Words Make Us One: The Magic of Communication
One of the top skills employers across the board value is communication. And yet, this is something that isn’t thoroughly taught in school and is severely lacking in many firms. The staffing agency Accountemps conducted a survey that reveals the number one problem CFOs identify is lack of communication within the company. Also, the Chairman for Hewlitt-Packard, Ray Lane, mentioned, “This [business] is 90% about leadership, communications, and operating execution.”
Radiologist and neuroscience researcher, Dr. Andrew Newberg, has been investigating the process of communication from behind the scenes - in the brain. Distilled from his explorations with advanced scanning technologies, such as fMRIs, Dr. Newberg has developed a method called Compassionate Communication, which improves understanding, empathy, problem solving, peace, and content recall between people engaged in dialogue.
Here is a breakdown of the technique that you can use in myriad situations, including the workplace:
This is the most important factor throughout the whole process. Tense each muscle group, hold for a few seconds, and release. Take slow, deep breaths. Close your eyes for a moment, if you need to. Dr. Newberg recommends yawning - it physiologically helps you to relax. Now you have an excuse!
It’s been demonstrated repeatedly that mentally rehearsing an activity before doing it improves performance. Communication is no different. So vividly imagine your ideal interaction - see, feel, smell, touch, even taste, if you can. Immerse yourself in first person. In addition, reflect on something you really like about the person you’re about to speak with. If this is challenging, then relive a general moment of bliss, some past experience you supremely enjoyed.
Smile warmly and use friendly eye contact. Open with a sincere compliment. Speak in a slow, calm voice. These actions will all contribute to creating pleasant flow. Humans are wired to neurophysiologically sync with each other (called isopraxism). If you are relaxed and warm, the other person will likely mirror you, even unconsciously.
Try to remember the last full conversation you had, in every single detail. Unless your memory is exceptional, there are probably many gaps. Our working memories can only store a limited amount of information (about 7 “chunks”), and they maintain it for 30 seconds at a time. Because of this fact, it would be wise to keep your words brief and direct. Rather than detracting from the conversation, this will actually enhance it by teaching you to be more selective and mindful with what you say. As you become more adept at Compassionate Communication, this rule can be loosened a bit.
Let go of your ego and immediate desires. (Are you still relaxing?) Listen patiently and alertly to the other person. Feel the words being born, and the emotions behind the words. Give him or her enough time to speak. When it’s your turn, allow yourself to speak from deep within you, almost spontaneously. See this as an exercise in observing where a conversation leads, rather than trying to force it.
When you can step aside in your own mind and speak freely (yet compassionately), the most important underlying concerns may arise. In Dr. Newberg’s experience, problems approached this way tend to be resolved in less than an hour. He also reports that after about 30 straight minutes of empathic, mindful dialogue, boundaries between speakers dissolve and they feel unified (which is actually observable by decreased activity in the parietal lobes).
Since this is a skill, it’s vital to ease into it. The best way to practice is to start with situations that are less stress-inducing, such as with a friend. Romantic partners might be tricky to do this with on your first few attempts. As you feel more confident and comfortable, go ahead and step it up. Also, when you start Compassionate Communication, it may feel “fake” or “not right,” but you are literally retraining your brain. Work through the discomfort, it may take a handful of times to begin feeling natural. By then, you will have given yourself an ENORMOUS advantage in business and in life.
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