Clients often seek coaching on communication challenges. There is no one right answer. Each person’s communication challenge is unique, surfaces in periods of disruptive personal change, and creates new opportunities for resilience and flourishing. Mindfulness skills can also help you become a better communicator.Like sex or money, communication is essential, highly personal and deeply shared. Yet we risk vulnerability, conflict, ambiguity. In short, it's stressful.Click To Tweet
Communication Challenges are Uniquely Personal
Here are examples from three recent clients:
Client A was an energetic, analytic, innovative individual. He enjoyed pushing institutional edges, could passionately argue for his positions, yet sometimes was viewed as scattered, talking in tangents or coming on unnecessarily strong; like a 5-ton truck when a compact vehicle would do! As a newly promoted C-suite Executive, this didn’t help build consensus in a heavily matrixed organization.
Client B was an IT design specialist, highly attuned to customers’ needs and other people’s emotions but hated conflict. As the sole design specialist in a small IT firm her opinion was sought and valued, and her aversion to conflict avoided. Now part of a much larger organization, how was she to handle the rough and tumble discussion and thinly disguised self-promotion of team meetings?
Client C had moved to this country in his late teens and now speaks flawless English. He has risen in his profession due to his tenacity, capacity for hard work and willingness to tackle tough technical issues, but he doesn’t trust his gut instincts on how to relate to other people. In a new role that requires subtle communication and presentations to diverse audiences, how is he to respond to challenging questions that may come out of left field?
You Need Resilience to Communicate Well
Resilience is the ability to recover, adapt or grow in response to threat or challenge.
Public speaking, or communicating authentically in difficult conversations are some of the most stressful actions we ever undertake. I know. As a girl, I used to stutter badly. I went to a speech therapist to learn how to slow down my speaking voice, so it didn’t have to keep pace with my racing mind. I am still slightly astonished to find myself a professional speaker and facilitator!
In my book Mind Your Life, I investigate the factors of resilience. In part, they are heritable traits. And, like a muscle that you work out, you can also actively develop these capacities.
Here’s how a description of some of these muscles of resilience and how they relate to communication. Use them as tips to improve your own communication skills, or ways to think through why certain kinds of communication are a challenge for you.
Resilience Is the Ability to Persist Through Obstacles of Failures
A negative communication experience may cause you to run for cover, swearing you’ll never do that again! But a resilient person will try again.
- Treat is as a learning experiment, to see what you can vary next time.
- What 2-3 things are you proud of and can build on?
- What one thing could you do differently?
Resilience Means Staying Focused Under Pressure
When we are feeling pressure—like presenting to a senior group of stakeholders—we may know what we want to say, but lose our nerve. Our minds race, and we lose focus on our purpose. A resilient person is able to keep their anxiety or doubts in the background of their attention, with their foreground focus firmly on the audience and the intended key points.
- Prepare in advance your top key messages.
- If things go wonky, what is the absolute minimum you want to convey?
- What speaking aids would help you out when you’re feeling pressured?
Resilience Means the Ability to Handle Unpleasant Feelings
Anxiety, rapid heart-beat, sweaty palms, anger or resentment; all kind of difficult emotions can come up when we embark on a difficult conversation. Resilient people do experience these negative emotions and stress too. But they have learned to navigate around and through them.
- Which one or two unpleasant feelings tend to sabotage you?
- What situations, contexts or people trigger them?
- Where in the body do you feel these emotional sensations?
- What words tend to run around inside your head when you feel these feelings?
- What can you do to self-calm when these feelings arise?
Resilience Means the Ability to Stay Connected with Other People
No one can be resilient all by themselves. A strong network of colleagues, friends and family who can support us when times are tough is essential. Natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey can often spur us to greater acts of altruism and mutual support.
But how do you stay connected to others who have different agendas, assumptions, bias for risk or cultural backgrounds?
- Get a feel for the audience or the other person. What are their interests or concerns? Can you connect with them before hand?
- For presentations, build in dialogue moments. One client used automated polling during his town hall presentations to get a feel for unfolding audience response, and to create a natural pause to gather his thoughts.
- Make eye contact, both with people you know and with people you don’t.
- For smaller groups or 1-1s, ask people to paraphrase what they’ve just heard others say. Repeat this process until people can agree that their position has been clearly articulated, even if they may not yet agree on a solution.
Resilience Means Greater Self-Awareness
Resilient people don’t just stubbornly persist doing the same ole’ thing. Failure can teach them that they need to solve problems—in this case communicate—in new ways. But first they have to be aware of their current ways of communicating. Here most of us start off blind.
As a girl, I had no idea I talked so fast. Talking more slowly seemed just weird. Client A didn’t feel scattered, just energized. Client B thought she was engaged, but didn’t realized she usually waited for her opinion to be asked. Client C had no idea how much the idea of vulnerability scared him.
How do you develop greater self-awareness?
- Be willing to ask yourself the tough questions; what’s really going on with me? What am I most scared of?
- Ask a trusted friend how you are viewed, or how they think you view yourself.
- Coaching can help!
Mindfulness in Communication
It may seem strange, but practicing mindfulness—often done in silence— can help you become a better communicator.
Mindfulness builds the core muscles of resilience. Every time find your mind wandering away from the object of attention (breath, sounds, your body sensations, your thoughts) and you notice it and gently bring it back—you’re building persistence and focus. Every time you become aware of an uncomfortable feeling and don’t try to block it, you’re building the ability to handle unpleasant feelings. Every time you become aware of thoughts in your head, you’re building self-awareness.
You can also practice mindful awareness while you’re communicating. When you’re talking, you’re focused on the heart of the matter, leaving other concerns in the background. When you’re listening to others, you’re only listening, nor preparing your zinger repartee!
Check out the Deep Listening practice on my site to learn the actual method underlying the concept of active listening.
Enjoy becoming a better communicator, knowing you’re also building your long term resilience.