Communicate with intent
We communicate everyday. We do so with success, with failure, with indifference, and often without intention on why we are communicating in the first place.
Think about that for a moment, we engage in our daily interactions, but do you often pause to enter them with conscientious intention as to how we are going to approach the interaction? Have you thought what is the strategy for this interaction? How about deciding why are we engaging (purpose/objective).
Why we engage - this should be something we can easily identify, but may not be as we allow emotional and reactive messaging to steer us. By taking a breath to ensure we are entering the engagement with openness to the other, and not to prove a point, we are laying the groundwork for positive forward looking communication.
This takes self awareness and an ability to self reflect on what it really important to us, and self control to side step our blocks and triggers. Be honest about to yourself and the other about these things, these should be needs based, not positional. (stay tuned for more insight needs based discussions)
What is our strategy for the communication - this takes awareness of the other person, we need to ensure that they understand where we are coming from, what we want to talk about, and that we are looking to build our understanding of them. This goes beyond our choice of words, and extends to how we actively engage with what they have to say, and fostering understanding through our active listening skills.
If we set our strategy to be based on these good communication skills we can practice everyday, then people will have a trust in our communication style and when we have a difficult conversation, they will be more predisposed to remain open with us, rather than becoming defensive if we have a history of reactive communication, or suddenly shift how we communicate (people can interpret sudden change in our communication style with suspicion feeling like ‘something is up’)
How we enter the interaction - this is where we set the tone for the encounter. This includes allowing people time to prepare for a conversation, by letting them know ahead of time that we want to talk to them to learn more about the situation/topic. This may be at the start of the conversation, or this may be setting up an appointed time in the future to discuss.
Think about how you may have felt when someone said to you “we need to talk” and then gave no indication what the ‘talk’ was to be about. This can cause anxiety and unnecessary feelings of ambiguity around what we are needed to talk about. A frustrating start to any conversation. This is not the time for mystery.
When we keep cards close people are left feeling that something is wrong, that their are power imbalances to the conversation about to happen as you come prepared and they come without any chance to prepare. Again not a great way to foster open communications. So yes, let people know why you wish to speak with them, it sets them up for success.
Set the time and place of the conversation to foster a sense of security and safety for them, somewhere comfortable or neutral may be in order, but the best place is one that, where options exist, they choose and you can agree to.
Make sure you both enough time to have the conversation, this includes making sure people are nourished, watered and have access to the bathroom - for instance making sure that it’s not sandwiched in between activities or events that they may have as this will keep them from fully participating. Tell them how long you expect it will take and try to stick to that amount of time. All of these things help to demonstrate and show respect and recognition for the other, and that will again help promote a more open experience.
Sometimes we do not have the luxury of setting the tone through our environment, sometimes we are the ones being approached for the conversation. We can still take the time to react and engage positively - meaning with respect and recognition for the other’s efforts, and the fact that the topic seems important to them and that you would like to know more about how it impacts them so you can better understand. You can articulate that perhaps you have only so much time at that moment, but can reschedule to a better time, or that perhaps you need a bathroom break or a something to eat to be better suited to talk about it.
You can set the tone for the conversation just by thanking them for bringing it to your attention, and that you appreciate that they trusted you enough to bring it to your attention to be able to have an open and nonjudgmental conversation about it.
Imagine that, some comes to you angry, hurt, frustrated, upset, sad, or excited about something, you take a good breath in allowing them to finish what they start to say while making good eye contact and conscientiously setting down what you are doing so as to provide them with your full attention.
Then when they have said their initial piece, you thank them for sharing that with you, tell them that it seems like it is important to them, and then ask them to tell you more to better ensure you have fully understood them.
Recognition and acknowledgement that something is important to to someone will go a long way towards validating that how they feel is important to you. As mentioned in other insights, understanding is not the same thing as agreement. But like recognition and respect, it is something that we all need, and when we are allowed to communicate without fear, in an open communication environment where we trust we can share to build understanding, the potential for that situation is at its maximum, and your opportunity for success is at its greatest.
Simple, consistent communications approaches, can have maximum yields for our time and positive effects for our relationships. Saving us time, energy and effort in the long run, setting us up for success and smoother interpersonal relationships.
So the next time you go to speak to someone about something important, or someone comes to you to discuss something, take that deep breath and prepare yourself to communicate with intent.