You can improve communication skills by changing more than how you talk to someone else.
We talk to ourselves all the time. Being aware of our own internal dialogue before a conversation is key to helping us improve communication with others.
Just now, bring to mind how you feel before you have a conversation you think might be difficult.
Perhaps you get nervous or defensive if it’s going to be with a person who often gets angry. Maybe you feel frustrated when you imagine a repeat discussion about an issue you’ve debated (unsuccessfully) a dozen times with someone. Notice how those feelings (about something that hasn’t even happened!) affect you.
What you think and how you feel before talking to someone will directly influence your behaviour during a conversation. It will therefore affect the outcome too. Noticing (and managing) your thoughts and feelings beforehand and considering what you really want from the interaction will be invaluable.
Notice your feelings and emotions
Becoming aware of our feelings and emotions gives us the chance to consider first whether they are truly justified and then how we might best communicate them.
Emotions that are appropriate to the situation and managed and communicated well can enhance a conversation and even create more connection. However, going into a conversation overwhelmed by strong emotions may mean you’re out of control and likely to just unload them, which to the recipient, can feel like being “dumped” on. In this situation, it’s doubtful either of you will really listen to each other which leaves little chance of a positive outcome.
If you want any conversation to be constructive when emotions are present, it’s really important that you get yourself into a calm state first by regulating them, rather than have them consume you.
How to regulate your emotions
Sometimes it can feel like we’re “flooded” by our emotions. Our heart rate increases, our breathing becomes faster and we feel out of control.
Whenever you feel like this, take some deep breaths, drink some water and move. Stand up, stretch or ideally take a brisk walk to release the emotional energy. Shouting into or thumping a pillow can help release frustration too.
Reducing the intensity of your emotions in this way will mean you are more likely to express how you feel in a constructive rather than thoughtless or hurtful way and thus improve communication effectiveness.
How to become aware of your feelings
Stop for a moment and literally (out loud if it helps) ask yourself how you are feeling. Doing that helps you become an observer of your feelings, rather than being absorbed by them.
If identifying them is difficult, shut your eyes, take a breath and ask yourself again. If you’re aware of any kind of physical sensation, sometimes that can be a clue. It doesn’t matter if you can’t describe the feeling accurately or specifically, just notice it.
Being aware of your feelings gives you the chance to ask yourself if they will help or hinder the conversation.
If you think they will hinder it, the next step is to work on changing them.
How to change your feelings
Our feelings are generally the result of our thoughts. We have a thought, we focus on it, develop it and it starts to feel like reality. If it’s negative, we will feel negative.
In order to change your feelings, you need to change your thoughts.
How to change your thoughts
- Observe them. Are you blaming, judging or making assumptions for instance? Are you remembering past conversations and imagining the next conversation will be the same?
- Challenge them. Ask yourself if what you’re thinking is 100% true. If not, let the thoughts go. If the thoughts are totally accurate (ie not an opinion, belief or assumption), ask yourself if where you are focusing is helpful and if not…
- Replace the thoughts with different ones. Ask yourself instead what you want from the conversation and what you can do to effect that. Looking at something from a different angle can also change how you think.
I didn’t find these steps easy when I first started my personal development journey, but after much practice, I can honestly say they have been amongst the most empowering changes I have ever made in my life.
We may not have control over how someone else speaks or behaves, but we do have the power to choose how we think and feel. Then we have a choice about how we respond – both internally and externally – rather than just reacting. I have seen this awareness improve communication exponentially and transform hundreds of my clients’ relationships.
I invite you to experiment with these suggestions and then click here to find more guidance on how you can improve communication before you speak.