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How Mentally Strong People Solve Communication Problems

How Mentally Strong People Solve Communication Problems

Communication and Long-Distance Relationships

In my early twenties, I said goodbye to my family in New York City and moved to Boston for graduate school. While I’d been living in my parents’ house, I talked to my mother, father, and teenage brother all the time, and felt really good about doing so. After I moved out, I wanted to stay close, so I called my family often. However, phone calls with my brother proved a major challenge. I called him regularly but he usually did not call back. My mother encouraged me to keep calling him, and reminded him often to call me – which he rarely did. I was upset and confused by this, as you can imagine, and when I visited NYC and pressed my brother to call me, he apologized, and said he would call back when I called. He did so for a bit, but then stopped again. My mother was distraught, and I was too. Negative feelings and thoughts kept running through my head: why didn’t he call me back? Didn’t he love me? Didn’t he care about me?

This issue festered for a couple of years, until I decided to deal with it directly. On my next extended visit to NYC, I sat down with him, and had a serious conversation. It turned out that my brother really dislikes talking on the phone. This form of communication just stresses him out. He has a much stronger preference for instant messaging as a mode of communication. Moreover, his Elephant brain developed an “ugh field,” a variety of negative emotions, around communicating with me. This was due to the combination of pressure he experienced from my mother and me, and the guilt and shame that came from him failing to call.

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What I Should Have Done

I really wish I knew how he felt! What I should have done was notice that he was not calling me back, and have a conversation about the problem with him right away. I should not have insisted that he call me, but instead express curiosity about why he did not. That way, I would have found out about his anxiety and stress around phone conversations. He would not have felt guilty and pressured. I would not have felt sad and confused. Everyone would have been better off!

Broader Relevance for Communication and Relationships

This story illustrates the importance of adapting one’s communication style to one’s audience. Much has been written about the vital role of communication in the workplace and in civic engagement, especially analyzing and targeting the preferences of your audiences to meet your communication goals. Research shows that such communication is also vital in our personal lives, such as ensuring healthy romantic relationships. Studies of family communication have likewise shown the importance of communicating well and especially being flexible about one’s communication style and preferences.

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Flexibility and Anchoring

Such flexibility was the missing ingredient in my communication to my brother. I had the goal of cultivating my relationship to my brother, but was trying to reach this goal in a way that was not intentional. So I decided to be more flexible and started exchanging Facebook messages with him, using Gmail chat, and other instant messaging services. We grew closer and had a much better relationship. We even worked to solve occasional problems that would come up between one of us and our parents!

Now, why did this problem occur in the first place? Well, from my background growing up, I developed a reference point, in other words a perception of what is normal and appropriate, of the phone being the “right way” to maintain and cultivate relationships with close people. I suffered from the anchoring bias, a common cognitive bias, the scientific name for thinking errors frequently made by our minds. The anchoring bias occurs when people rely too heavily on information they got early onward, and do not move away from this anchor sufficiently based on new information. I had to acknowledge that I failed at my brother’s mind and forgot that my mental map does not match his mental map.

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    Dealing with Anchoring

    So how does one deal with the anchoring bias? A useful strategy is remembering the benefit of re-examining our cached patterns. This term refers to habits of thought and feeling in our mind that we absorbed uncritically from the social environment around us, as opposed to conclusions we arrived at by our own intentional reasoning. Re-evaluating our cached patterns of thought and feeling enables us to see reality more clearly, make more effective decisions, and achieve our goals, thus helping us gain greater agency in personal relationships and other life areas.

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    So whenever you notice yourself confused or upset by something that you did not expect, stop and think: what is the origin of your confusion? Is it coming from some sort of cached pattern, where you think something is the only “right way” of doing things? Think about whether there are any alternative ways of achieving your desired outcome. (This is part of a broader strategy of dealing with common thinking errors by considering alternatives, which research shows is a very effective way for avoiding thinking errors.) Try listing at least 3 alternatives, and describe why each of them can be valid and right, at least for other people if not for you. Remember, relationships are a two-way street, and you need to respect the other person and their preferences in order to communicate well.

