We can put people on the moon but we can’t get cell phones to work everywhere. Communication runs our world now. From social media to digital cable, Internet, and (of course) smartphones, we all have to learn to communicate better. The value of communication became clearer to me on one occasion when I was in Wal-Mart. “Shoppers, we have hot biscuits in the garden department” came over the intercom. I was very hungry and approached the clerk in the garden department asking for a “hot biscuit.” She wrinkled her brow, then laughed, “I said we have HIBISCUS!”
Here are some communication skills I have had to sharpen:
1. “Define expectations”
- Where there is poor communication, people have certain expectations that are always unmet. Husbands expected a wife could cook and wives expected a husband could fix cars.
- All communication starts with expectations. Once you define “who” is responsible for “what” confusion cannot stay for very long.
2. “Learn to listen”
- James said to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” When I enter a conversation “feelings first” or “words first” I always get into trouble.
- I practice leaning in to a person who is talking to me. It keeps my mind from wandering and let’s them know I am really “present” in the conversation.
3. “Ask a ton of questions”
- Don’t take for granted you know and understand everything. The best doctors spend up to a half an hour questioning everything about a patient’s symptoms, medications, medical and genetic history.
- Communication “leaves no stone unturned.” When we ask good, sensible questions, it lets our partner or co-worker we value them highly enough to find out the details.
4. “Use stories that illustrate”
- The prophet Nathan confronted David with a simple story about a man who owned many sheep but killed his neighbor’s one little lamb to feed a visitor. David leaped to his feet demanding the man be put to death. Nathan then said, “YOU are the man.”
- Think hard of a story that illustrates perfectly the point you are trying to get across to someone. Tell them the story before you give them the point. Then, tell them, “That’s how I feel sometimes.” A story is worth a thousand words!
5. “Break bad habits”
- We all have bad communication habits that we have to break. Here are a few:
- Using the wrong “person.” If you are having a difficult conversation, use the phrase, “I sometime feel this…” instead of “YOU always do this!”
- Using “bologna without bread.” Sandwich your “hard truth” (the meat) with something positive before and after it (the bread). It will sure go down better!
- Cutting a person off. Let your neighbor have his say, then ask, “Is there anything else?” They will run out of soap and give you the floor until you are finished as well.
Communication is tough! It requires patience, hard work, and a little diplomacy. I promise that your hard work at communicating will pay off in today’s world.
QUESTION: What area of communication is your great struggle and what are you doing to change that?
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