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How to Communicate Harsh Things Without Causing Resentment

How to Communicate Harsh Things Without Causing Resentment

I recently read a book called “Leadership & Self Deception” by the Arbinger Institute. It explains how self-deception is the most pervasive problem in organizations today. It gave some of the following examples of types of people who suffer from self-deception:

  • Someone who thinks they know things, when they’re really mistaken.
  • Someone who thinks they’re making a positive contribution, when they’re really polluting the workspace with their attitude.
  • Someone who feels they are a victim in a conflict situation, when they’re really the perpetrator.

Maybe you’ve suffered from the low self-awareness of people around you.

And if you have, then you know how important it is, especially when it comes to being persuasive, or to refine the way we choose to communicate. Learning how to communicate more consciously might save you a relationship, a partnership, or a hurtful misunderstanding between you and someone you care about.

Now, in my opinion, one of the most thought-provoking insights from this book comes in the form of a conversation between a character named “Bud” and a character named “Tom.”  Bud is telling Tom about an argument he had with his wife:

“After a while, Nancy and I had actually worked our ways to opposite sides of the room, I was tiring of our little “discussion,” which was making me late for work, and decided to apologize and put an end to it. I walked over to her and said, “I’m sorry, Nancy,” and bent down to kiss her. “Our lips met, if at all, only for a millisecond. It was the world’s shortest kiss. I didn’t intend it that way, but it was all either of us could muster.” “You don’t mean it,” she said quietly, as I backed slowly away. And she was right, of course.” 

—”Leadership and Self-Deception” by the Arbinger Institute

The reason this story is interesting to me is because I feel like it goes to the heart of many interpersonal conflicts.

Someone feels neglected.

And it might not even be intentional. I’m sure Bud does care about his wife’s wellbeing. However, in that moment, he did not care. And she felt it.

It’s just a story but, doesn’t it make you think about partners in your life? Friendships in your life? Parenting in your life?

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All those relationships where caring matters, but where we so often neglect to express it adequatelyIt’s not hard to link this to the human instinct of having our own needs met; I mean, if someone’s not showing reasonable consideration for your condition, why should you and I reasonably consider theirs? But see, that’s the thinking that often leads us to hurt other people in the way we communicate, even when we do mean well. No one wants to make the first step; no one wants to risk being left out in the cold.

If you try to see things from their perspective, they might take advantage and get comfortable, or they might never learn from their mistakes. Now, the thing is: there is a way to be considerate and get your point across:

Communicate how much you care.

I’ll never forget my high school biology teacher and how he motivated me to improve my scores over my senior year. I had had him during my junior year as well, so he pretty much knew what my “normal” output was. That’s why he reacted so strongly to me getting a pitiful F on the very first test.

I very clearly remember the comment he left on my test paper in red ink: “Get to work!!!!!!!!” (With precisely 8 exclamation marks)

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Now, to be honest, under normal circumstances, this approach should not have worked to motivate me at all. I mean I know myself, and this is not the way to do it. But that’s not all he did. I had a good relationship with this teacher in the past, and because he was willing to communicate the following:

  • Belief in my potential
  • Appreciation for my efforts
  • Encouragement

— and all of that throughout the year, it ended up working.

Giving to receive.

He wasn’t just being tough that day; in fact, when I realized (over time) how much he truly believed that I could do well, I felt almost obliged to not disappoint him. I thought to myself: “Damn, so he wasn’t just trying to make me look bad? He thinks I can actually “get to work” and do great. Well, I mean I guess…” I realized after a few discussions and certain interactions in class that it wasn’t just tough talk he had for me; rather, it was actually tough love. He appreciated me as a student, respected me as a person, and saw me as one of the “better ones” with just a slight “launch incident.”

Needless to say, I made biology a higher priority that year (over video games), and actually ended up graduating at the top of my class in that subject — all because this teacher had been able to show me the tough love and consideration that I needed to feel motivated. If this experience and the book I mentioned taught me anything, it’s that it’s possible to make a powerful impression on someone without causing an insidious resentful reaction. And it all comes down to your ability to communicate your warm regards and positive expectations for people.

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You might recognize their efforts, perhaps acknowledge their past good deeds, and certainly show appreciation for their current efforts. Then you can (safely) crack the whip.

Featured photo credit: Ilya via flickr.com

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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