    Questions for Consideration

    To help you internalize this information, gain long-lasting benefit from reading this article, and use it effectively in your everyday life for improving your thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns, reflect on and answer the questions below.

    • Can you identify any ugh fields you developed? How do you deal with ugh fields?
    • In what ways, if any, can you be a better communicator in your professional, personal, and civic life areas?
    • Are there any instances where the anchoring effect caused you to make sub-optimal decisions?
    • Do you think you have any cached patterns that might be harmful to your mental well-being?
    • If so, what steps can you take to deal with these cached patterns?

    Featured photo credit: Phone via flickr.com

    More by this author

    Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

    President and Co-Founder at Intentional Insights; Disaster Avoidance Consultant

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    10 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Enjoy Taking Risks

    10 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Enjoy Taking Risks

    The ability to take risks by stepping outside your comfort zone is the primary way by which we grow. But we are often afraid to take that first step.

    In truth, comfort zones are not really about comfort, they are about fear. Break the chains of fear to get outside. Once you do, you will learn to enjoy the process of taking risks and growing in the process.

    Here are 10 ways to help you step out of your comfort zone and get closer to success:

    1. Become aware of what’s outside of your comfort zone

    What are the things that you believe are worth doing but are afraid of doing yourself because of the potential for disappointment or failure?

    Draw a circle and write those things down outside the circle. This process will not only allow you to clearly identify your discomforts, but your comforts. Write identified comforts inside the circle.

    2. Become clear about what you are aiming to overcome

    Take the list of discomforts and go deeper. Remember, the primary emotion you are trying to overcome is fear.

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    How does this fear apply uniquely to each situation? Be very specific.

    Are you afraid of walking up to people and introducing yourself in social situations? Why? Is it because you are insecure about the sound of your voice? Are you insecure about your looks?

    Or, are you afraid of being ignored?

    3. Get comfortable with discomfort

    One way to get outside of your comfort zone is to literally expand it. Make it a goal to avoid running away from discomfort.

    Let’s stay with the theme of meeting people in social settings. If you start feeling a little panicked when talking to someone you’ve just met, try to stay with it a little longer than you normally would before retreating to comfort. If you stay long enough and practice often enough, it will start to become less uncomfortable.

    4. See failure as a teacher

    Many of us are so afraid of failure that we would rather do nothing than take a shot at our dreams.

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    Begin to treat failure as a teacher. What did you learn from the experience? How can you take that lesson to your next adventure to increase your chance of success?

    Many highly successful people failed plenty of times before they succeeded. Here’re some examples:

    10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On

    5. Take baby steps

    Don’t try to jump outside your comfort zone, you will likely become overwhelmed and jump right back in.

    Take small steps toward the fear you are trying to overcome. If you want to do public speaking, start by taking every opportunity to speak to small groups of people. You can even practice with family and friends.

    Take a look at this article on how you can start taking baby steps:

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    The Number One Secret to Life Success: Baby Steps

    6. Hang out with risk takers

    There is no substitute for this step. If you want to become better at something, you must start hanging out with the people who are doing what you want to do and start emulating them. (Here’re 8 Reasons Why Risk Takers Are More Likely To Be Successful).

    Almost inevitably, their influence will start have an effect on your behavior.

    7. Be honest with yourself when you are trying to make excuses

    Don’t say “Oh, I just don’t have the time for this right now.” Instead, be honest and say “I am afraid to do this.”

    Don’t make excuses, just be honest. You will be in a better place to confront what is truly bothering you and increase your chance of moving forward.

    8. Identify how stepping out will benefit you

    What will the ability to engage in public speaking do for your personal and professional growth? Keep these potential benefits in mind as motivations to push through fear.

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    9. Don’t take yourself too seriously

    Learn to laugh at yourself when you make mistakes. Risk taking will inevitably involve failure and setbacks that will sometimes make you look foolish to others. Be happy to roll with the punches when others poke fun.

    If you aren’t convinced yet, check out these 6 Reasons Not to Take Life So Seriously.

    10. Focus on the fun

    Enjoy the process of stepping outside your safe boundaries. Enjoy the fun of discovering things about yourself that you may not have been aware of previously.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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