“The experience of separateness arouses anxiety; it is, indeed, the source of all anxiety.”
Communication is all about the heart. No matter how serious the conversation or the stakes involved, we want to connect, to understand, and be understood. A successful communication is so fulfilling because the separation between ourselves and the person we are speaking with softens or disappears entirely. We feel closer, more intimate, calmer, and less isolated. Who doesn’t want to communicate better?
We all can benefit from restocking our communication toolbox now and then. When we improve our communication, everybody wins. Bring these heart-centered skills into the center of your life. Everyone you know will thank you for it.
1. Use your powers of observation.
“You can observe a lot just by watching.”
Improving communication is all about becoming more mindful. Start by observing your conversation partner. Notice the distance between you, eye movements, skin tone changes, arm and hand movements, tone of voice, pace of speaking. You are certain to discover something you’ve never noticed before.
Just a few days ago, I was interacting with someone I didn’t know very well. I asked a question, and saw her skin turn pale and her eyes look down. I knew something had shifted and soon discovered I had inadvertently touched a very sore spot.
What to do with the information you glean? Use it to stay in rapport with your partner. If the person you are speaking with is hesitating, wait before jumping in. If emotion is beginning to show, be empathic. If your goal is to stay connected and take the conversation deeper, your observations will guide you, as people can’t help but express themselves in a multitude of ways. See your partner with fresh eyes and you are sure to reach a new level of connection.
2. Listen with an open mind and heart.
“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”
M. Scott Peck
Listening is the secret key to effective communication. Listen well by paying attention to the meaning of the words and the feelings and needs being expressed. If you cannot say back what you hear, ask questions for clarification. Keep at it until you understand everything that is being said.
Experiment with seeing how receptive and open you can be. If you are aware of anything interfering with your ability to listen openly, such as an agenda or an urge to criticize or interrupt, own it rather than project it onto the other person by saying something you are likely to regret. Be accepting of your internal reactions and needs, but keep a clear mind so you can really listen to the other person.
If you notice your attention wandering, reconnect with the interaction by engaging your powers of observation and by listening to what really matters to the person.
3. Ask questions.
“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.”
People love knowing that others are interested in them, so be curious about what is being said by asking questions. As more is revealed, your connection with each other naturally deepens. And like an explorer, you will learn something new as you enter uncharted territory. Here are some suggestions: how do/did you feel…what was your reaction…what was important to you about that…how was that for you.
One of my favorite questions to ask is, “Anything else?” After someone has expressed their concerns or needs, asking if there is anything else communicates your intention to really take on board all of what they wish to express. It helps people to feel satisfied with the interaction, and you just might hear the most important point.
4. Press the pause button.
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
When you feel emotions of anger and frustration rising up, press the pause button. We all have said things in the heat of the moment that didn’t serve the interaction. During a difficult conversation, try to keep about 10 percent of your attention, or more if necessary, on your inner reactions. If you start moving from a simmer to a boil, press the pause button. Then you have some options.
First, take care of yourself by acknowledging that the moment is challenging, taking a conscious breath, and accepting your feelings. Then try approaching the conversation from a different angle, asking a question, focusing on listening, sharing how you are feeling without blaming, or any other (constructive) possibility that comes to mind. If you need to take a break, do so and continue the conversation when you are calmer.
5. Beware of expectations.
“The healthy mind challenges its own assumptions.”
The I Ching
Have you ever had the same problematic conversation over and over? If so, your heart is almost certainly closed to this person. You are probably approaching the interaction with an expectation of how it will go, which ultimately turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. An expectation keeps the interaction in a rut before it even starts. Recognize that you are not seeing the other person clearly – you are viewing them through the veil of your expectation.
The solution? Put your predictions aside and show up with a fresh, clear mind. Imagine this is the first time this interaction ever occurred. Redouble your efforts to observe and listen, and be open to the possibility of new insights and outcomes.
6. Express appreciation.
“Giving connects two people, the giver and the receiver, and this connection gives birth to a new sense of belonging.”
We can never express too much appreciation. Why not send more love out into the world? You can do it with good communication. Step out of your comfort zone to offer a compliment, voice your thanks, share a hug, speak genuinely about what you appreciate. Consider people you see frequently and might take for granted – co-workers, family members, the person who serves you coffee or rides the same bus. How can you connect with them by opening your heart just a little more?
Communication from the heart dissolves boundaries and heals division. When we are open to seeing the other as is and listening deeply, we truly meet as one.