Firstly, Why Does Communication Fail?
The human brain contains a part called the amygdala, which is often referred to as the “lizard brain”. This part of the brain is concerned with looking after our wellbeing, and as a result, it’s constantly on the lookout for anything that may be harmful to us.
Although the amygdala is mainly concerned with out physical wellbeing, it looks out for our emotional wellbeing too. For instance, when someone says something to you that you find offensive, it triggers your amygdala, and you react defensively to what has been said.
The key to improving communication in relation to the above is to know what to do in order to prevent people from feeling defensive. You can do this by implementing ways to calm their amygdalas and helping them to be open to having a genuine conversation.
1. Show your hands
Believe it or not – the first thing that we tend to look at upon meeting someone new is their hands. This is a subconscious way of checking whether we’re physically safe with the person we’ve just met. For instance, research has shown that defendants who hide their hands from view when in court tend to be seen as being sneaky and untrustworthy by jurors. Having your hands visible is as practical as showing the other person that you’re not carrying a weapon. As a result, be sure to show your hands regardless of whether you’re catching up with an old friend or meeting someone new.
2. Touch each other
An infant’s development is severely affected when it’s left to its own devices in its crib all day and is only let out when it needs to be fed, bathed or changed. This is because one of the key components for healthy development is touch. Human touch triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin, which is the “love hormone”. This hormone helps us to experience feelings of love, trust, devotion, and bonding. It also helps to decrease stress levels. You can incorporate physical interaction into your conversation in the simplest of ways. A handshake will do for people you’re not close with, whereas you should consider being more of a hugger with your friends and family!
We all need to ask questions to get to know someone, but you can prevent the other person from going on the defensive by using “softeners” when we ask them. Questioning should always be done in a way that doesn’t make the other person feel like they’re being interrogated. Rather, they should feel as if you’re genuinely interested in learning about their story and feelings. Start your questions with phrases such as “Out of curiosity…” or “Just to make sure I’m on the same page…” to help prevent the other person from getting defensive.
4. Keep it simple
You need to keep in mind that we all think differently from each other, so that can make communicating a specific idea or thought to someone quite hard sometimes. The key to avoiding confusion is to be familiar with who you’re talking to. In other words, you might need to explain something to a friend in one way and explain it to a colleague in another. You can do this by avoiding using language that the average person is unlikely to understand. Be careful not to come across as being condescending – although explaining things can be frustrating sometimes, view the situation as trying to inform a smart person rather than helping a slow person catch up to you.
On occasion, it can be easy to get caught up in talking about yourself without paying too much attention to whether the individual you’re talking to is actually interested in what you have to say. A good way of involving them is to create moments in which the other person thinks “me too!” in relation to what you’re saying. Take mental notes during a conversation, recording what the person you’re talking to appears to get excited about. Also consider their worldview and background, then start asking questions about those topics to start a discussion. Even if you end up doing the listening rather than the talking, it’s a great idea to pay attention to the other person’s non-verbal language to see if they’re relating to what you’re saying.
6. Only interrupt when necessary
No-one appreciates being interrupted mid-sentence, especially when they’re sharing something important. The conversation usually gets hijacked by the interrupting person, and this shows that they’re not listening, as well as being more focused on their own thoughts rather than those of the person who’s speaking. You should always wait for the other person to finish speaking before interrupting. It’s only acceptable to interrupt someone in a sensitive situation when the conversation begins to go off-topic. Try to listen actively and pay attention to what the other person is trying to express.
The human brain is divided into two halves, which operate very differently from each other. The right hemisphere deals in emotion, whereas the left one deals in logic. That’s why you should be aware of which part of the brain your partner is speaking from – doing so will allow you to elicit an appropriate response. In a given situation, ask yourself whether your partner is coming from a logical or emotional place, and respond to them accordingly.
8. Communicate feelings through stories
Simply telling a person that you feel angry will allow them to observe your mental state, but nothing more. Elaborating on your feelings by means of a story allows the other person to picture him or herself in your shoes, and understand how what you’re describing might have felt. This is exactly why we can lose ourselves in a great movie. Use detail to convey exactly how you’re feeling, sharing specifics of what happened and when.
Microexpressions are expressions that occur within 1/25th of a second and tend to accurately reflect a person’s true emotions. They can either be positive or negative and are the reason why you can sense whether a job interview has gone well or badly. Authentic smiles, nods and leaning in toward the person you’re speaking to during a conversation are all examples of micro positive expressions.
10. Give your undivided attention
Many things compete for our attention in our lives, regardless of what we might be doing, but it’s important to ensure that you give someone your undivided attention when communicating with them. Becoming distracted can trigger their amygdala, meaning that they’ll either end up fighting for your attention or disengaging from you. Neither of those things is good for good communication. To keep yourself attentive, try turning your smartphone face-down and putting it on silent, maintaining eye content to cultivate trust and connection, and moving to a calmer and safer space to have a conversation in an environment that’s noisy and busy with people.
Images by Deposit Photos.