Communicating in challenging situations

Have you experienced any form of tension or difficult communication over the holiday period? If so, this post is for you!

Let me tell you that of course, difficult, tense conversations are a completely natural, normal part of life! Skillful communication is thus not about preventing such situations, it’s about knowing how to handle them when they arise.

Photo credit: Search Engine People Blog via Foter.com / CC BY

To learn new ways to handle challenging situations, we must first become aware of our habitual tendencies. The most common patterns of dealing with conflict are:

  • Conflict avoidance: attempting to avoid dealing with the issue at hand; suppression; pretending all is well
  • Opposition/Confrontation: attempting to deal with an issue using aggressive behavior, often characterized by a lack of interest or willingness to dialogue
  • Passive Aggression: indirect expression of hostility, often accompanied by verbal or other communication that “all is well”

When conflict arises, a cascade of effects run through our nervous system. With a perceived threat, our amygdala is activated and the fight-flight-freeze mechanism is stimulated. Anxiety, fear, anger, defensiveness and a host of other emotions can arise and course through the body. Shifting these responses takes time, and is best accomplished through small, incremental shifts. Over time, we will develop the capacity to stay present, grounded, and make clear choices about our dialogue in tense situations.

Here are three primary ways to handle one’s own reactivity:

  1. Monitor Activation: Get to know what happens when your nervous system is activated:
    1. Increased heart rate?
    2. Fast or shallow breathing?
    3. Tightening in hands, jaw, or stomach?
    4. Sweating, feeling hot or cold?
  1. Grounding: Learn to pause, ground, and track the reactivity in your body:
    1. Insert a pause in the conversation to re-balance.
    2. Ground your attention in the body by feeling gravity, your hands, feet, or breath.
    3. Orient to your surroundings by listening to sounds or looking around.
  1. Attend to Deactivation: Give some attention to any settling or easing of your experience.
    1. Pay more attention to the out-breath.
    2. Feel any sensations of relaxation, release, ease, or settling in the body or breath.

Attending to your own reactivity and judgements by grounding in the body can help us make wiser choices about what to say and when!

Photo credit: raiznext via Foter.com / CC BY

Sometimes, in spite of all of our skills and the best of intentions, we reach a point where we can no longer handle our own reactivity. In these instances there are a two things that are essential:

  • Know your limit: Learn how to recognize when you are approaching your threshold.
  • Honor your limit: Heed those signals and stop before you cross that threshold, hence allowing yourself to take a break!

Taking a break from a conversation involves two parts:

  1. Affirm the connection: State your desire to stay connected.
  • “I’m committed to working this out..”
  1. Request to stop: Alongside this statement, share your needs for a break:
  • “… and, I’m not sure anything else I say will be useful now so I’d like to take a break. Is that alright with you?”

Happy New Year!

Jenny

How to communicate mindfully and effectively

Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” – Brian Tracy

You will appreciate that even though communication skills are so important to success in the workplace and everywhere else, many individuals continue to struggle with it, unable to communicate their thoughts and ideas effectively – whether in verbal, non-verbal or written format. They struggle to convey their thoughts and ideas in an accurate manner, making it difficult to move forward and nearly impossible to collaborate. Things even get more complicated when communication happens between actors of different cultures, backgrounds, ages and digital means of communication.

Jenny Ebermann_CommunicationsCommunication is like a “two-way street”. And, it involves not only two, but three components:

  • A receptive element: Listening
  • An expressive element: Speaking
  • A primary element: Presence, self-awareness

We have to be HERE first if we’re going to communicate. Communication is a flow of understanding; presence helps to create a ground for connection, and provides an important tool for examining and re-training our communication patterns. Let’s just think about how often you communicate with people during your day: you write emails, facilitate meetings, participate in conference calls, create reports, devise presentations, debate with your colleagues… the list goes on!

Our intention when communicating, forms the basis of our orientation in any conversation. What we need to do is to understand our motivation: where are we coming from, what do we want to achieve while communicating? Without a clear and solid grounding and the intention to connect, to understand, we run the risk of using communication tools to simply repeat old habits of interacting. This foundation is a systematic training of our attention to notice four basic components of our experience, as taught in Nonviolent Communication:

  • Observations: what we see/hear directly, separate from our evaluations or interpretations
  • Feelings: our emotions, distinct from thoughts and stories about what others are doing
  • Needs: fundamental, universal human needs or values; what matters most in a situation
  • Requests: asking concretely and clearly for what might help move things forward

Did you know that :

The single most powerful and transformative ingredient in dialogue is the intention to understand?

