Thoughts and Comments from Lucy Seifert
Every February, as Valentine’s Day approaches, adverts and articles abound about romantic relationships.
I have decided to focus this piece more widely on relationships, since good relationships are vital not only romantically but with family, friends, colleagues and clients or customers. There are also those day to day encounters such as with suppliers or in the doctor’s surgery, whether face to face or over the phone.
Our interactions affect:
- - how we feel
- - how others feel
- - future relationships with that person or organisation
Here are five key ingredients for building rewarding relationships through confident communication:
- Listening is vital for good communication. To listen in an open, accepting way involves the avoidance of pre-judging or making assumptions that the other person is about to say something “stupid”, “irrelevant” or simply unworthy of a fair hearing. So rather than switch off, allow them to time to have their say, without butting in or turning the conversation back to yourself. Instead listen deeply to the words and to the feelings behind what is being said. Think and respond thoughtfully, clearly, assertively.
- Responding through body language is the first stage of active listening. Avoid either taking over or sitting in constant silence. While some silence is needed to allow someone else to speak uninterrupted, you can also show them through appropriate, unobtrusive body language that you are listening. Nodding, shaking your head, frowning or smiling, all indicate you are following fully.
- Responding through questions is helpful. You may want to interject occasionally with a relevant question to clarify your understanding or ask what happened next if the speaker falters. Open questions starting with who, what, how, why, when and where help the speaker think and explain, giving concrete examples rather than vague generalities. eg What did you do next? Who else spoke? When did this happen? Questioning needs to be relevant and not overwhelming; you don’t want them to feel it’s an inquisition.
- Reflecting is another active listening skill that takes the conversation forward by mirroring back what the other person has said then adding thoughts of your own. It’s a great way of clarifying. For example: “So you’re saying that the disagreements in the team have arisen since the review of roles and feeling there is an unequal distribution of work. Have I understood that correctly?” This allows them to clarify and you to follow up: “What would you like to happen? What could resolve the differences?” Listen to what they say and add thoughts of your own. Another example is: “So you’re saying that if you can watch the film first, you’ll do your homework?” “When will you start it and how long do you think it will take?” Yet another example is: “I understand you want us to take more decisions together. When would be a good time to sit down and do just that?”
- Tone of voice affects everything and you can change the meaning of a few words several times over by changing the pace, structure, words and emphasis of your words. For example,“I’m interested to know what’s happened” is very different from “What on earth’s happened?” and, even worse, “What’s your problem?” Speaking at a fast pace is likely to be more confrontational than a calm, measured pace and tone. If you are in a hurry, best to wait for a quiet, less pressed moment before engaging in conversation.
Communication comes from the Latin word “communis” meaning ‘shared understanding’. If we are to share understanding, we need be patient listeners and also be responsive. This requires a greater investment of time and energy and of interaction at a deeper level than is likely from a series of rapid texts in order to have meaningful engagement.
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