When you possess self-awareness you’re able to practice effective communication because you’re cognizant of how you come across to people. Leaders who don’t understand their own behavior, and how they’re perceived by others, create communication glitches like misunderstandings or hurt feelings. Here are some examples of the connection between self-awareness and effective communication:
- Self-awareness means that you know how your thoughts, emotions and behaviors affect others and you’re able to manage yourself so that the other person is an important part of the conversation.
- Self-awareness helps you be more comfortable with yourself so you can relate to others with genuine confidence and kindness.
- Self-awareness allows you to get out of the way and let people tell you what’s important to them without letting your stuff complicate the interaction.
- Self-awareness gives you the ability to shift from always having to talk (the result of ego) to listening to people instead.
- Self-awareness helps you communicate with others on a deeper level because you make them feel valued and important.
- Self-awareness helps you understand how others see you and how you can adapt to make more meaningful connections and build stronger relationships.
- Self-awareness helps you collaborate with others.
Many leaders burst into the room and start talking when all they really need to do is relax a bit and listen. Effective communication means that you understand how not to get in the way of meaningful conversations. Self-aware leaders understand that there’s more than one person in the room and that everyone’s input matters. How will you use self-awareness to practice effective communication?
There’s a frequently recited adage that you shouldn’t talk about religion and politics in polite company, advice created by people who don’t know how to talk about charged topics without getting angry or hurt. The key to effective communication is for the participants to have the self-awareness to realize that other people’s ideas, beliefs, values and opinions aren’t necessarily an attack on their own, just another perspective. Here are some ideas that will help you talk about difficult issues in your personal or professional life:
- Go in with good intentions. Keep an open mind and engage in the conversation with the idea that you’re going to learn something and that you’ll do everything you can to make sure things go well.
- Assume the other person isn’t trying to hurt you. Interact based on the premise that you’re having a positive two-way conversation, not that you’re walking into a life-threatening ambush.
- Listen to the other person. Don’t talk, interrupt or give your opinion, just listen actively and learn about the other person’s point of view whether you agree with it or not.
- Practice self-awareness. Be aware of your own thoughts, feelings and actions and manage them so you don’t get angry or defensive.
- Stay calm. Communication doesn’t have to be a contact sport, it can be calm and pleasant.
- Resist the urge to fight back. Increase your chances of interacting positively by keeping yourself under control.
- Avoid participating in an argument. Look at the conversation as an opportunity to learn about another perspective instead of creating conflict.
- Realize the other person’s point of view is just a point of view. No matter what someone says, it doesn’t mean that you have to change your values or beliefs.
- Know when to back off. Sometimes people aren’t ready or able to talk about a certain topic. Let them know you’re available to talk when they’re ready.
Individuals who understand and master these skills are able to talk about any issue because their communication style shifts from confrontational to actively listening to what other people are saying. Virtually nothing someone else says merits an explosive reaction unless you decide it does. The key to effective communication is to move from reacting viscerally to consciously working on listening, learning and getting along with the other person. What will you do to behave positively when you talk about charged topics?
People who lack self-awareness have no idea what’s coming out of their mouths and they’ll say things that reveal their inner thoughts and get them in trouble at work and at home. We see examples of this all around us when people make sexist, racially tinged or other inappropriate or clumsy comments because they have limited understanding of how their statements might affect others. It happens a lot in the workplace when leaders trample on their employees or hurt them in some way without realizing that there are other options.
A major element of self-awareness is the ability to practice effective communication, as in, thinking before you speak and, more importantly, being as healthy a person as you possibly can be so that you understand how not to step on others. Here are some tips to heal a case of big mouth:
- Listen more than you talk.
- Think before you speak.
- Resist the urge to say the first thing that comes to your mind.
- Ask yourself how your words might be perceived by others.
- If you think what you have to say might be offensive, it will likely be.
- Clarify what’s going on by asking open-ended questions.
- Ask people for feedback.
- Watch people’s facial expressions and reactions.
- Choose to step outside yourself and consider others’ feelings.
- Think of a kind way of saying things.
- Say things that build people up.
- Monitor your own body language and reactions.
When you practice these behaviors you’ll run a far smaller risk of finding a foot lodged in your mouth and you’ll build a more compassionate and respectful workplace. You’ll also save time and effort because you won’t have to deal with the misunderstandings or conflicts that arise when the message is clouded by extraneous elements. What will you do to make sure you’re communicating effectively, kindly and compassionately?
A lot of smart, accomplished individuals and leaders spend a lot of time cleaning up messes because they say things bluntly. A major sign of self-awareness is being able to communicate in a way that takes both your and the other person’s needs into account. It’s really easy to be blunt and say whatever is on your mind but it takes conscious effort to be tactful. Here’s how the two styles differ:
- Blunt: Get me that.
- Tactful: Could you please find that thing for me.
- Blunt: You did that wrong.
- Tactful: How might we improve this.
- Blunt: Get out of my face.
- Tactful: I need some time to think about this.
- Blunt: You really blew it on that project.
- Tactful: We have an opportunity to learn and adjust things.
- Blunt: If you don’t like it leave.
- Tactful: Let’s work together to find a solution.