Businessman looking at his female colleague during conversation

The good news is, effective and mindful communication is a skill that can be practiced! In fact, habits of speaking, listening, and relating are learned. We have all had “communication training” by our family, our culture, our society, and our life experiences. But:

When our needs aren’t met, we have been conditioned to see things in terms of blame. 


Internal thoughts of blame however can provide useful information about what really matters to us! 
If we want someone to do something differently, to listen to or understand us, how useful of a strategy is it to blame them? 
Well, not that useful, right? So here’s what to do:

  • Principle 1: The less blame and criticism in our words, the more openness others will have to hear what’s going on for us and collaborate!
  • Principle 2: How we are speaking can be as important as what we say. Bringing curiosity and care makes it easier to get to what we really want to talk about!

Up for a try? Thanks for reading and have a great week,

Jenny

How assumptions can mislead us

Perceptions, assumptions and thoughts can lead us completely in the wrong direction sometimes

To illustrate what I mean by that, I would like to share a story with you; something that you might have experienced as well, in one form or another. It is entitled “Cookie Thief” from Valerie Cox.

A woman was waiting at the airport one night,
With several long hours before her flight.
She hunted for a book in the airport shop,
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.

She was engrossed in her book, but happened to see,
That the man beside her, as bold as could be,
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag between,
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene.

Photo credit: Mrs Magic via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

She read, munched cookies, and watched the clock,
As the gustly “cookie thief” diminished her stock
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
Thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I’d blacken his eye!”

 

With each cookie she took, he took one too.
When only one was left, she wondered what he’d do.
with a smile on his face and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.

He offered her half, and he ate the other.
She snatched it from him and thought, “Oh brother,
This guy has some nerve, and he’s also so rude,
Why, he didn’t even show any gratitude!”

She had never known when she had been so galled,
And sighed with relief when her flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed for the gate,
Refusing to look at the “thieving ingrate”.

She boarded the plane and sank in her seat,
Then sought her book, which was almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise.
There were her bag of cookies in front of her eyes!

“If mine are here,” she moaned with despair.
“Then the others were his and he tried to share!”
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief!!!!

 

What did you think reading this? Have you experienced something similar in your life before?

What can we learn from this? Well, next time you find yourself in a difficult, challenging situation, take a moment to be mindful and challenge your assumptions, checking what the reality really looks like instead. Maybe you are getting entangled in your mind’s stories, triggering emotions, sensations, judgements…

Things are not always as they appear and taking a moment to pause and observe what is will allow you to respond more skillfully and to communicate more effectively.

The effects of being kind and attentive

Did you know that being kind to yourself and to others has considerable consequences? Everybody knows that responding in a mindful, curious, open, non-judgmental and kind manner in situations of interpersonal communication is a key to effectively transmitting your message and generating a fruitful dialogue.

Kindness

Photo credit: katerha via Foter.com / CC BY

But what I am sure you did not know is that a Japanese researcher was actually able to demonstrate the effects of kind words versus mean words/insults in water crystals. During many years, Masuro Emoto  took photographs of various water crystals. He then exposed them to words, pictures, emotions, even music that were either more of a positive or a negative nature. The shapes and forms of the water crystals positively influenced became even more beautiful; the ones receiving a negative treatment became ugly and even deformed.

If you think about us humans composed of 60% of water, it is incredible to imagine what effect positive words, thoughts or else can have on our system…

There apparently is an experiment that you could try out at home to see this for yourself (I still have to do it):

Fill two small glasses with a little bit of cooked rice; add some water on top of the rice. On one of the glasses, put a label on which you would write the words you would typically use when insulting/being mean to somebody (for example: “You idiot”). On the other glass, you put a label writing a nice thought, kind and pleasant words.  (For example: “You are beautiful”). Please chose your own words!

Now put the two glasses away from each other and every day, for the next three weeks you will now:

  • Insult the glass with the “mean” label
  • Very gently and kindly speak to the glass with the “kind” label.

Progressively you will perceive the effects: the glass with the “mean” label will begin to smell badly and even decompose (rot). The “kind” glass will release a pleasant odor, sometimes even somewhat sweet. The rice will still be white, whereas in the other glass the rice will become dark.

