The Most Effective Hack for Communication
I was listening to a couple at a restaurant recently. Don’t judge me for eavesdropping. They were right behind me.
They weren’t actually fighting. However, the tone of their conversation wasn’t exactly loving either. I have a feeling that conversation was a lot like most of their conversations.
Here are some highlights in no particular order:
“If you’d take more time when you’re working on things stuff like that wouldn’t happen. You’re careless.”
“You don’t ever consider my family when you’re making those kinds of plans. None of them eat gluten anymore.”
“I don’t understand why you have such a hard time taking the trash out. Our eight-year-old can get it all the way to the dumpster. It’s not that hard.”
“You seem oblivious to what’s happening around you when other people are involved.”
Now, that might sound like a fight, but it wasn’t. Those comments were dispersed with a lot of other general conversation. However, the overriding tone of the exchange was mostly critical.
And as they left the restaurant and kissed each other goodbye before they went their separate ways back to work, I thought about it. I suspect those two both think the other person doesn’t listen.
That afternoon I overheard my own-damn-self talking to my kiddo.
“You never pick up after yourself. You’re not the only person who lives here.”
“Why can’t you focus on your schoolwork the way you focus on Minecraft? Your education is important, and I don’t think you’re trying.”
“You need to be more responsible with your chickens. They depend on you, and you’re not taking that seriously.”
“There is no reason we should be having this conversation over and over again. It’s like you’re not listening.”
And you know what? He wasn’t listening, and I know exactly why.
The human brain has what I would call a safe source filter. That means if someone is primarily critical, you quit listening. You may hear the person speak, but for the most part, you shut them down. They will have very little impact on your behavior. This mechanism is designed to keep you emotionally safe.
In fact, studies have been done on this and demonstrate that if you want to have any significant influence on someone you need to keep your positive to negative observation ratio at about 7 to 1. That means you’re saying seven times more positive things to someone than sharing negative observations about them.
We know from brain scans that when a person is criticized, they respond to that neurologically as if they are in danger. It lights up the same part of the brain as the fight or flight response. When you’re in fight or flight your focus narrows. You can’t process information. Basically, you cannot actually listen to critisim because the brain locks it out as if your safety depends on it.
When you think about it, you know it’s true.
You probably valued the opinion of that supervisor who liked and appreciated you way more than the opinion of the boss that’s always nagging you.
You probably want to please the lover that’s saying sweet things frequently.
You want to work hard for the teacher that makes you feel good about yourself.
You also know when you really need something from that bank teller, you start your conversation with a compliment. You do it naturally.
It makes sense when you think about it, in a real world, practical kind of way. However, from a law of attraction perspective, it makes even more sense. You get what you focus on. You attract what you speak into reality.
It’s easy to be critical, especially when you share a life with someone. You get off in the weeds of noticing all the things you don’t like or wish were different. No one is perfect. When you start noticing those things you find more stuff you don’t like to notice. When you start speaking to them, the person you’re talking to stops hearing. It’s not intentional; they can’t help it.
The bottom line is if you want to be in a relationship with anyone, if you want any measure of influence in a relationship, you have to ensure your communication is overwhelmingly positive regarding the person you’re talking to.
Love matters. There’s no exception to that rule. If you want relationships that thrive in love, starting with the words you choose is a shortcut to getting there.