Tips for Successful Conversations with Humans on Planet Earth
"Talk to Me, I’m Human!" Have you ever felt like telling (or worse—yelling!)
this or a similar phrase to your boss, a coworker, or significant other with whom
it seems impossible to have a conversation? In a world that prides itself for its
advances in technology, we have surely gone backwards in some areas of communication,
namely forgetting to use "the basics." I have found that we usually have
no problems IMing (instant messaging) a cousin or brother across the planet but
freeze up or utter the wrong words when we have to express ideas, confront conflict,
or resolve interpersonal issues with the person working two cubicles down from ours.
But, do not despair; there is help! Remembering some fundamentals of conversations
is a wonderful beginning, and you can be the initiator of change:
No matter what title or personality style, people like to be talked with…
Regardless of the actions individuals exhibit, we are adults —even if sometimes
we do not behave as such. And each of us has a responsibility to make dialogue happen
in a constructive way.
Talk with—not to or down—other people on a regular basis, even
if it means saying "hello" every morning. Developing relationships, building
trust, and establishing good communication is a process not a single event.
Choose your timing wisely. Allow enough time and pick a date
that is convenient for all the parties involved. We all have things in our minds,
so, get into the habit of checking with the other person to see if the timing is
Select the right place. If this is a work-related conversation,
depending on the tone you want to set, an office or conference room should be chosen
for more formal occasions. Finding neutral, more relaxed environments where you
can minimize territoriality issues tend to be ideal. Be mindful of privacy and comfort
levels with locations. If this is a personal conversation, opt for the good, old-fashioned "going
out for coffee" strategy. But, choose a place quiet and private enough to talk.
Have your discussions earlier rather than waiting until the last minute
when it might be too late to address an issue or too emotionally charged. In other
words, get into the habit of not letting things that bother you fester. Think about
it as a wound. Unless you take care of it immediately, it will be much harder (or
messy) to treat after some time.
Try your best to start your conversation with something positive,
even it is "wanting to resolve the issue between you." If it comes from
the heart and is true, you are increasing your likelihood of being heard and trusted.
If this is a personal conversation, highlight how important the individual and the
relationship are to you.
Talk to the whole individual, not just "the person you have an issue
with" or "the worker bee." Humans bring their physical and
emotional self everywhere they go. It is extremely hard to leave the emotions at
home or to forget about work after hours. Honor this fact. In reality, you do not
know what is going on for this person at work or in his/her private life.
Be clear about what you would like to discuss with this individual
either before or at the beginning of the meeting, so you can focus on what needs
to be resolved and do not go off on tangents. It is very easy to look for distractions,
particularly for people who are not comfortable talking.
Stop the conversation if you find yourself being distracted,
need to leave, or it gets out of hand. Resuming your talk later is better than to
be rushed or regret something you might say but not mean.
Get into the habit of doing most of the listening and less of
the talking. Pay attention to the verbal and non-verbal cues that the other person
has demonstrated in other occasions as well as during your conversations. Oftentimes
people will say one thing with words but the body language communicates something
different. Remember that over 90 percent of communication happens non-verbally.
"When in doubt, check it out!" Assumptions are the
worst conversation enemies. When you hear something that you are not sure about,
particularly something that bothers you, ask the person what they meant or request
further clarification. Do not automatically think the worst!
Intentionally communicate with your whole self. If you can and
know how to do it, match your body language cues to what you are saying or you risk
Find ways to show genuine interest in what the other person
has to say.
Practice "quieting your mind." You do not have to have an answer ready
at all times. And it’s ok to say, "I don’t know but I’ll find out and will
get back to you," if necessary.
Humans prefer to communicate in different ways. These preferences
are usually at the core of each individual’s being, and, oftentimes, he or she might
not even be aware of them!
"Know thyself first." We tend to see the world through
our own set of lenses, unless we make a conscious effort to see things from someone
else’s point of view. This takes practice and comes naturally to only a few privileged
people. The rest of us need to work at it!
Unless you communicate on the same—or at least similar wavelength—it will be
hard to get your messages across and get to a positive outcome that will produce
lasting behavioral change. The effort can start with you!
There is enough pain and suffering to go around nowadays. Think about it: in the
scheme of things, what we tend to be offended or argue about on a regular basis
is very trivial. The next time you are facing a conversation challenge, pick two
or three of these suggestions and put them into practice. You will be amazed at
the results and how some simple things can have a huge impact—here—on planet earth.
For Further Reading