I remember a few years ago, I was at a place in my life where my years of inability to communicate basic needs, feelings, and thoughts had started to take some serious toll.
See, I was under the impression that I could use sheer willpower to wish away unpleasant issues in my life that needed attention. The problem with that mindset is - and if you’re a recovering people-pleaser I’m sure you’ll agree - that eventually all those repressed feelings, fears, desires, and needs begin to boil over and explode when you least expect it.
When that happened to me, I was left standing in the aftermath of that explosion and wondering how I had allowed things to get to that point. More importantly, I was faced with an important question - how do I stop this from happening again?
So, I began my research into how I could master the important, life changing skill of communication. I found a lot of conflicting, over complicated information. Like the importance of timing, place, tone, word choice. I learnt that conflict did not need to be destructive, as I had previously thought. It could also be constructive.
When I began to approach conflict through that lens, I stopped avoiding it. And for a conflict ostrich like me, that was a pretty big deal.
I say conflict ostrich because ostriches, despite being powerful, tall, strong animals capable of holding their own, have a tendency to do something funny when facing conflict. They stick their heads in the sand.
And that’s exactly what I was doing. Instead of confronting my problems, solving them, and moving on, I was avoiding, avoiding, avoiding - and those small, solvable problems turned into huge, catastrophic consequences.
If you’re still reading, I’m going to guess that you’ve probably gone through something similar.
Fear not, I did the hard work so that you don’t have to.
Here’s everything I learned about communication, and how I went from a conflict ostrich to a master communicator and transformed my life and relationships for the better.
Let’s start with the easy part. When you’re approaching any conversation, whether it’s casual small talk or setting important boundaries - there’s one key thing to remember.
Communication by definition comes from the latin translation: to share.
So, it’s not just about vocalising. It’s also about being heard, and more importantly, being understood. When you’re communicating, you’re sharing an idea, a feeling, a need. You’re connecting your mind with others, and exchanging beliefs, opinions, and views. More importantly, you’re also listening. Communication, community, communion. There is a pattern there, a pattern of call and response, of give and take. Of balance.
If you want to talk for the sake of making noise, chances are you won’t be a very good communicator. After all, you can talk at a wall all day - you still won’t be heard.
When you’re ready to truly communicate, your focus should equally be on listening. On hearing, as well as speaking, to truly be understood. When we approach things this way, we begin to develop one of the most important pieces of the communication puzzle - adaptability.
You see, not everyone has the same communication style. Which means not everyone has the same listening style. Some people like to tackle issues head on, others prefer a slow and gentle approach, some like simple language, others choose more complex ways to share ideas.
The ability to be adaptable when communicating allows you to be understood by people regardless of their specific listening style. You can be assertive with some, casual with others. You can use humour with the right person, and sympathise with another.
You become a communication chameleon, able to seamlessly express yourself with anyone on any topic - with ease!
So how do you develop the ability to listen?
Well, it helps to understand that we listen with more than just our ears. In fact, when we break down the elements of communication, we realise that the words we speak only make up a very small portion of the overall message.
70-93% of communication is non-verbal. If you’re surprised by that number, you’re not alone!
Our body language and facial expressions make up the whopping majority of how we express ourselves. So the next time you’re trying to listen, make sure you’re also watching and absorbing all the powerful non-verbal ways someone is communicating.
Now here’s the fun part - did you know you need to also listen to yourself?
Yep, your ability to listen to yourself will determine how well you’re able to express yourself. After all, how can you explain how you feel if you don’t know the answer?
So just as you learn to read the body language of others, you have to learn how to listen to your own body too. Chances are, it’s trying to tell you something important.
I began to meditate at a young age, when my mind had begun to flood with new, strong, unfamiliar emotions that I had yet to get a handle on. Teenage years can be tricky in that way, and I was tired of being at the mercy of my own feelings.
I learned that if I took the time out to sit with my mind and body, I was able to listen - and understand. Which meant I was able to express what I was thinking and feeling a little better.
In adulthood, that ability has become an even more important tool in my belt.
Now, listening aside, there’s some other great tricks to becoming a master communicator. During one of our podcast episodes on boundary setting, we came up with an easy-to-remember acronym to help you nail your communication when it comes to important topics.
SINC - Set the tone, identify the value, name the feeling, communicate the consequences.
What that means is this: don’t bring up something important at the wrong time. Setting the tone is all about carefully selecting a space and time in which someone is able to truly listen and understand what you're trying to say, without their defences being up, or their mind being distracted.
Identifying the value is about communicating in simple terms what it is that's important to you, and naming the emotions and feelings you experience when that value is aligned or conflicted with.
Lastly, it's important to communicate the consequences. What happens when this line is crossed? In what ways are you willing to hold others accountable if something important to you isn’t respected?
This simple little formula has absolutely transformed my approach to communication. Give it a try the next time you’re ready to talk about something important!