Please be sure to let me know what you found out!

Body Language – Keys to Non-verbal communication

You all know this: very often when speaking to other people, we only pay attention to the verbal clues that are given to us but not to the non-verbal ones. Very bad habit! I am sure you will be surprised but as already discussed in an earlier post, the verbal aspect in communications only accounts for 7 % (hence the content of what you are saying) when it comes to the relevance in terms of understanding information, thus to effectively communicating.

  • 38 % on the other hand come from the paraverbal aspect of communication (intonation, cadence, volume or pace) and
  • 55 % from the non-verbal aspects.

Intercultural CommunicationsSo when meeting somebody for the first time or when in a situation of negotiation, take a moment to see how confident your counterpart is.

Typical things to look for in confident people include:

  • Posture – standing tall with shoulders back.
  • Eye contact – solid with a “smiling” face.
  • Gestures with hands and arms – purposeful and deliberate.
  • Speech – slow and clear.
  • Tone of voice – moderate to low.

But be careful! As well as deciphering other people’s body language, you could also use this knowledge to convey feelings that you’re not actually experiencing…

Difficult meetings and defensiveness

Some of the common signs that the person you are speaking with may be feeling defensive include:

  • Hand/arm gestures are small and close to his or her body.
  • Facial expressions are minimal.
  • Body is physically turned away from you.
  • Arms are crossed in front of body.
  • Eyes maintain little contact, or are downcast.

By picking up these signs, you can change what you say or how you say it to help the other person become more at ease, and more receptive to what you are saying.

Working with groups and disengagement

Some of the typical signs and signals of people not being engaged. Some of these signs and signals include:

  • Heads are down.
  • Eyes are glazed, or gazing at something else.
  • Hands may be picking at clothes, or fiddling with pens.
  • People may be writing or doodling.
  • They may be sitting slumped in their chairs.

And finally, a tip:

To help practice and further develop your skill in picking up body language, engage in people watching. Observe people – be that on a bus/train or on television without the sound – and just notice how they act and react to each other. When you watch others, try to guess what they are saying or get a sense of what is going on between them!

Tips for effectively communicating within your team

Here’s wishing you an excellent start into 2016! May the New Year bring health and success in your personal and professional endeavors.

To start off effectively, let me remind you of some important things when communicating within your team:    

    
A. Create a nice atmosphere for your discussion

  • Give yourself the necessary time and don’t be in a hurry
  • Offer your fullest attention to your counterpart
  • Be open and without judgment

 B. Separate the factual from the relationship level

  • You can criticize how a person has reacted or behaves but for the person himself/herself you always ought to have respect
  • Accept differences in opinions and views as well as in the way to tackle projects and tasks and remain open and constructive. We are all different and solutions, i.e. “bridges” for collaboration can always be found
  • Don’t take issues personally

C. Use authentic statements and messages beginning with “I”

  • First, observe what is actually happening in a situation: what are you observing others saying or doing that is either enriching or not enriching your life? The trick is to be able to articulate this observation.
  • Then, without introducing any judgment or evaluation simply say what people are doing that you either like or don’t like. Example: “I noticed that…” or “I am angry because…” or “I need…”
  • Next, state how you feel when you observe this action: are you hurt, scared, joyful, amused, irritated?
  • And finally, communicate clearly what you need in connection to the feelings you have identified

Communication: The Heart of Interpersonal Relationships

At the heart of an interpersonal relationship lies the communication between individuals, be it at work or elsewhere.

Did you know that mindfulness can help us to become more directly aware of our own personal and immediate experience whilst communicating with somebody else? This is in fact an essential step before we can fully open to another and communicate effectively. The awareness of what happens within ourselves supports our ability to turn towards and be with whatever arises in this shared experience: in a mindful manner.Mindful communication

The intention here is not resolution or relief but knowledge of what the present moment experience is like. And even if the experience is difficult, you can actually learn to be with it in many creative ways.

The important thing is:

  • Making a genuine connection with the other person
  • Meeting the other person as a fellow human being, where both agree to an exploration; not knowing where the journey is going but remaining open to the direct experience you are having together at this present moment
  • Not trying to “fix” anything but instead empowering each other to find own insights

Mindful communication can be learned but definitely needs to be practiced!

