The Secret To Transforming Your Communication Style
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, an expert is a person with a high level of knowledge or skill relating to a particular subject or activity.
Technically, you are already an expert at communicating, right? You’ve accumulated lots of language knowledge, and you’ve been talking almost all your life!
But don’t you want to be more skilled?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have more meaningful discussions? To eliminate those awkward moments of feeling misunderstood?
I am here to help. If you follow my advice, you will experience:
- fewer fights with your loved ones
- way less hurt feelings between friends
- reduced misunderstandings during your Zoom meetings
- improved confidence and connection when you converse
Believe it or not, the main barrier to clear communication is often your own inner critic. This was the key takeaway from a short online course I completed called Wise Speech: The Foundations of Mindful Communication.
I will help you understand this subtle point and start you on your way to better conversations. Let’s begin!
First, please take a moment to set the groundwork with a simple exercise that will help you listen to what the voice inside of you is saying:
- Please set a timer on your phone for 15 or 20 seconds.
- When you press “start,” close your eyes and try to still your mind.
- Turn off the timer and think about the following questions…
What were you saying to yourself? Are the words gentle and kind? Critical and stern? Noncommital?
What is that little voice inside my head?
Your inside voice is a feedback loop that filters information and makes sense of daily life. You are constantly deciding how you feel, how you should respond, whether or not something you are reading is useful — like that. Constantly.
This is your very own filter of the input coming at you from the world. It then switches to become the producer of your output back into the world. Your inside voice is definitely beneficial. You don’t want to cut it loose and live without it.
But that voice can stand in your way by hindering your authenticity through a lens of shame, self-judgment, or debilitating doubt. When it behaves this way, we call it an inner critic.
I’m going to share a way for you to slide down your volume knob on the criticism and increase the mindful, benevolent voice. This mindfulness practice helps silence that inner critic so you can say what you authentically mean.
First, let’s examine the seemingly simple process of expressing yourself to another person.
What is communication, exactly? (wait, don’t tell me…)
If you break down communication into simple parts, you need at least three elements: a message, a sender, and a receiver.
The key point is that every thought becomes a message, so the first sender is YOU, and the first receiver is also YOU. This happens in a split second. But you need to slowwwww it dowwwwwwwwwn.
Choosing to pause and receive that message is your opportunity to be more deliberate with your speech. Take a moment to consider your intention before transmitting your thought content to the next receiver.
Easier said than done, right? How do you slow it all down when communication happens constantly, and appears to occur instantly? What about your witty comebacks during rapid exchanges of opinion with somebody?
Start with this surprisingly useful acronym:
It can also stand for:
Practice answering either of those questions before speaking out loud. What happens to your inner voice when you take a beat before opening your mouth to speak? Try repeating the exercise above using a timer and ask those questions in the silence. What happens?
As you challenge yourself with these questions, you will experience mindfulness in action, which will prevent so many misunderstandings and hurt feelings!
Slowing down the cadence during conversation seems awkward initially, but keep in mind the payoff: You retain the power of your spoken word. This is super essential when you communicate. Why?
Because there are no do-overs. What is said is heard, which starts a cascade in the listener's mind, and that creates understanding or misunderstanding.
Waiting just a moment to reflect allows you to say what you mean. The results will astonish you! Your mindfulness comes to life and bears fruit with every conversation.
Changing your communication style takes practice. Why is that?
As I said at the outset, you started opening your mouth and expressing your needs to others before your first birthday. You have spent years refining language skills to make sense of the world around you and interact with other humans.
At birth, you enter the prelinguistic stage. You might have rocked a “dadadada” or “mama mama” early on, much to the delight of your parents who receive that primitive message as, “She knows me!”
Then your progression into acquiring language skills looked something like this:
★ At 10–13 months, you made some one-word sentences such as doggie (which can indicate many things in context, such as “look at that dog,” “this treat is for the dog,” or “can I touch the dog?”)
★ Two-word sentences allowed for questions (“where doggie”), declarations (“Doggie Big”), and negation (“doggie no”). You reached this level of complex speech between 18 to 24 months.
★ By the age of 3 years old, you uttered multiple word sentences, and by the time you were age 6 — you reached adult-like complex sentence structures.
From there, your brain continued to hone in on successful approaches for making your needs known. But in truth, most of us have developed our way of interacting without any mindfulness coaching. We wing it and hope for the best!
Can you really change this old way of interacting?
Slowing down and practicing your communication mindfully can feel very labored, but you will discover a great deal about your own tendencies. I had not realized how much I relied on pat answers and phrases or how often I respond with humorous quips.
We all like a good comedy, but being funny requires a ton of preparation. It turns out that humor falls flat pretty regularly, and words get misinterpreted and sound mean-spirited at least as often as they get a laugh.
Which leads us back to the inner critic. Why are you mean to others? If you are critical of yourself, it naturally follows that you will be judgy of others. Then you start showing a little attitude or get snarky without realizing it, right? That can be hard to quell — but if you follow the outline below, you can do it.
Here are the steps you can try out as the listener (receiver):
- Take the time to set intentions before you interact.
- Stop your mind from wandering and focus on the now (more on this below)
- Listen intently until the other speaker has finished.
- Repeat what you think you heard back to the speaker and check to make sure you got it
Then try this when you are ready to be the speaker (sender):
- WAIT until you have something to say!
- Set your intention and consider your message
- Eliminate expectations about how someone should respond to you — go with the flow, let the receiver be real with you
- Check in to see what the listener heard, and refine as needed.
You got this!
For me, this approach has been super helpful in conversations. I have lowered the frequency of my faux pas moments, caused fewer hurt feelings, and improved the clarity of my interactions with colleagues, friends, and, most importantly — with my amazing wife.
By slowing down and engaging in an internal dialogue with my inner voice, I discovered some insights:
- The inner critic protects me, but I can appear aloof, cold, shut off, or inaccessible to others in doing so.
- The warmth that people seek from me (especially loved ones but also professionally) becomes available when I slow down, boldly set the inner critic aside, and listen and speak mindfully.
- Authentic communication requires my investment of dedicated time and focused attention.
It is too easy to be dismissive, or lend half an ear, or feign interest. When you stop texting, stop thinking about work, and stop worrying about your likes, claps, retweets, or upvotes — then you can choose to be present and engage in conversation.
In a world filled with distractions, taking the extra moment to center your mind allows access to your higher self. You do this to meet the needs of another, which in turn promotes clear, connected communication. Everyone wins!
Conversely, your witty quip can sting, and your furtive glance at your phone can derail trust in a flash, so make a conscious choice and do a gut check. Are you really ready to talk?
You got this. Just commit to some quality time to have a good conversation, and try out your new skills. Be gentle with yourself and give this a try. You will notice major improvements when you follow these little mindful steps.
We are all language experts (technically). Leveling up your communication skill is as simple as knowing your inner voice can wait a little bit.