I was saying in my last post that it’s useful sometimes to stand back from life, to have a dispassionate look at it, to assess what’s going on and why. As we prepare to plunge into a new year, this seems a strategic point at which to take a few minutes to reflect on ourselves – in particular, how we interact with other people.
The reason I’m talking about this here is that the way we communicate in everyday life is writ large in public speaking and all flaws are magnified. Happily, the converse is also true: when we learn to express ourselves clearly and effectively to a big audience, the new way of thinking improves the quality and effectiveness of our day-to-day transactions too. When I first became a teacher of English as a foreign language, I had to adjust to the fact that my every throwaway remark was open for analysis. After a few weeks of being asked to repeat and explain many inanities that amongst native speakers would have passed almost unnoticed, I began to think before I spoke. This habit of filtering my thoughts and choosing my words before I utter them has stood me in good stead over the years.
To help you reflect on your own style of communication and whether it might benefit from a new-year’s overhaul, let me ask you a few questions.
- When someone is talking to you, do you really listen? Or are you just waiting for them to stop, so you can talk yourself?
- Do you tend to dominate every conversation? Are you always interrupting people?
- Do you ask what people think and feel or do you assume you know, that they’ll think and feel the same way you do?
- When you are talking, do people tend to listen to you? If not, why do you think this is? Are you too diffident? Do you have a reputation for speaking before you’ve really engaged your brain, so your views are not taken seriously? Do you perhaps talk too much, so people feel overwhelmed and can’t take in the vast amount of information you pour over them?
- If you have something to say, do you say it or do you assume nobody is interested and keep it to yourself?
- Do you often have to repeat yourself?
- Do you often find yourself saying, “That’s not what I meant”?
Failure of communication is responsible for an outrageous amount of crossed wires, upset, time-wasting, confrontation, isolation and frustration. As 2013 dawns, let us all resolve to listen better and to express ourselves in ways people can relate to and understand.
Happy New Year!