Akash: What really is effective communication? Why do we get communication wrong? And how can we become more effective communicators? In this blog post, lifestyle coach Funmi Johnson shares her top tip for become a better communicator:
Difference in Communication Styles
I’ve recently relocated from London, to Lagos and one thing I’ve noticed is the difference in communication styles. Reading a newspaper or listening to a news piece is like trying to navigate an obstacle course. There aren’t any hurdles, or walls or water jumps, but the language used by the journalists is really rather scary. Sometimes it feels like the main aim of the presenter is not to give information, but to show off how many long words they know. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the word “discombobulate” actually used in a sentence before. However, since moving back to Lagos, I’ve heard it quite a few times. For those with enquiring minds, it means “to confuse or disconcert; upset or frustrate”. Although communication is one of the first skills we learn, it’s not always the easiest thing to do.
Why We Get Communication Wrong
My first observation is that we get communication wrong, when we don’t do “first things first”. What do you mean by that? I hear some of you ask. Well, before we even start trying to communicate, we should ask ourselves some basic questions. Questions like: who is this person I am trying to communicate with? what are their likes and dislikes? what are they passionate about? what do they want to know? I have to confess that before I sat down to write this piece, I asked some of these questions about you. It’s better to meet people where they are, than trying to guess and run the risk of having them switch off during the conversation. It’s incredibly easy to get our wires crossed and end up in a raging argument. I doubt there are many more questions, more terrifying for a man than when his partner asks “what are you thinking?” I have it on good authority that sometimes when men say “nothing”, they literally mean “nothing”. That’s something that’s unfathomable for the average woman, so she interprets that as him not wanting to share with her and you can see how it all ends up in World War 3!
What is Good Communication?
Secondly, in my mind, good communication should involve about twice as much listening as it does speaking. I’ve heard some funny person justify this by saying that’s the reason God gave us two ears and only one mouth. As a child I used to love playing the game called “Chinese Whispers”. It was amazing to hear how different the message was by the time it got to the last person. It may be amusing in the context of a game, but not so much when it affects peoples’ lives. That seemingly harmless little titbit of gossip, can turn into something so much more damaging, once it’s been repeated over and over again and changed every time.
The Gift of Deep Listening
Conversely, offering someone the gift of really deep listening is priceless. I hope that we all have at least one person in our lives, who makes us feel valued- just by the way they listen to us. When we listen deeply, we increase our chances of really understanding what’s being said. Which means we have a better chance of responding appropriately. Best of all, we reduce our chances of being glared at, accompanied by the question “are you listening to me?”
How to Become a Better Communicator
Having identified some of the pitfalls of communication, now I’d like to offer my top tip for how to become a better communicator. The easiest way to improve your communication skills is to change your focus. When most of us are in a conversation, our focus is on ourselves.
Hands up anyone who’s spent more time marshalling your arguments, thinking of your next line and interrupting, rather than actually listening?
As a coach, I’ve fallen into this trap myself. Thinking of my next question, instead of really listening to the answer to my last one. Keeping the focus on you during a conversation is a bit like talking to yourself- a bit pointless on a long term basis. The simple act of paying attention to the person who is speaking to you; listening to what’s not being said, as well as what is and noting their body language all help us to improve our communication skills. Which hopefully this time leads to the comment, “I feel like you really understand me”, rather than an exasperated “Why do I bother talking to you?”
Being a good communicator is an art, but the good news is, it’s a skill we can all develop, with a little patience and a lot of practice.
About the Author
Funmi Johnson is the founder of Born to Be Beautiful. She brings together her skills as a lawyer, personal coach and lifestyle advisor to help people maximize their potential and be all that they can be. (Akash’s note: I encourage you to check out Funmi’s blog – she writes some very thought-provoking articles)