There is a lot of talking going on in the world, but are we actually communicating? There are few examples of good communication skills to learn from today. Pundits are aptly called 'talking heads', politicians have made it an art to talk but avoid communicating in any substantive way. Corporate media treats everything as a conflict of us and them with little or no conversation on cause and effect or resolution and political campaigns are treated like a horse race.
Who is at fault for the dismal state of communication today? Well, it's us and the following explains why and how and gives you tools on how to change it.
We have all heard that good communication comes from listening. When you listen do you hear through your body what the other person is saying or are you in your head thinking:
- about what you want to say next
- about something unrelated to the conversation
- judging based on your belief system
When its your turn to speak what do you feel? If it is an argument you may feel yourself getting more wound up as you talk? Did your jaw tighten, shoulders stiffen, belly contract, eyes narrow. Did you stop breathing? These are all related to the fight or flight primal response, your brain's way to prepare you to run like hell or fight. It could be very confusing if you are arguing away but your brain is telling you to run like hell through your body! It could be just as confusing to feel like hitting the other person while you are mildly discussing something - like politics. Why is feeling what your body is doing more important than the actual talking?
The evolution of our brain and nervous system is dependent on adaptable and complex movements. Animals that do not move do not need a brain or nervous system to survive. If you disconnect your awareness from how you move you are not functioning as your brain is designed to learn and, in fact, your learning capacity regresses as your movements become less complex and adaptable. Effective communication is totally dependent on movement awareness otherwise you are just talking and not learning anything.
To be an active listener you must be aware of how the person you are listening to is moving (body language, expressions, inflections etc.) along with being present and aware yourself. Being present during a conversation means you sense how you feel at any given moment, that you hear what is being said without judgment, opinion or belief system for that moment.
The following is an example of present and aware communication between two people:
My friend Anne was playing music at a homeless shelter as they were eating lunch. She observed how grateful people were for the music but in particular she became aware of a woman who looked like she had been on the streets for a long time. She chose her next song based on what she was feeling from this woman. During the song the woman sang, cried and finally was completely joyful. After, she came up to thank Anne for playing the song and told her that it was deeply touching and felt like Anne played it just for her. It turns out Anne did.
That kind of communication is something to aspire to in every interaction we have every day. It cannot occur when we intellectualize the concept of communication in our minds - then it is just talking. I liken it to talking to my cats!
So what does it feel like to listen? Let's turn to animals, how do they communicate? Mostly through touch, feel, looks, hearing and some voice. They communicate with one another quite clearly because there are way fewer misunderstandings or altercations among animals- at least as I have observed.
To cultivate your communication skills start by becoming aware of what it feels like to move. This leads to:
- Being present in each moment
- Greater awareness of how others react to you and what others feel
- Ability to understand and learn from what is being said
- Respond differently than is your habit
How many times have you been in the middle of an argument or conflict and get a sense of deja vu, like it has happened many times before? You want a better outcome but you cannot figure out what to say or do to facilitate it. When you become more aware and present you feel empathy toward the other person and you can be more compassionate to their position. Your triggers are no longer activated from this perspective and you choose the more reasonable, rational and compassionate response. Family members are where we usually experience the most emotionally charged and entrenched conflicts so if you change how you interact with family you will know you are learning to communicate with present awareness!
Watch this video of a powerful song about communication and sense how you feel as you listen - at any given moment. Use the above list to guide your awareness.