My husband Lee was telling me about his meeting with one of our neighbors who has a problem with the joists under his house. In short order, Lee figured out the problem and laid out the solution to the guy. Lee has been a residential home builder for more than 30 years, and he never ceases to amaze me with the depth of his knowledge in this area.
Sometimes when he describes these types of projects to me, he uses technical terms I’m not familiar with. And I can’t always visualize the construction elements he’s describing. Even when he takes out a piece of paper and draws a picture for me, I struggle to see what is so obvious to him.
And to be honest, some parts of a job that excite him are not that interesting to me. Situations that involve people rather than physical objects capture and hold my attention much more. So I have to work hard at staying focused on what he’s saying and really “get” what he’s trying to tell me.
In some conversations, I've allowed my mind to wander. Then I’m in trouble when he poses a question like, “What do you think?” Since I missed some of what he was saying, I have to ask him to repeat it or admit that I didn't hear everything he said.
Either way, I've communicated to him that his message wasn't that important to me. If I did it very often, our relationship would suffer.
In every relationship – whether it’s with your spouse, child, boss, coworker, customer, friend or other family member – there’s an array of communication skills required if your goal is to connect with the other person at a meaningful level.
When you listen, you have to give your focused, undivided attention. To keep your eyes locked on them and not get distracted by other people who may walk by...or other thoughts that enter your head. To respond in a way that demonstrates you truly hear and understand what they’re trying to say.
And when you speak, your words need to affirm and uplift whenever possible. You may have the best of intentions when you criticize, give advice or offer solutions. But these approaches are typically not welcomed by the other person.
The problem is, we all have established habits when it comes to communicating with others. And as I've learned over the years, it’s easy to fall back on old habits that get in the way of effective communication.
Recently, my business partner Denny Coates and I talked about this problem. In Episode #14 of our Strong for Parenting podcast, we discussed the challenges parents face in overcoming established patterns when they want to improve the way they communicate with their children.
After we recorded it, I realized that the message applies to everyone. No matter who you’re trying to communicate with, you need to know why it’s so hard to break your existing habits and form new ones. When you understand that – and you’re willing to do the work to make the change – the payoff is stronger, more positive relationships with each person you care about.
"The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting for the old, but on building the new." - Socrates