greater rapport and understanding?
The answer to the first question, “Where do we learn to communicate?” is simple—in our family of origin and our community. Our tone of voice, choice of words, diction, and the quality of the feeling are all reflective of what we heard as we grew up. This brings us to the second question of why we are so fixed in our styles. Again, the answer is equally simple. It’s our habit. Part of our identity is the way we respond to the world around us. Much of it is so below our awareness that we might not understand or believe other’s response to us.
I once watched a teaching video of a couple who were having serious problems in their marriage, especially in their communication. She felt unheard and unsupported. He felt disrespected and disempowered. She talked to him as though he was being scolded. He responded to her as though he had to defend himself. She actually shook her finger at him as she spoke and he visibly shrank back from her. The amazing thing was that she didn’t know she did that. It was so habitual that it was below her awareness.
How do we improve the quality of our communication? The first step is to recognize our “norm”, to listen to ourselves. For example, I became aware of a habit of responding with a story from my own life immediately after someone had finished a story from theirs. For instance if someone was describing a trip to Portugal, I would, as soon as they were finished, begin to tell my story of Portugal. That may seem innocent enough, but what it did was shut the other person down. Their story was over. Deeper communication comes when we listen deeply. When we become curious about another’s experience, they feel heard.
Rapport with another human being is one of the most beautiful experiences we can have. It is the beginning of meaningful connection and dialogue. Let it be your goal in communication whether with your kids or your employees. Listen deeply. Be curious about them and their experience.