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Other people are not broken . . .

Other people are not broken . . .
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All of us depend on relationships with others—in our work, in our communities, in our families, in our social lives, and in our most personal and emotional attachments. A great deal has been written about building and maintaining relationships. Some of it is useful, some less so. Much of it is too complicated to carry around easily in your head, which limits its usefulness in practice. So here are some very simple, easily remembered notions to help you deal with relationships better.

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  • Other people are not broken . . . and nor are you. The way that you deal with them may very well be broken. It’s probably best to assume that it is, unless you can prove otherwise. That way you get to take the time and trouble to fix it. If you aren’t getting on well enough with someone, begin by looking at yourself as deeply and honestly as you can. You are who and what you are. So are they. Good relationships start when everyone accepts that and decides to enjoy the ride.
  • Forget your desire to alter other people’s behaviors to suit your own prejudices, wishes, and beliefs. As I said, most everyone is just fine as they are. Tinkering with their lives won’t make them better, but it will definitely make your relationship with them worse. Some people enjoy change, but almost no one enjoys others trying to change them. Do that and your relationship is doomed, sooner or later. Trying to change other people is foolish, but transforming yourself so they will find in you what it is that they need can be great fun. If you do this, you’ll likely also find what you need in them.
  • If someone is doing something wrong, start by assuming that it’s you. It’s tempting to assume that any difficulties you face with other people are their fault. It’s far more useful to assume the difficulties are in your court, so you can do something about putting them right. You cannot (and definitely should not try to) control other peoples’ lives. You can (and definitely should try to) control your own—at least as far as you can control anything in this world (which is not very far). If, in the end, the difficulties prove not to be your problem and you have to let that relationship go, you will still have learned something that may help you another time.
  • In the eyes of other people, you are mostly here to help them with their lives. In your eyes, most of them are here for the same reason: to make your career, your results, or your whole life better. Happiness is providing one another with the help that you each need. Unhappiness is demanding things from others that they are not willing to give. Misery is believing you have a right to those things.
  • Relationships flow along the path of least resistance. If you make it tough for others to relate to you, don’t be surprised if they go elsewhere. No matter how nice, knowledgeable, clever, witty, sexy, or well-connected you are, no one is forced to accept anything beyond the most superficial dealings with you. Besides, there are plenty of other people who are nicer, brighter, wittier, cleverer, sexier, and better-connected than you are. Some of them are probably richer too.
  • There is no such thing as a perfect relationship, so trying to find one is a waste of time and effort. Life is unsatisfactory. Relationships are unsatisfactory (some more than others). That’s the way it goes. But both are a great deal better than their alternatives. Accept what you have and enjoy it. Imagining what it might be, but isn’t, is the best way to ruin it.
  • Making moves to meet people where they are works better that hanging around until they come to you. You don’t have to like others and they don’t have to like you, but it’s a nicer world if that’s what happens. You could stand back and wait for everyone to come to where you are, but that’s going to take more time than anyone has on this earth. Making the first move towards friendship and acceptance beats waiting hands down. You’ll never know whether you might find something worthwhile until you make the effort to look for it.
  • Prejudice is like the person who found a ruby but threw it away because it wasn’t a diamond. It’s amazing what help and pleasure you can get from accepting other people as they are. No one has to work at finding diversity. Look around you. No two people are the same. Sadly, some people work extremely hard at trying to create a totally unnatural uniformity where everyone else is like them. Acceptance is natural (look at any small child). Prejudice is a learned perversion.
  • If your life does not add meaning and value to the world around you, why are you here? If it makes the world around you a worse place, why should other people tolerate you? Life has no neutral gear: you are either in forward or reverse.
  • No one owes you more trust, compassion, forgiveness, or consideration that you are willing to give to them. Fortunately, there are some people out there who aren’t keeping count. Be grateful.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life, The Creativity Class: a place to discover the best ideas on having the best ideas, and Working Potential, where you’ll learn about great ideas for self-development. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

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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

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