The holidays are here. For many of us this means more time with family; more gatherings with a variety of different folks. Sometimes being surrounded by people with different points of view can feel stressful and lead to challenging conversations. At ARTiculate, we believe that all voices matter and that effective communication requires connecting with your audience. You have the power to decide when, if, and how your voice is heard. To help you connect and engage with people over the holidays, we offer a few communication survival tips.
If we understand our intention and what we really want from our conversations, we will be able to monitor ourselves and better focus our discussions. To do this we need to consider what conversations will respect and honor both ourselves and others. We may ask ourselves: What’s our intended outcome? When do we speak? And when do we stay silent? Do we understand that we will probably not be able to change the minds of our holiday audience during one conversation? Answering these questions help us to read the conversational road signs that signal to us that the bridge is out and we need to turn around before we drive over the cliff.
Ask and truly answer:
- What do I really want out of this conversation?
- What am I really feeling? Do I know my triggers?
- How much disagreement can I handle?
Our Tone Matters
Tone is a significant factor in our spoken communication. Our tone tends to reflect our emotional state. This is especially true in situations where we are experiencing heightened feelings. If we are excited, angry, or defensive, this comes across through our tone. If we think others aren’t picking up on our voice, we’re wrong. Even though our words and our tone combine to convey our message, our audience often responds to our tone before they hear our words. This is significant because if our tone negatively triggers our audience, then our conversation becomes less productive. And interestingly, our words are more easily forgiven than our tone. It is therefore important to be aware of our tone so that we can connect and engage with the people around us. Good news: Our tone matters, we can have control over it, AND, this doesn’t have to stifle or deny our emotions.
- Breathe. Cliché and true. Exhale and allow a full breath to flow back in. Our brain needs oxygen for clear thinking. And more breath flow, less strained voice, leads to a more authentic connection.
- Don’t deny your feelings or try to push them down. Name them. Acknowledge what you are feeling as part of the conversation.
- How it lands, or comes across to your audience, is important if you want to have a discussion.
In order to connect to another person, we need to be committed to listening. Truly listening is an art form. To begin we need to be curious about the other person, their journey, and the circumstances behind their personal reactions. Listen for the “why” behind their point of view or reactions. Focusing on what is said beneath the conversation provides important information about the other person and helps us to understand their point of view. If you find this difficult, or you find yourself composing your response instead of listening, try this: keep your lips slightly parted, slowly breathe through your nose and notice how your attention stays with your conversation partner rather than running down the path of figuring out your own argument and having it ready to deliver as soon as they stop talking. By staying present and assuming that you don’t know what they are going to say, you will be able to maintain your connection and a respectful conversation.
- Listening, hearing, staying present
- lips parted while listening
- inhale through your nose to stay focused on your conversation
- not planning your response
- listen for “why”
- Assume you don’t know the answer
- Respond with more questions – the more you know the better
- be curious – truly curious to learn where they are coming from
One Level Deeper: Advanced Communication Survival Tips
People appreciate being and feeling seen. When we are talking with them, it matters that we acknowledge their point of view. This doesn’t mean that we have to agree – it means that we acknowledge that we’ve heard their information, argument, and concern.
When we do disagree, we can move the conversation and the energy forward with a “yes, and” approach. Typically, the energy gets stuck or it goes sideways when two people/groups disagree. It can be really difficult to hold space for a healthy and productive conversation. So, if your blood begins to boil and you find yourself shutting down rather than listening, you can “yes” the conversation “and” move it forward with another perspective. For instance, if someone tells you that you voted for the wrong candidate and proceeds to tell you why they think that, you can “yes” the conversation. “I understand that you think that I voted for the wrong candidate AND . . .” The “yes” tells the person that you heard them. The “and” moves the conversation forward with another perspective. “I understand that you think I voted for the wrong candidate, and I believe that their platform represented my values better than the other candidate.” This approach allows for both perspectives to co-exist, and isn’t that what healthy communication is all about? Perspectives and opinions co-existing together so that the world is a fuller place.
If the other person isn’t able to hold both perspectives and there is a need to prove or squash, you can choose to acknowledge this interaction and agree to disagree. Agreeing to disagree lets the other person know that the conversation has gone as far as it can go. Stepping away from it at this point can preserve many relationships. We need to acknowledge that if someone feels passionately enough about a topic to respond in anger that there is something deeper behind the emotion – usually hurt. This helps us move beyond the moment and know that the conversation is broader and deeper than the one you are having in the moment.
When others hurt us with conversations or their words, it is helpful when we can openly acknowledge how we are feeling. Claim your feelings for yourself.
“When I heard that I felt invisible, or disrespected, or .…”
They may or may not be able to handle you owning your feelings or the fact that you were hurt by the conversation, but you will feel better for owning your feelings and voicing them.
Pushing causes more problems
Sometimes with difficult conversations one person may close off or shut down. Generally, it isn’t helpful if we push others to talk before they are ready to talk. We can let them know that we see their reaction and that we’re open and available to explore the conversation. When others ask us to share, it’s fair to give them a timeframe for when we are ready to revisit the conversation with them.
“I can talk in 1 hour” or “tomorrow.”
If we don’t revisit conversations and allow them to float without closure, we’re not honoring the relationship with the other person and we never really recover from it ourselves.
Keep a good sense of humor. Chances are you’ll see them again next year or sooner.