As you are reading this article, I guess that you want to, just like me, develop your ability to listen to others, to cooperate, to express what is important to you – simply to create connection with people. Almost no matter what we are interested in in life, there seems to be a common denominator. This is easy to see when we go to a party, attend a workshop, run in the woods with some friends, or talk to a close friend. The common denominator is of course contact with other people.
Even when we do things for ourselves, sooner or later others might come into the picture. When you study, you want to share your newfound knowledge. When you have completed a tough mountain run, you eagerly tell others about how exhausted you were when you reached the top. When you pick up the candy wrapper from the staircase, your mind enjoys that you are contributing to others’ experience of beauty and order.
When we are alert and happy and socialize with others who are also “on top”, we rarely have problems with our communication. But if someone is tired, has had a stressful day or is drained of energy for some other reason, communication immediately becomes more challenging.
When we are tired, our brains resort to the most habitual ways of communicating. Sometimes this works really well. We are not always in great form, but somehow things work out fine anyway. We use shortcuts, express judgements and don’t care much to look at the needs behind others’ comments.
Other times your habitual way of expressing yourself creates a mess. You may notice, despite your good intentions, that your attempts to communicate fall flat. The person you are talking to ends up in a defensive mode – you start to explain, the other goes into the counterattack, then you withdraw, and so on.
What you do and how you communicate depends on your needs. Whether you treat others with kindness or suspicion, curiosity or anger, you try to meet needs. You use different strategies in different situations to try to meet these needs. Sometimes you manage to meet them while the needs of others are also met. Other times you meet some of your needs at the expense of others. And once in a while neither your own nor others’ needs are met.
Since we are not always on top, totally rested or having all of our energy reserves intact, we will fall back into our habits. Wouldn’t it be great if your habitual way of communicating was in line with what most likely gives you what you long for?
If we want to develop our ability, no matter what the area, we need to face new challenges. When our brain is exposed to new experiences and this is repeated, we build new skills. This is not always easy and painless, because when we move outside our comfort zone, our brain wants to take us back to familiar circumstances.
We “forget” that we want to exercise and find ourselves on the couch with a bag of chips. We “shall just” watch another short video on Youtube before we read the new exciting book that has been on the bookshelf for a couple of months. And before I open my mouth, I know that what will come out is not the most contact-creating attempt I can engage in, but I do it anyway. Why? Because at these moments all of these behaviours are the simplest way our brains are able to conserve energy.
One way to develop your skills and build new habitual ways to respond is to constantly remind yourself of what you are longing for. For example:
– you can make a commitment to yourself: “Every day when I sit on the bus to work I will read something inspiring about communication” or “Before I casually check the feed on Facebook, I will get in touch with what I feel and need at the moment ”;
– you can make an agreement with a friend that every time you talk, you will start with a few minutes of listening to each other’s feelings and needs;
– you can subscribe to “The Daily Empathizer” HERE and every day receive emails with inspiring, funny and provocative quotes that will remind you of what I guess is the most important in your life: the quality of connection with others.
Based on my experience, it is easiest to start small, so what will be your first tiny step toward more fulfilling relationships?
CNVC Certified Trainer, Sweden
I am a communication consultant and a certified CNVC trainer. I work with groups and individuals who want to be able to communicate better and build sustainable connections in their family, with their friends, at their workplace and in the bigger community. I am offering lectures, workshops, mediation and individual training both for individuals and for organizations. Anything from shorter presentations to several days or weeks of training. Since 2010 I have offered over 100 lectures and workshops with inspiration from NVC (Nonviolent Communication). I have attended three one year programs organised by Friare Liv (Liv Larsson and Kay Rung): the Year 1, the Year 2 and the Mediation program. I have been assistant trainer on five of Friare Livs one year programs as well as on several of their shorter workshops.