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5 Simple And Obvious Tips For Better Communication

5 Simple And Obvious Tips For Better Communication

    Some things we just know. Some things we learn by reading books (or fine blogs like Stepcase Lifehack) and yet another set of things we learn the hard way: by doing them. Or, to be more precise, by trial and error. Or, to be even more precise, by a lot of trial and a lot of errors.

    For me, one of these things was interpersonal communication. I always had a very easy way with words. Seemed that I can find them without too much effort. Also, I have the ability to learn new languages pretty easy (I’m not a native English speaker, by the way). And that made me believe for a long time that I was a good communicator.

    Of course, I was so totally wrong. As paradoxical as it may seem, interpersonal communication has very little to do with words. It doesn’t really matter how fast or accurate you may find them. The very core of interpersonal communication is not in words, it’s in interaction. It’s true that sometimes words may greatly enhance this interaction, but the core is always about dancing, not about posing.

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    So here are 5 simple rules that will help you get more value from your conversations. They’re not learned from any books, but from my own experience in countless of interpersonal communication processes.

    1. Never Start A Sentence If You Don’t Know How It Ends

    That was one of my biggest struggles when I started to consciously improve my interpersonal skills. There is this thrill of talking out of nothing, just to have your voice heard. I may say a stupid thing, but what the heck, at least I will make myself heard. What a dumb (and actually easy to avoid) mistake.

    The thin interest that you may generate will soon turn into laughter or just plain ignorance. Mean what you say and know exactly how it will turn out before putting it into words. While it looks like it may add some salt and pepper to the conversation by introducing some sort of randomness, speaking without really knowing what you say will only ruin the other part expectations. They’re talking to you because they’re searching for meaning, not for randomness.

    Now, every little thing I say is atomically processed in my head before it reaches my lips. It creates some sort of a mental space in which I can follow the main ideas or the further developments of the main conversation thread. If doing this sounds like too much of a hassle, don’t worry, it’s way much easier than you think. Just start practicing and it will come along naturally.

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    2. “Uh”, “Oh” and “Sheesh” Are Vague

    So expect to get back vague responses too. Interjections are not meant to generate an answer, but merely to acknowledge your surprise or satisfaction. If you use an “Oh” as a way to get an answer from somebody else, not only you will gradually puzzle your interlocutors, but, eventually, you will annoy the heck out of them.

    Being exact in your responses is fundamental in interpersonal communication. Imagine that you’re playing squash. You hit the ball and expect the wall to send it back exactly in the direction you calculate. Now imagine the wall is actually soft, or deformed, like being made from some sort of plastic. Your ball will fly around in unpredictable circles.

    That’s exactly what these types of interjections, which we all use because they’re holding some degree of “coolness”, are doing. They’re distorting the feedback we’re sending back to our interlocutor. In the end, he’ll walk out with a foggy conclusion about your interaction. If he’ll be able to extract a conclusion at all. Huh? ;)

    3. There’s No Right Or Wrong

    Noticed how often we continue a conversation just to prove that we’re right? I call that type of conversation a “loose end”. If somebody approaches me with something like “well, let me tell you how things really are in that matter”, I usually don’t. Don’t let that person tell me anything, that is.

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    Being right or wrong is a mental construct. We’re moving through life continuously, our own personalities may change over time and we’re constantly changing contexts and situations. What’s right here today may change tomorrow and what’s acceptable as true in your culture may be completely forbidden in another one.

    Hijacking an entire conversation just to prove yourself right is an incredible waste of time. Human interaction is much more valuable than we’re ready to accept and much more rewarding, if carefully practiced. For instance, the benefits of proving yourself right will last as long as that conversation, while the benefits of a true interaction will widely go over that 10 minutes span, maybe for years.

    4. Listening Is Always More Valuable Than Talking

    If you spend more than 50% percent of a conversation just talking, you’re losing big time. Ideally, a conversation will have at least half of the time dedicated to listening. Because that’s where the real value lies, in finding out new things. One can really know just as much as he knows. Value is created incrementally, by incorporating other messages in your knowledge base.

    That’s why I developed my own listening technique. Every time I witness my interlocutor’s eyes slipping slightly over my head, I know it’s time to use that technique. By the way, listening doesn’t mean you shut up. On the contrary, you support conversation, you show you’re engaged and willing to learn more.

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    Ask small questions, acknowledge that you’re processing the information, give small incentives to the other part so he’ll keep on talking. The art of listening is even more difficult than the art of talking, but, in my experience, its benefits are in direct proportion with the difficulty. Way bigger, that is.

    5. Login. Logout.

    Practice your openings and closings very carefully. When I enter a conversation, I usually do a mental “login”. Like I actually login on a remote server via some sort of a console (I’m a bit of a geek, I know, I can’t help it). Once I’m there, my activities are bound to that window. I almost never get out of that space until I finish what I was supposed to do there.

    This trick proved to be so valuable that I even used it in real life events like workshops or team buildings. The initial “ice breaking” sheet of paper is called “Login” and the feedback form I give them at the end  is called “Logout”. It helps everybody identify and respect the boundaries of that specific event.

    The same happens in conversations. That’s why I seldom respond to an interruption stimulus if I’m engaged with somebody else. If I start 3 login sessions at once, I will never remember what command I issued, in what window. They will just stay there, on my screen, but without real use. Or, in other words, interpersonal clutter.

    ***

    Have your own conversation tips? Would love to hear about them in the comments. Let’s start a little bit of an interpersonal interaction, folks. :)

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    Last Updated on August 12, 2020

    When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

    When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

    Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

    In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

    How to Listen to Your Gut

    The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

    Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

    1. Tune Into Your Body

    Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

    However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

    Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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    Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

    In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

    2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

    Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

    There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

    3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

    Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

    As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

    This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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    4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

    As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

    Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

    5. Challenge Your Assumptions

    When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

    In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

    A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

    6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

    Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

    There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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    Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

    Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

    Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

    We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

    The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

    We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

    7. Trust Yourself

    It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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    Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

    If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

    The Bottom Line

    The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

    Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

    More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

    Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
    [2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
    [3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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