Like most people, I usually hate making new year’s resolutions. They are something we create out of a sense of obligation, knowing all the while that we will probably not stick with it for more than 24 hours. Then as icing on the cake, there’s a predictable little twinge of guilt for giving up on it, since it was something that should make our lives better somehow. Well, I want to suggest a way to make this year different.
Decide for yourself that this year, the resolution will not be about you, but about others. More specifically, take stock of your relationships, and take an honest look at the nature of your communication patterns with them. Is there something about the dynamic between the two of you that brings out a tendency to be unnecessarily blunt, passive-aggressive, or indifferent? Do you shut down or avoid people when there is real or potential conflict? This year, let your resolution be a gift to them – and to yourself: the start of a new, healthier and more positive relationship through a shift in the way that you communicate.
Here are three ways you can wrap your gift:
First, be mindful of what your eyes say even when your lips aren’t moving. We often don’t realize that our face is reflecting our true opinions about something we hear before the other person is done speaking, and often before we even start.
For example, do you have a habit of rolling your eyes, breaking eye contact, or cocking one dubious eyebrow when you disagree with someone? These are signs of disdain that shows you are not open to hearing what they are saying, and will put people on the defensive.
For me, I know that my “thinking face” has my eyebrows scrunched down, furrowed. It doesn’t mean I’m angry or disagree, but that’s often what people mistakenly think it means. In reality, they should be happy when they see that face, because it means I’m listening carefully and seriously considering what they’re saying, but unfortunately that’s not the effect it has. That’s why I need to remember to “reset” my eyebrows to a more neutral, nonjudgmental position.
If nothing else, be sure to make eye contact when someone else is talking. You don’t have to stare them down, but don’t multitask, look at the computer or smartphone screen, or keep checking your watch. Give them the gift of your full attention.
Second, watch your words. Small details in word choice can have a big impact on how people hear and interpret what you say, and how they feel about it. Beware of absolutes, such as everything, nothing, everyone, nobody, and always… Statements like “Nobody wants…” or “You’ll never convince me that…” show that your mind is made up, you are sure that you are right and everyone else is wrong. Plus, they are a form of exaggeration, making you sound melodramatic. In the end, they shut down productive conversation and any chance at collaborative negotiation.
Instead, if you want to promote mutual listening, try hedging those statements. Try phrases like from my perspective…, on multiple occasions…, or I’m concerned that… They allow you to state your case, but allow for the fact that it is your perspective, not “gospel truth.” It shows you are open to working together to reach a mutually acceptable solution.
Finally, engage people. I know you are busy, so you don’t need to hear their life story, but seek to connect with them as people, not just as coworkers or employees. For example, when you pass someone in the corridor, give them more than a perfunctory nod acknowledging their existence. Stop for a moment and ask them how they’re going to use the time off if your company is closed for a holiday, how they’re feeling if they’ve been under the weather, or how their kids or pets are doing. Just remember: a little effort goes a long way.
The beauty of these little tips is that they take so little effort in comparison to what you get back, so it becomes the resolution that you actually want to keep!
Do you have a comment or question about how to easily and effectively make this shift? Click here to set up a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally.