Posts Tagged ‘communication’

14 steps towards a better you: improve your communication skills

In Too lazy to assign a category on August 8, 2008 at 7:44 pm

In order to build good relationships and reach goals, social skills are crucially important. When thinking about social skills, many people think about the ability to smooth talk. Socially skilled people are indeed capable of communicating their feelings and thoughts. They're capable of effectively communicating their ideas. People who aren't as proficient, often think they've got lousy social skills. However, there's more to having social skills than talking. Being able to say what you want, without hurting others, being able to actively listen, being able to read and use body language, … those things are just as important.

Say what you mean

In order to keep a conversation going, stand up for your needs, criticise or react to criticism, give or accept a compliment, you have to open your mouth. Many people find it difficult to tell other people what's bothering them. Often people rub other people the wrong way, and this gives way to fights. The other person feels attacked and gets defensive: "That's not true!", "Look who's talking!". Before you know it, you end up fighting.

In order to put what's bothering you on the table, you might try the XYZ formula. This is a way to phrase things. In situation (X), when you do (Y), I feel (Z). This way it's not as much criticism, as it's a complaint. For example: "When we are driving (X), and you change the radio station without asking (Y), I feel like I don't matter to you." This sounds very different from "Who made you king of the radio?"

Sometimes it's explained a little differently: name the behaviour (X) that's bothering you (don't play the man, play the ball), name the situation (Y) in which this behaviour occurred, and tell which feelings (Z) this behaviour caused. For example: "You being an hour late (X) for our appointment (Y), makes me feel you think our appointment isn't important, and that makes me sad (Z). This sounds very different from "You're always late!"

Once you've said what's bothering you, say how you'd like things to be. Don't demand anything, don't pose ultimatums, don't make threats. Just describe your wishes. For example: "I would like you to be on time next time. That we we can spend some time catching up before dinner."

It's best to be brief. No monologues. People usually can concentrate just 30 seconds at a time during a conversation. Keep your message short. Give the other person time to react. Phrase your message in a positive way. If you use too many negations and negative formulations, it seems like you're nagging and whining, and people don't like to listen to that.

Active listening

Listening is just as important as talking. Even if someone communicates their feelings very well, if the other person isn't listening, the message won't get across. Listening is important in order to have a pleasant conversation. It's very annoying if you get interrupted or someone can't wait to air their viewpoint. If you really get listened to, it's a pleasant experience. Listening to the other person not only means you're hearing what they're saying, but also trying to understand what they're trying to say. This is called active listening.


LEAPS stands for Listen, Empathise, Ask, Paraphrase, Summarise. When you listen, have an open mind, hear the words, interpret the meaning and act upon the words. Empathise, and don't confuse empathy with sympathy. Empathy is seeing through the eyes of the other person. Then ask, for clarification, in order to find facts, to seek opinion. Next paraphrase, express the message in different (your own) words, and finally summarise. Condense all that's been said and put it in a simple statement. Be brief and concise.  

A different version of LEAPS is Listen, Empathise, Apologise, Positive attitude, Solve. There are similar systems, like LEAP (Listen, Empathise, Agree, Partner), basically meaning listening for what the person finds motivating, empathising with them, finding common ground you can agree on, and partnering with them to address common goals. There's also a different version of LEAP (Listen, Empathise, Apologise, Problem-solve), or yet another (Listen, Empathise, Ask, Produce results). They all more or less boil down to the same thing.

Use body language

The use of body language is another social skill. With a smile, eye contact, an interested posture and enthusiastic charisma you'll get more done than with an uninspired attitude. The importance of body language often is underestimated. Research shows that 80 % of communication consists of body language. Try taking that into account.

If you are the one listening, don't cross your legs and arms, mirror your conversation partner. This way you show openness and enthusiasm, and you enlarge the chance people want to tell you their story. If you are the speaker, make sure your body language is in line with what you're saying. If you are communicating your anger, make sure your voice is powerful, and stand up straight, both feet on the ground. That way your message will come across a whole lot better than when you're speaking in a soft voice, avoiding eye contact, looking at the floor.