People in my workshops often comment that it takes longer to be tactful or that it’s not direct. I ask them to think about how much time and effort they’ll save by not having people being angry at them or missing the message because they’re more focused on having been insulted.
Speaking bluntly and tactfully both convey information but one has the tendency to hurt people. The idea in effective communication is to get the message across directly and respectfully. Communicating tactfully saves time and gets you better results because it’s clear and kind. What will you do to be careful about how you say things to others?
Practicing effective communication is an excellent way to get more done with less effort. All kinds of unnecessary difficulties and distractions arise in our workplaces because people are just winging it when they communicate. They do what they’ve always done even when it doesn’t lead to positive results. Thankfully, you can improve your communication skills by getting rid of what doesn’t work, including the following:
- You have to repeat things more than once or twice.
- Your employees and co-workers say things like, “I don’t remember you saying that,” or “That’s not what I heard.”
- You often find yourself in conflicts or challenging situations and can’t seem to work them out.
- People don’t seek you out to share information and you’re frequently the last to know about something.
- You feel like you’re not getting the whole story when you ask people questions.
- You communicate based on what you learned in your family (unless your parents were communication experts).
- You talk more than listen.
- People look puzzled after you explain something.
- Your workplace interactions tend to be superficial rather than meaningful.
- You’re not getting the results you want from your communication efforts.
If you do any of these things you’re not a horrible person, it simply gives you an opportunity to become an even more effective communicator. Think of the areas that need attention in your workplace and provide ongoing communication training for you and your staff. An investment up front in teaching yourself and your employees how to communicate will help you avoid many pitfalls. It all starts with letting go of the stuff that doesn’t work and practicing behaviors that lead in a positive direction. What will you do to promote effective communication in your workplace?
When I facilitate workshops, people often ask me how to communicate more effectively. We all are capable of communicating effectively we just haven’t learned how to actually do it. Here are some basic tips on how to gets started.
1. Set up an atmosphere for communicating. Everyone gets to say what they want, nobody is punished, everyone is safe to say what they want with no fear of retribution.
2. Everyone agrees to listen and only person talks at a time. When someone speaks other people simply listen. There should be no advice giving, rebuttals or contradicting. Everyone gets a chance to say what they want.
3. Everyone agrees that there is no such thing as a wrong comment or dumb question.
4. Everyone agrees to talk about the same amount of time. No one person monopolizes the conversation. No one person is more important than another.
5. We agree to communicate with each other respectfully, with a calm tone of voice, without harsh language and with no derogatory comments.
6. We agree that any information that is communicated will not be used against someone or to make them feel bad.
7. Keep it simple. Say what you mean, say it briefly and constructively.
8. Leave any personal agendas out of the meeting.
9. Keep it positive. Communication ideally builds a positive atmosphere that promotes solutions rather than only gripe sessions.
Once you follow all of these concepts you will be on your way to communicating effectively. Each one takes practice and commitment from all parties involved. Practice each one (one at a time) until you master it. When you have mastered all of them you will experience the peace of mind that comes from communicating effectively.
Effective communication is about practicing behaviors that will get you positive results rather than finding yourself stuck doing things that don’t work. In the first part of Deeper Communication Skills, we looked at how to help people talk in a meaningful way. In this post, we’ll review how to help a group work together on a challenging issue or any topic of interest. To continue the process from last time, reconvene the group and work through the following steps in order.
- Have the facilitator pick a topic of interest.
- Divide people into groups of four or five.
- Have each group repeat the process above by having each member give his or her perspective on the topic and the remainder of the group listening.
- Ask the group to brainstorm possible ways to deal with the topic. Have them write down their ideas and remind them that all ideas are valid and welcome. Let everyone know that this is just brainstorming, not the time for rebuttals, reactions or debate.
- Ask the group to pick one brainstorm item to start working on. Remind the participants that it doesn’t matter which item they pick, what matters is that they’ll be working together on whatever it is. Invite participants to let go of the need to advocate for their favorite item, encourage them to focus on the collaboration not the name of the item.
- Have each participant tell their group briefly what he or she will do to work on the brainstorm item and by when he or she will complete the action.
- Have each group share what happened in their group, what they decided to work on and how each will contribute.
- Take a break.
At this point you could adjourn the meeting. If time permits, you could have people share what they thought about the process. Give everyone a chance to talk from the heart but keep it brief.
So how does this process help people communicate on a deeper level? These exercises help people practice behaviors that are conducive to resolving conflict and promoting peaceful interaction. They eliminate the distractions that occur in standard conversations and give everyone an equal voice. The trap many people fall into is thinking that these types of interactions have to be about someone winning and someone losing. Both sides try to impose their will and no common ground is identified. The difference in the process outlined here is that it gets rid of both side’s agendas, encourages them to empathize and allows them to generate solutions collaboratively.
Well-meaning people can come together and move past the standard grievances and recriminations that plague so many interactions and shift to a model where they build trust and understanding. There is a huge amount of power in listening to other people’s stories and making decisions based on commonalities and shared experiences. When you set up an environment where people are able to let go of unproductive behaviors you open the door to creating positive relationships and mutually beneficial problem solving. This approach isn’t a quick fix but it yields remarkable long-term results. What will you do to promote deeper communication?