It’s the very first thing we learn to do from inception! Communicate with each other.
Letting another person know how you feel, what you want, where your going, your expectations etc is a lifelong skill that we learn and develop as we grow older.
Our level of communication is also directed by how we learn from our parents and our siblings, leaving some of us to hide quietly in the shadows; fight for attention or; become bold enough to know exactly how to grab the limelight time after time!
Growing up with four other siblings and two West Indian parents, going through a relationship where shouting and screaming was the dominating force and, working in an environment where I felt like a bit of an imposter due to my prior lack of self-value, I have certainly learnt a lot about considerate communication and how focusing what you say in a more respectful manner makes a huge difference to the comprehension of what and how you are communicating.
As we get older, we also adapt our communication depending on who we are talking to. For example, the way I communicate with my family is not necessarily the same way that I talk to clients or even friends.
We form different personas in different situations and both verbal and written communication will reflect those personas in the related situation…but should it?
I Get So Emotional!
Emotions also play a key role in communicating both positively and negatively. Everything from impatience, frustration, jealousy and anger, through to adoration, fascination, empathy and joy can affect the way in which we communicate.
Controlling negative emotions and not allowing them to take over getting the point across takes a lot of skill, particularly when it comes to personal relationships. We tend not to ‘think before we speak’ in these instances and in the heat of the moment just react to how the situation or conversation is affecting us personally, rather than focusing on what the person is really saying and why? Unfortunately, this ends up with both parties feeling frustrated and probably even more upset than they were in the first place!
Yes, communicating is a two-way street and when you have a situation where your spouse or partner is upset or angry with you for some reason or you with them, it will take both of you to make it a discussion rather than a blame-fest!
In this case, my suggestion if possible, is to think about what you want to say before you say it and take any negative emotion out before you say a word. I know that can seem like a challenge, but it will give you time to think about how to calmly and respectfully say what you have to say before you have the conversation.
If someone is communicating disrespectfully to you or becoming angry, that doesn’t mean that you must lower yourself to their level. I have on occasion told people that when they calm down and are ready to have an adult discussion then we can talk. It’s much better for your sanity and your self-respect to walk away rather than get into a slanging match that helps neither of you.
The Working World of Words
The professional landscape is fraught with situations where communication can be perceived so wrongly, and it can impact us in so many different ways too.
From leadership, to teaching and networking to speaking, when it comes to work, your style of communication is a direct reflection on your competence, expertise and most of all your reputation. None of us really want to be known for being the angry or aggressive one, or even the unapproachable or stuck-up one!
We are all judged on how we talk (tone of voice); what we say; how we react; our body language and the increasing non-verbal communications via email and social media, which means we really need to be on the ball nowadays because whistleblowing bad behaviour is commonplace and in the worst-case scenario, globally viral!
The best way to handle any communication whether verbal or written is to think about how you would expect someone to talk or write to you and then pay them the same courtesy. I read everything over before I hit the send button and consider how it comes across and I also focus on listening and understanding what is being said, as much as I do responding when I'm talking face-to-face.
If something has gone wrong at work, again, it’s absolutely essential to take away any negative emotion and focus solutions. If it’s necessary to discuss what went wrong first, then do so without judgement. In most cases, I would say leave that conversation until after things have been sorted out. This gives you and the other person or people involved time to take stock and discuss the situation professionally.
When communicating expectations to team members or running a training class, don’t assume that they or your audience will immediately understand the topic that you are talking about or referring to. We only know what we know, and comprehension of information can be very different for each individual.
Ask clarifying questions and ensure that your team, direct report or class understands what is being asked of them. Ensure that they feel comfortable asking questions even if they feel like it’s one they think you believe they should know. It’s better to clear these things up before a mistake is made because they were too scared to say they didn’t understand in the first place.
Hierarchy in the workplace is losing momentum and whilst we need strong leadership, this should always be inspirational and motivational as well as respectful and understanding of the fact that we all lead somewhat stressful and complex lives.
Managing personal and professional responsibilities will inevitably intertwine for many of us. So, being mindful that we don’t all behave or react the same way will help us continue to learn that communicating should create unity and not division.
A Skill Learned!
How we communicate will continue to change and adapt, after all, we now have an up and coming generation of young people used to communicating only via smart devices using emoji’s and slang or acronyms!
What is and always has been clear is that the only way to communicate effectively is to be considerate and respectful of each, our individuality and our differences. It’s a skill that we learn and one that will serve us well when used correctly.