- Have you ever been guilty of reading someone’s mind, assuming you know what the other person means?
- Have you created fiction for yourself from something you heard someone say?
- Have you jumped in, offering your two cents worth, not knowing the whole story and ending up with the proverbial foot in your mouth?
- Have you ever been offended and not taken the time to ask for clarification?
Oh what conflicts are caused by ineffective communication. And conflicts of course lead to stress, usually for both sides. They often lead to long term grudges as well, which are hugely toxic to us physically, mentally and emotionally.
There are many aspects to communication and we assume we do them all equally well. What we don’t know is just how ineffective we can be in both communicating what we really want and hearing what the other person needs.
The Brain’s Perspective
We think we know how to communicate. After all, most of us are pretty literate. We know how to speak, write and read. The first question I ask is, do we really know how to listen?
I fear not. The reasons are many and they are somewhat complicated. They have to do with how our brains function. We carry our own baggage into conversations. Our past experiences, needs, values, language, self-image, beliefs, prejudices, attitudes, wants, fears, mind-sets all influence what we hear and how we interpret what we hear. It’s a long list.
Our brain filters the information it receives based on all of these factors. We think we know what the other person says and means but we can never, ever truly stand in their shoes. Your reality won’t be, can’t be, their reality.
Have you also ever noticed how as someone is speaking, we’re already formulating our responses in our brain? There is a constant barrage of thoughts or judgments. We can’t wait for the other person to stop talking, so we can make our point.
If this is so, how can we be listening coherently? From our hearts?
Really effective communication is like a couple dancing in total harmony with each other. It can be learned. But it takes a lot of practice. And we’ll make a lot of mistakes, before we master it.
In my work of teaching others how to develop more emotional agility and hence resiliency in stressful situations, I share how one can become coherent in the moment using their breathing. In past articles I’ve elaborated on this theme. Even in the midst of a conflict, slow and deep breathing opens up a gap between a stimulus (what someone said or did) a.k.a. the stressor, and our response.
Instead of the knee-jerk reaction we’re so used to, it allows us to respond with supportive choices in the moment. There is a physiological reason for this: a brain that isn’t engaged in emotions like anger or fear is a brain that can think logically and creatively. That brain helps us find more helpful ways to look for the win-win in situations.
Prevention is the Best Medicine
Best of all would be preventing conflicts from occurring. Marshall Rosenberg, a U.S. psychologist, developed a method he calls Nonviolent or Compassionate Communication.
Those who practice this way of communicating learn to resolve differences peacefully. It teaches us how to connect compassionately with ourselves and with others. It’s useful in both personal and business conflicts.
One Last Helpful Hint
If you’re not clear what someone meant, don’t assume, don’t guess, don’t mind-read. Show your vulnerability and ask for clarity. You can save yourself a lot of heartache and a lot of stress.