Excerpted from Talk Your Way to the Top! by Kevin Hogan
Why do people often find themselves losing concentration, daydreaming, and drifting off during conversations? Certain words and phrases can cause persons on the receiving end of a conversation to shut down, preventing them from listening carefully to what’s said. The person communicating may be injecting so many negative words and ideas that the listener begins to feel depressed and heavy inside. Or, perhaps the communicator is boring, speaking all about himself or people the listener has never met.
What if that poor communicator is you? How would you know if you’re the one inserting negative associations, bringing up insignificant details, and droning on about you, you, you? How do you know if someone is really interested in what you have to say and is really engaged in the conversation? How do you observe whether the person or group in interested and intrigued or looking for the door?
Top-notch communicators learn from everyone they talk with. Subtle cues reveal whether you’ve established rapport, are speakin in a way the audience understands, and are using words that create desire and interest. Be willing to identify in yourself those things that push others away and prevent them from listening as well as you would like. It’s a potent aspect of self awareness that allows you to stay fascinating to everyone around you.
Following are eight habits that make for highly ineffective communication. As you read these scenarios, decide if you see yourself in them. Take time to be honest about your style of communication and the effect you have on those around you.
Do you enjoy playing the devil’s advocate? Do you constantly offer your opposing opinion when no one askes for it? Do you find yourself saying the word “but” in your conversation with others? If the answer is yes, you may be an argumentative talker. There is an effective way to take an opposing view, but it may destroy rapport. There is a way to give your opinion, but it may be received as unwanted advice. When you continue to oppose the comments of your listener, you run the risk of making him feel wrong, stupid, or uninformed.
Comparison happens when you share a thought or a feeling with a friend. It might be something that is very personal or something for which you’re looking for understanding. The friend will offer a response that tells you she doesn’t really care about what you have to say.
It might go like this: “I have been talking with my boss about how to handle this negotiation with Sally. I tried to get in to see him yesterday, and he acted like he didn’t want to talk to me about it.”
Friend responds: “I know just what you mean! I had a boss once who was always finding time for everyone else, and every time I tried to ask a question, she would brush me off. Once when George was talking to her, he…blah, blah, blah.”
If you find yourself always looking to compare an event in your life with one in your friend’s life, change that nasty habit and develop the skills of great communicators.
The difference between a liar and a communicator is clear. The communicator is making an effort at understanding. A talker rambles endlessly without intending for both people to benefit from the conversation. The Better-Than Talker is similar to the Comparison Maker, but with a more condescending tone. The Better-Than Talker is not comparing for purposes of being compassionate, but for the purpose of creating superiority. He is interested in feeling superior to the person he is speaking to, and that requires the listener become inferior. If the listener feels inferior, the talker is not in rapport, and any hope for a connection is lost.
Some people beg for sympathy. It may come out of a need to be rescued, or it may be a real cry for help. If you recognize this in yourself, take a look at why you need sympathy from others and why it is important for others to feel pity for you. Maybe you’ve led a sad life and really feel you deserve a little sympathy. That certainly isn’t unreasonable. Maybe you’ve gotten the short end of the stick and have been the victim of some terribly unfortunate events. That’s OK, too. People do have these experiences. But take this challenge to a qualified therapist and work through your difficulties with him or her.
With the exception of recent events that demand sharing sympathy (losing a job, or the death of a loved one, for example), old baggage doesn’t belong in conversations. Old baggage places an obligation on your listener to feel something he may not want to feel. It also connects being near you with feelings of sadness, need and despair. The more you dredge up old baggage, the more others associate those feelings with being near you.
If you want to help others feel bad around you, try to get as much pity from them as possible. If you want others to seek you out and feel good around you, then save the truly difficult experiences of your life for your trained therapist. He can listen with a degree of empathy and objectivity that friends and business associates simply cannot.
When Jason says, “Jim is really getting stressed. He must have some difficult clients right now.”, it’s not a judgment. It’s an observation, which is good. When Cathy responds and says, “I know what you mean. He has never handled stress well. When he blew up at Ken the other day, he was so rude. He can’t control himself, and I’m really tired of his attitude,” that is a judgment. Cathy makes a statement of opinion as to what kind of person he is and how he is wrong for being that way.
If you judge others, you may think you’re doing it to gain rapport or take a side. But you may alienate yourself by showing lack of self respect. If you aren’t internally well aligned, you may find you have a need to judge others in order to feel better than they are.
Being judgmental is a dead giveaway that you have issues of incompetence and insecurity. Don’t play in to that trap. Respond in a way that strengthens your position of self respect and self esteem.
In the example, Jason should hve responded with, “Jim has always been helpful to me. I’ve learned alot from him. He has his challenges, like we all do. Maybe he just needs a hand right now.”
The single, most powerful message you can send your listeners is to use the amazingly simple technique of repeatedly interrupting them. When someone interrupts you, you know they believe what they have to say is more important than what you have to say. When someone interrupts you, you know they think they’re better than you.
When you communicate with others, take a breath after your partner has finished before you speak. In that breath, you are saying, “I heard what you said, I am taking it in, and am appreciating your communication. This one technique is golden.
Complainers face the same trouble as the baggage communicators. You feel bad when you’re around the complainers. When you complain, the state that you put your listener in is the state that he will associate with being around you. If you’re a chronic complainer, you create negative feelings in others and push people away, rather than draw them near. Complaining is something best left for customer service and avoided in communication with those you love or with whom you do business.
Gossip is probably the most evil, deadly, miserable way to communicate. Don’t use it, don’t participate in it, and don’t respond to it. You give away so much of who you are when you spread or even listen to gossip. A gossiper is someone who is very insecure, whose self esteem is dependent on finding fault in others, and whose world honors the small, weak, and petty. Anything shared with the gossiper likely will become public knowledge and will be used against the person who shared the information.
If you’re around someone who gossips, share your thoughts on gossip. When you say, “I really don’t want to hear that. It is none of my business. And, anyway, I really like George,” you encourage your listener to stop gossiping.
Excerpted and reprinted with permission from Talk Your Way to the Top: Communication Secrets to Change Your Life by Kevin Hogan, Pelican Publishing Co., Gretna, LA.
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