An audience is captivated by speakers using gestures to accentuate their message. Also make eye contact, whether you're listening or talking. Don't stare though. Don't look more than 4.5 seconds at the other person, or it becomes staring. If you're listening watch the speaker about 75% of the time, if you're speaking, watch the listener about 40% of the time.

Role play

Ask a friend, partner or family member to do the following exercise with you. Think of a topic you don't agree on, for example the question whether chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla ice cream, the question for whom to vote if today there were elections, or the statement a day-nursery is bad for children.

Put an egg-timer or stopwatch on one minute. During this one minute, you get  to say what you think about this topic, and why. The other person has to listen actively, and isn't allowed to interrupt. After this one minute, ask yourself the following questions:

  • what was it like having someone listen actively?
  • what did the other person do to give you the impression they were really listening to you?
  • what body language did you use?
  • did you use body language to emphasise your words?
  • how much eye contact did you have with each other?

Now reverse the roles. Listen actively to the other person during one minute. Afterwards, ask yourself the following questions:

  • how hard was it not to interrupt the other person?
  • did you use body language to encourage the other person?
  • how much eye contact did you have with each other?

Prevent a fight from happening

Next time you're in an argument that risks turning out into a fight, try to use the XYZ formula, and to stick to the LEAP(S) rules. Even though the other person might not do the same, your attitude might very well change the other person's reaction.

Afterwards, evaluate how you influenced the argument by using the XYZ formula, and sticking to the LEAP(S) rules.

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14 steps to a better you – make contact

In Too lazy to assign a category on January 25, 2008 at 10:21 pm

Reach out

If you know how to socialise, you’ll be more successful in life. Not just with people you already know, but with strangers as well. If you know how to make contact, it will be a lot easier to build a social environment from which to get inspiration and support. By talking to other people, you expand your horizon, and learn new insights and experiences. No less than 90% of people have a hard time socialising and making small talk with strangers. At a reception where you know no one, at the pub while your friend is talking to someone else, at a meeting where you have to network: you might feel awkward and inhabited.

Insecurity – what will people think of me? – and the fear of rejection make you want to hide in a corner instead of talking to other people. That way you only socialise with a small group of friends and family, while you might like to talk to someone else or make new friends. You play safe, while new contacts can open an entire new world.

It’s possible the other person doesn’t want to talk to you, or there’s no click. This tends to diminish confidence: apparently you’re not interesting enough and the other person doesn’t want to get to know you. Therefore many people are reserved, even though they’d like to be different.

That’s a shame really, because it’s highly likely other people at e.g. that reception feel the same way. They probably think you don’t want to talk to them, and are afraid to start a conversation. In reality, most people are glad to be spoken to. That way they’ve got someone to talk to, and don’t have to mingle, searching for someone to talk to themselves.

Shy people in particular find it very hard to start a conversation. This is because they’ve got a negative self image. They think they’re not good enough, and they’re very demanding of themselves socially. They think they’ve got to get along with everyone, be popular and have oodles of friends. Because of the pressure they put on themselves, they lack spontaneity and become shy. For these kinds of people, it’s very important to work on step 2: self esteem.

Starting a conversation: tips and tricks

Whether you’re shy or not, it becomes easier making contact with these tips and tricks.

Tip 1

Watch your body language. Making contact doesn’t start with words, it starts with body language. It’s best to be open and inviting: hold your arms next to your body. Straighten your back and smile. That way you’ll come across a lot friendlier than with your arms crossed and an unhappy face. The same is true for the person you’d like to talk to. How does this person come across? Does he or she seem susceptible? If you see someone you like, make eye contact. You’ll know instantly whether the other person is in the mood for conversation: does he or she look back in a friendly way or does he or she look away?

Tip 2

Keep it simple. People worry too much about the content of that first conversation. They want to make a good impression, and don’t want to look stupid or boring. People think they need to talk about ‘important’ matters, like politics, art or philosophy. This idea puts them under a lot of pressure, and might lead to fear of failure. Try to look for inspiration in your environment. If you’re at an exhibition, look around. What do you see (beautiful paintings), smell (the smell of coffee) or hear (music by Bach)? Other people are probably experiencing the same, and it provides for a subject of conversation. “Don’t you agree it’s hot / cold / crowded / beautiful?” or “How do you like this painting?” are some opening sentences you could use.

