Learning to master the art of communication

It was the first time I’d met him. We were having coffee. This is what he said to me:

“D’you want a piece of advice? Let the other person finish what they’re saying. Okay?”

“Uh, sorry, sure,” I said. The conversation continued. We agreed to meet again.

The feeling I had in that moment reminded me of when I started Brazilian jiu-jitsu. We were sparring and I got tapped and choked and tapped and choked. After tapping again, I sat back and asked “what can I do to stop this?”

The advice I received went something like this:

“Calm the fuck down. Chill out. You’re too aggressive. If you had come down to where I roll the guys would have put you out.”

I remember that every time I roll now.

As I was walking home from the coffeehouse, I got to thinking about social skills. About the different levels of ability. About what makes a good communicator.

I could make out three stages.

The first, the lowest stage, is where you just interrupt the other person. You don’t care what they have to say because what you have to say is more important, so you butt in.

The second stage is a camouflaged version of the first. You think what you have to say is important, but you don’t want to seem rude, so you wait until the other person finishes.

The third stage is when you don’t formulate what you want to say until after the other person has finished speaking. This means you have to actually listen to the words coming out of their mouth.

Now, I’ve read a few books about communication and body language and listening. Which I think highlights my problem. I’ve had to actively learn how to do it.

It doesn’t come naturally. I had to figure out how to act in social situations. It’s something I still struggle with now.

As you can see, I still don’t listen that well.

But I’ve also been fortunate enough to have experienced a ton of different situations. I’ve spent several years working in bars and pubs and restaurants. I’ve spent two summers working at festivals in response teams, dealing with medical and welfare cases, with instances of assault and minor criminal activity. I’ve spent several years coaching and teaching movement and playing several different sports.

All said, I’ve noticed a few thing about communication and social skills.

The first thing is the power of a smile. A smile added to most human interactions will make it better.

Secondly, sincerity helps. A true sense of empathy and feeling for the other person is the best communication hack. And you can’t fake it.

When it comes to building relationships, sincerity and honesty usually win.

Thirdly, it helps when you take nothing personally. Even if what has been said or implied is a personal affront. Actually, do this especially if it is meant as a personal insult.

Why?

Most of the time it won’t be. It will be the spilling out of an issue unrelated to you.

Also, if the one you’re talking to is angry and looking for revenge and you’re not, you have an advantage.

By taking nothing personally you can navigate conflict and difficult situations more easily.

Remember, anger and outrage always detract from your ability to communicate effectively.

Fourthly, imagine you’re having coffee with someone. Want to make them feel amazing?

Act like you have all the time in the world.

Put your phone out of sight. Don’t check the clock. Don’t shift and fidget and glance around. Give them your undivided attention.

The reason this is so powerful is because you don’t have all the time in the world and neither does the other person.

But by acting like you do, you listen better. You’ve got an infinite amount of time to hear what they’re saying.

By not thinking about where you have to be in an hour you signal to the other person that they are the most important thing in the world to you at this moment. Who doesn’t want to fee like that?

Another thing I’ve noticed about one-to-one communication:

There are four general actions in a conversation: Ask a question. Answer a question. Share a story. Rephrase what they’ve said to show you understand.

There are two general non-actions: Listening. Pausing.

The exact distribution of these six actions is unique in every interaction. It depends on who’s meeting, why, where, when, how.

But perhaps the most useful thing to remember is this:

A conversation is not an interrogation. You are not the questioner. Your job is not to challenge and extract as much information as possible. A conversation is also not a lecture. You are not the teacher. Neither are they. You both have something to learn from one another.

A conversation is a dialogue. It has multiple sides. Both sides give and take. Both sides talk and both sides listen. Both sides respond, question and challenge one another.

So be honest. Smile, ask questions, answer them, share stories and make it obvious that you appreciate the chance to spend your time with another person.