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Communicating about Communicating

Not everyone sees the need to build communication skills.

Tom handled disputes with silence. His wife Clarisse tried to talk through issues, but whatever she said seemed to make it worse.

She called her sister who told her, “Phones have two ends (a transmitter and a receiver). It doesn’t matter what you say over your transmitter if the other person’s receiver isn’t working.” Conversation also requires the other person to turn on his "receiver."

That evening Tom’s receiver wasn’t working, so Clarisse stopped talking, too. Tom needed to wake up at 5:00 the next morning to catch an important flight; and being a very heavy sleeper, he normally relied on his wife to wake him. However, he was too stubborn to break the silence.

Finally, he decided to write a note and put it on her pillow while she was in the bathroom. “Please wake me at 5:00. I have to catch a flight.”

The next morning Tom woke at 8:00. Enraged, he shouted, “Clarisse!” She was no where in sight. Then he spotted a note on his pillow: “It’s 5:00 - Get up.”

This got her point across, but it didn’t help their relationship. Our relationships determine how we communicate, and how we communicate determines the relationships we build. Relationships grow when we respect the personhood of others, let ourselves be vulnerable, and use skillful communication techniques.

Listening skills are as important as speaking skills. Good salespeople let customers do seventy percent of the talking. This helps a salesperson learn the views and needs of customers. It also helps customers sell themselves. Customers are much happier when they choose a purchase with information provided by a salesperson. When a salesperson uses "hard sell" methods, customers often turn defensive. 

I noticed this technique works better with my family also. In fact, I think it applies to all communication. “Telling” people what they should think usually doesn’t change their minds. One man said, "I like to talk with people who express my thoughts clearly."

Lateral communication is an exchange of ideas between people who respect one another’s opinions. Lateral communication builds relationships; a lack of it builds walls.

Only seven percent of our communication comes from words we say. Relationship, body language, and tone make up the rest.

Communication works best when we face each other, make eye contact, and give undivided attention by leaning toward the other person, arms and legs uncrossed. Appropriate distance and height make a difference—especially with kids. Imagine how we would react to someone three foot taller looking down at us and barking orders.

I'm learning that tone is more important than I realized. I wonder how often people hear what I say different from what I mean to say. I’ve noticed that when I’m under pressure, my tone changes. The people I’m talking to might think I’m upset with them instead of upset with an unrelated issue.

Years ago, I did some phone training and suggested customer service representatives record their voices and play them back. We practiced until we sounded upbeat and warm. The tone of our voices automatically warms when we smile. Lowering the pitch of our voice helps also. Studies show that people respond better to lower tones.

I once fielded a call from an angry father whose daughter was not going on a school trip, because she didn’t turn in her money on time. He started yelling at me, though I had nothing to do with the decision. Finally, I said pleasantly, “I’m not your enemy. We both want the same outcome. Let’s try to work together and make it happen.”

Immediately, his tone changed. We were able to find a solution through cooperation.

If you’re reading this, you no doubt believe communication skills are vital; but in spite of our best efforts, sometimes communication is still difficult.

A judge interviewing a lady in divorce court asked, “What are the grounds for your divorce?”

She replied, “About four acres and a three-bedroom home.”

“No,” he said, “I mean what is the foundation of this case?”

“Well, I think the foundation was made from cement blocks,” she responded.

“I mean,” he continued, “what are your relations like?”

“I have an aunt and uncle living here in town. They’re nice.”

“Ma’am, does your husband ever beat you up?”

“Yes,” she responded, “about twice a week he gets up earlier than I do.”

Frustrated, the judge asked, “Lady, why do you want a divorce?”

“Oh, I don’t want a divorce,” she replied. “My husband does. He said we don’t communicate well.”

     Please leave a comment to share your thoughts about communication.
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