Tip 3

Encourage yourself. If you don’t know what to say, it’s difficult to approach someone. Try to think: that seems like a nice person, I’ll just try and talk to them. Or: if it doesn’t work out, I’ll talk to someone else later on.

Tip 4

Once you’ve started the conversation, use open questions. Ask: “How do you like that painting?” instead of: “It’s a nice painting, don’t you agree?” Closed questions only require a short yes / no answer, and tend to shorten the conversation. Open questions on the other hand stimulate a more elaborate answer, and keep the conversation going.

Tip 5

Listen. Some people seem to think they’ve got to talk in order to avoid silences. Other people might get bored having to listen all the time though. It’s equally important to listen. Other people like being listened to, and they like being asked questions. If someone pays attention to you, you also appreciate this gesture of showing interest.

Exercise 1

Think back of two situations in which you felt awkward because you didn’t have someone to talk to. Why was it so difficult for you to make contact? What did you say to yourself that made you back off? What should you have said to yourself? Looking back, how could you have talked to someone in that situation?

Exercise 2

Take the lead. Think of two situations you might encounter in the near feature, like a birthday party, a reception at work or some other party. Intend to start a conversation with someone you don’t know. Don’t wait for others to start conversation, but take the initiative. Already think about what you could use for an opening sentence.

Possible opening sentences

At a birthday party: How do you know X?
In a museum: What do you think of this painting?
Arriving somewhere: That was quite the thunder storm, eh?
At a public space: Have you been here before?
At a work meeting: What are you working on?
In a crowded space: It’s rather crowded here, eh?
At a concert: How do you like the music?
At the gym: Do you know how this works?
Waiting for food: Are you hungry as well?

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A periodic table of visualisation methods

In Too lazy to assign a category on May 7, 2007 at 10:26 pm

Organic Love

In Too lazy to assign a category on December 29, 2006 at 12:50 pm

Organic Love: An Ecology of Sustainable Relationship by Eric Francis

We're all familiar with organic food. This is food grown without pesticide sprays or toxic fertilizers, from natural seeds that have escaped genetic engineering. In theory, organic food has no synthetic preservatives or artificial dyes, nothing extra that it does not need (like plastic filler) and it's handled in a way that preserves some of the integrity of what nature created. Due to crop loss, it's expensive (though cheaper than restaurant food, which most of us eat a lot of).

But it's better. Organic food is often sold closer to the natural growing times, and there are some philosophies of organic diet (Macrobiotics, for example) which suggest that we eat only food grown locally and when it's in season. Most important, we think of organic food as whole food, rather than food which is fractioned off like white flower, or recombined to make weird things like fortified breakfast cereal or vitamin D skim milk.

The organic food philosophy (usually known in Europe as Biodynamics) honors the reality that both the land and people need to be healthier and the relationship between the two is food. There is an acknowledged connection between ecology (which means the "study of home") and the health of the people who live in that home.

A concept at the core of organic eating is sustainability. We know that our current agricultural system is killing the planet and making us sick; we know that most of the foods available in the supermarket lack basic nutrition. Organic farming, Biodynamics and other philosophies show how we can sustain both human life and planetary life through one process.

We also know that the society's teachings about relationships, which glorify possession of other people, which rely on artificial structures, and which are usually based on oppressive, negative ideas, are harming us, and damaging health of the planet, just as aggressively as agribusiness. Unfulfilled, emotionally undernourished people an be risky to the happiness of others, especially when they grow angry and spread emotional toxins. And this is most of what we get in the world when we enter the human environment.

So, what about organic love?
Toxic ideas about love, like toxic food, are sold in the supermarket, at the check-out counter. Flip through those magazines, or just look at the covers (who doesn't?). They teach us to think in terms of ideas like "married" and "monogamous"; we can learn to please or be more pleasing to our partner; we can have affairs, which means lying and "cheating," and there are instruction manuals for catching our partners in these activities. We read a lot about rape and violence, which are portrayed like sexy advertising. People are "gay" or "straight" and if they're really wild, they're "bisexual." We tend to consume these ideas as unconsciously as we consume food containing polysorbate-80, hormone-tainted meat and sugar-packed soft drinks with laced with propylene glycol.

