Communication is one of the most significant factors in making and breaking our relationships. Whether it be with coworkers, family members or significant others, many unexpected problems can result from misinterpretations. Speaker and consultant Dr. Robyn Odegaard offers advice on how to listen and understand better. Achieve, accept and appreciate more by communicating effectively.
By Dr. Robyn Odegaard
Since you are reading this website, I am going to bet you are the type of person who understands that success comes from being able to powerfully engage with coworkers, customers, clients, family and friends. Engagement isn’t something you can buy or even fake. It requires you to be able to genuinely interact with who someone believes themselves to be, rather than the person you think they are. So how do you get past your perception to be able to connect on a deeper level? You have to understand communication fingerprints and how they affect every exchange you have.
What is a Communication Fingerprint?
Every human being has a unique way he or she uses language, called a communication fingerprint. What words and inflections mean, what types of behavior are rude or insulting as opposed to funny and what silence means vary from person to person. Your fingerprint is molded by your life experiences; starting with your primary caregiver. As you become an adult you take in information from every encounter you have with other people. Individuals who have similar life experiences to yours will have a communication fingerprint similar to yours. These are the people who “just get” you. Your sense of humor is similar and misunderstandings are rare. However, the more diverse the people in your life are the better chance you have for misunderstandings and hurt feelings to boil over into an emotional war or a client walking away. Many people make the mistake of ignoring these differences and assuming everyone will just ‘act like adults.’ On rare occasions people will just click. But the majority of the time when left up to hope and luck, a negative, resentful undercurrent will develop and may turn into a silent resentment or an angry confrontation.
Once you understand communication fingerprints and how they work you can use them to have more powerful and meaningful conversations with just about anyone in your life.
Own Your Power
Too often in conversation we try to take over the other person’s power and in the process give up our own. To avoid the power struggle that ensues, start your sentences with the word “I” (I think… I need… I want… My experience was…) rather than using the word “You.” Sentences that start with you (You did this… You need to do that… You made me…) close off the conversation. The person being spoken to only has two choices, accept what they are being told about themselves or defensively disagree. There is no space to have a conversation, only a confrontation.
If you have ever spent time with a toddler you know their favorite question is “why?” Unfortunately, as we grow up we are trained not to ask that question. But that doesn’t mean our inquisitiveness goes away. We still want to know why, but rather than asking, we just make it up. In fact, making up why someone does something becomes so engrained we don’t even realize we are doing it. To make matters worse, when we make assumptions about other people it is almost always something negative. A simple example is when someone runs a red light. The first thing that springs to mind for most people is “idiot.” That is about as negative as it comes. The reality is likely something more neutral; like the driver wasn’t paying attention at that moment. Start catching yourself making up negative things about people and start asking why. It is amazing what people will tell you when you ask and then listen to their answer. If you don’t have the opportunity to ask way, try assuming something positive.
Make Others Feel Heard
I am sure you have heard the saying, “We have two ears and one mouth and they should be used in that proportion.” However, listening is often not enough. Have you ever had this argument: “You aren’t listening to me!” “Yes I am!” “No you’re not!” We have all engaged in that useless back and forth. The problem isn’t that you weren’t listening, it is that the other person wasn’t feeling heard. Sometimes just letting someone know you heard and understand them is enough, even if you don’t agree.
Some phrases you can use to help someone feel heard include: What I think I hear you saying is…. What I am taking away from this conversation is… My understanding of what you need is… It sounds like you are frustrated about…. Explain what it is you believe the other person is trying to convey to you. If you are incorrect, give them a chance to explain themselves again. In this way both parties can walk away from the conversation with the same understanding.
Treat Others the Way THEY Want to be Treated
The Golden Rule has been failing us for a long time. Just because you want to be treated a certain way does not mean your clients want to be treated that way. Punctuality is a great example for this issue. All of us know someone who believes if you’re early you’re on time, if you’re on time your late and if you’re late you’re in trouble (I admit, I am one of those people). There are other people who live much more “in the moment.” They are present with a situation until it is finished and then they move on to the next thing. There isn’t a schedule other then when they get there they will be there. If I expected all of my clients to be regimented with time like I am, I would drive many of them away. Instead, it is important that I understand what works best for them. Does it make me crazy sometimes? Of course. But I can’t treat people the way I want to be treated; I must treat them how they want to be treated. To figure that out, I have to ask, not assume what they want.
How we use language to interact with our clients is the number one relationship maker or breaker. How we communicate and deal with disagreements can be the difference between a successful interaction and a negative one. Unfortunately, there is very little training available for us to learn effective communication and productive conflict. Instead, each of us is struggling to reinvent the communication wheel. Being powerful in your use of language creates a win-win for you and everyone in your life and makes for a happier, more peaceful existence. For me, that is reason enough to do it.
Life is complicated enough without adding misunderstandings and hurt feels that can be avoided through the powerful use of language. You have the power to use effective communication and productive conflict resolution. Your success is up to you. Never let others sidetrack it.
Dr. Robyn Odegaard is a nationally known speaker/consultant who is passionate about meeting people where they are and helping them advance to where they want to be. She is the owner of Champion Performance Development (www.ChampPerformance.com) where she combines executive coaching, organizational development and sport psychology to make a positive difference for her clients.