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Ten tips to improve your communication

Extract from ‘Don’t Say I Never Told You’ Series 2

-A guide to life from a loving father to his millennial daughters


1. Understand perception as a barrier to communication

Marshall Rosenberg (1934 –2015), author of ‘Nonviolent Communication’ (NVC) believed that most conflicts between individuals arise from unclear communication of their respective needs.

It is not uncommon for us to believe that the other party is unreasonable, a bully, or just a jerk, so any attempt at communication is going to be a waste of time.  Or we may fear that the discussion will be an horrendous experience, or the outcome will result in a damaged relationship.

Too many times when I did not want to attend  a meeting or to make that call, I have found that all the pent up emotion was wasted energy. Because more times than not, it was a lot easier than I had imagined. My perception had got in my way. I had simply misread the situation. The other party was probably just as fearful as me.

2. Understand what your programmed communication setting is 

Rosenberg used the Jackal, maybe a bit unfairly, to describe common human behaviour, that has been programmed into us for generations. We have been taught to play the game ‘who is right ‘ and more damningly we have been conditioned to accept  this may lead to anger .

Jackal communication is being used when we are judging, criticising, comparing, denying personal responsibility and demanding.  This attacking behaviour leads to a natural reaction of defensiveness, resistance and counterattack by the other party.

We use Jackal communication when we:

  1. Make judgements, analyse and compare –This includes right/wrong, good/bad, reward/punishment evaluations and judgments which increase defensiveness and resistance from the other party.

  2. Deny personal responsibility – We do this when we say the following, “I drink because I am alcoholic.” “I start smoking because all my friends did.” I did it because it’s the ____”  “I had to do it, I was following orders”. 

  3. Communicate our desires as demands – This way of speaking can easily sneak into communication, such as: “It is going to be a shame if you don’t show up.” “You have to attend school until you’re 16.”

This is the most common style of communication, having been perfected over the millennia.

3. Aim for a communication style that is full of empathy and compassion

We need to adopt a communication style that inspires connection and community. The giraffe was chosen to represent this style because it is a very powerful yet gentle animal. It has the largest heart of any land animal and the longest neck which allows for great observation.

4. Think positively about the outcome of the conversation

The key is to visualise a positive outcome from the interaction.  If you go into a communication with a negative framework, your subconscious will deliver what you have requested. A positive outlook will help you find the right words unlock success.  

5. Learn the skill to separate observation from evaluation

his requires training as it is difficult to make observations of people and their behaviour that are free of judgment, criticism, or other forms of analysis.  In a meeting where the other party happens to be bigger, and talks in a louder voice, you might feel anxious yet though observation you might realise they are just a gentle giant with a hearing problem.

We also fall into the trap of inferring what the other person is thinking which is again not observing their behaviour. Ask yourselves, “What would a recording show if the conversation was being filmed?” this forces you to be more objective.

6. Separate your feelings from your thoughts

In an NVC course you learn to distinguish between words that express actual feelings from those that describe what we think. This is more difficult than it would first appear, as we have:

  • We have grouped real feelings together under a term, e.g., the statement ‘I feel abandoned’ is a summary term for the following feelings: hurt, sad, frightened, or lonely.

  • Mixed-up personal thinking statements by inserting the word ‘feeling’, such as: “I feel like a failure”, “I feel misunderstood,”  “I feel ignored.” The key is that these words do not trigger any reaction, as failure is not a feeling.

7. Communicate your underlying needs to the other party along with the associated feelings

When stating needs it is important to link back to your feeling so that the other party will react more favourably. If we simply state our need without an associated feeling, it will sound like a simple demand.

“I want the car today” is now replaced with,

“I would be very grateful to have the car today because it would save the trouble of a difficult commute to Titahi bay.”

8. Listen to their needs empathically

We now actively listen to their words so that we can be in a position to receive , empathically, what they have felt, need, and requested.

You must not assume that their words are necessarily the perfect expression of their needs. Rosenberg reminded us of the importance to phrase back our understanding of what the other party has said, to show you have fully understood.

The rescue of the school trip in the caves in Northern Thailand

Once the boys had been found a major debate raged across the world, by experts of many different persuasions, as to which boys should come out first. The clever Australian doctor-diver Richard Harris ignored all advice and went into the cave system and asked the soccer coach to talk to the boys. You will never guess what was important to them. Their decision was not based on the biggest, youngest or sickest.  It was based on who lived furthest away from the caves.

9. Ask the magic question

Zoe Chance talks about the magic question to get to the win/win solution. “What would it take to____?”  The power of this question is twofold. When we try to influence people we should remember that they have the answers so why not ask them?  When they answer, they are then committed to the outcome if that condition is met.

10. Attend a NVC course to master the techniques

It was one of my daughter’s idea to both go on the NVC course. I was at first a bit taken back by the course title.  I had, in my mind, never been violent to her so wondered whether it was the right course.  A Rosenberg’s NVC course, in today’s speak, would be called ‘Effective communication’.

To use Rosenberg’s NVC techniques requires attendance on a course and then constant practise as we need to undo generations of conditioning that is sequestered in our DNA.

Must watch videos

Marshall Rosenberg (12 mins)

Marshall Rosenberg (3  hours)

Extract from ‘Don’t Say I Never Told You’ Series 2

-A guide to life from a loving father to his millennial daughters

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