I wonder

Teaching my mindfulness class, I came across this poem by Derek Tasker… it touched me, so I thought, I’d share it with you too!

I wonder what would happen if

I treated everyone like I was in love

with them, whether I like them or not

and whether they respond or not and no matter

what they say or do to me and even if I see

things in them which are ugly twisted petty

cruel, vain, deceitful, indifferent, just accept

all that and turn my attention to some small

weak, tender, hidden part and keep my eyes on

that until it shines like a beam of light

like a bonfire I can warm my hands by and trust

it to burn away all the waste which is not

never was my business to meddle with.

 

Heart Meditation

Assertiveness: Being an Effective Communicator

Effective Communication is all about assertiveness – rather than aggressiveness or submission

The first step towards becoming an effective communicator is practicing assertiveness, thus knowing how you are actually feeling. Did you know that your feelings are simply that: your feelings and nothing more? Their are neither good nor bad, nor anything else! These are just judgements that others – or even yourself – impose onto your feelings.

Photo credit: Wesley Fryer / Foter / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: Wesley Fryer / Foter / CC BY-SA

Once you are aware of what you are feeling and you don’t get caught up in any judgements about them, you can begin exploring ways to deal with the situation. Assertiveness involves clear, calm thinking and respectful negotiation, where each person is entitled to their opinion. Simply say how you are feeling or seeing things by making “I statements” rather than “you” statements. There is a huge difference between saying: “you are always pushing me too hard” versus “I feel very tired because…”. The first sentence prompts your discussion partner to feel threatened, under attack, maybe even having more power than you. The second sentence simply says how you are feeling in response to something. This leaves the other person room to hear what you are saying without feeling blamed or under attack.

The most important part of effective communication is to be mindful of your own feelings, speech, thoughts as well as of the whole situation. If you are consciously cultivating this approach, you will be able to better resolve potential conflicts and greater harmony will slip itself into your discussions!

Further reading:

  • http://jennyebermann.com/tag/insight-dialogue/
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Full Catastrophe Living”
  • Gregory Kramer: “Insight Dialogue”

 

 

Are you an effective communicator?

Are you ready to tackle the challenges of a new year on campus or to sit at your office desk again?

 Can you imagine that August is already nearly over? I don’t know about you but for me it feels like time is flying faster year after year….

For many of us, it now means back to work, to school, to university.

In order to start off in a good way, I thought it would be helpful to re-iterate some important facts about interpersonal communications and what you can do to avoid misinterpretation, frustration and problems right from the start.

Daniel Goleman just shared a very good article on this very topic on Linkedin; He says that there are “(…)various ways to impede useful dialogue(…)”, namely “passivity”, “discounting”, “redefining”, “over-detailing” and the so-called “four sentence rule” (a person can only maintain full attention for four sentences).

Of course there are many more factors that can pose barriers to effective communications, such as: differences in assumptions or points of view, misunderstanding of language, cultural differences and emotions.Angry busines sman screaming at employee

What you can do about this is no secret but keeps being underestimated, especially as we usually don’t think about the non-verbal component, which plays such a crucial role for ensuring that a message is understood in the right way and a real dialogue can take place.

6 simple tips:

  1. Communicate in a clear and simple manner: do not spend time and effort to outline every little detail of your thought. Stick to the important parts of the message!
  2. Communicate using body language to stress what you are actually saying and keep in mind that some cultures might interpret non verbal cues in a different way.
  3. Laugh about yourself: laughing is very healthy and helps putting everything into the right perspective!
  4. Listen attentively and with empathy, not only to the words but also to your own body (your feeling): what is it telling you about the message, what remains hidden behind the words? Capture the key points of what is said and respond to these. Focus on the person you are listing to and not on what you would have to say about this topic. Other people might have an interesting opinion as well, so it is definitely worth listening.
  5. Be open and prepared for negative and positive feedback to what you are saying/the message you are conveying. Constructive feedback is your best bet; it will help you become even more efficient and productive.
  6. Know why you are communicating and what you want to achieve. Before initiating any communication, ask yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish?” If somebody else is initiating the conversation, ask yourself: “Why is this conversation taking place?” If the answer isn’t obvious, guide the dialogue to the “why” of it!

Well, I guess now you’re all set up for a fresh start, enjoy and looking forward to hearing from you again!

Jenny