Over the past 40 or so years, several different relationship outlooks have added some diversity and allowed people to be more natural.

The polyamory movement is one of these. Polyamory (meaning more than one love) suggests that it's natural for people to have more than one sexual relationship at a time. When you consider how many people do have more than one sexual relationship at a time (but deny it), then the real claim-to-fame of polyamory is that people are getting together and making a choice to face reality, and to be happier as who they are.

Polyamory has its own problems; for one thing it's a kind of "movement" and not everybody wants to join a movement. Part of its movement quality, though, is based on the idea that this lifestyle requires support. Another problem with poly is that it's based on the idea of "poly," meaning more than one lover. What about people who want to have more natural relationships tending toward monogamy? Here, the notion of "polyamory" can alienate people who may otherwise have a lot else in common with poly folk.

Many people have observed that polyamorous relationships often have many of the same confusion and toxic issues as monogamous relationships, just spread out among more people. Some would say that this makes the weirdness worse, and others would say that expanded relationship models give us a chance to see the dynamics in action, and work them out openly (remembering how many people cheat).

It may be that so-called monogamy has problems, but that polyamory does not really address them because these problems reside closer to the core of who we are, and what we are trained to be in our society.

Without going into a long discourse on religion, most of our ideas about relationships are based on Christian metaphysics (God was born to a virgin and never had sex; and the love of God is more important than human love experienced in the body), which are then heavily overlaid with romantic ideals (such as the idea of finding a one-and-only erotic love, to the dismissal of all other loves) that send us spinning wildly in the other direction.

Combine this debate with natural hormone biology, and you can see all our conflict in and about relationships, from guilt to jealousy to cheating, as products of a war between two belief systems (religion versus romance) plus our naturally horny, delightfully curious human nature.

In witness to life, I offer a few ideas about how we might go about creating organic love.

<> All love starts with selflove. In order to love another person we need to be at peace with who we are, which means loving and appreciating ourselves-including sexually. Selfloving means being a whole person. If we bring this whole person into our relationships, we are likely to find greater peace and fulfillment.

<> Love requires trust in order to grow naturally. Trust is both intuitive and cultivated. In an atmosphere of trust, it is easier to feel safe enough to be oneself, which will allow greater expression in loving relationships-of love, fear and other emotions that we face.

<> People are naturally curious about one another. Can we deny this? Why bother? We need to allow for human nature in our human relationships. If we are with a beautiful person, we can presume that others will be curious and want to get close to that beauty; we can presume the same thing about ourselves.

<> People seem more beautiful when we are in love. And we seem more beautiful to them. When we are in love, we are love magnets. If we allow for this fact rather than trying to deny it, I believe we'll be happier and live more naturally.

<> People really cannot be controlled; we are our own people. We can lie and act like we are controlled; we can kid ourselves and think we control another. Both are false rather than wrong. Once control has entered a relationship, it has filled in spaces where many other nutrients are lacking, such as trust, allowing, or selflove.

<> Relationships take their own form and each is different. Relationships grow, like plants; they are change as they become. We may go through different seasons of love, and might want one partner some years or some days, and more than one partner some years or some days.

<> Communication is a learned skill and is essential to relationships. Communication is based on honesty; honesty is a learned skill as well. We learned to lie in order to defend ourselves against deception, control and attack. In order to communicate honestly, we need to teach one another to do so patiently-within contexts that are free from deception, control and attack.

<> Our homes need to support our relationships. As our own people, we need our own spaces. It is much healthier for people to have safe retreats, a safe space to call their own. I suggest that in live-in, long-term relationships, people have their own rooms and their own beds, and invite one another as guests.

<> Sexual beings often make babies. Though the science of this was not understood until the late 19th century, we now know for sure that sex can lead to birth. We know that most pregnancies are unplanned, but there is no excuse for this. Men and women each need to take 100% responsibility for birth control, and for birth, as a matter of love for one another and for the unborn. We cannot always stop undesired pregnancy, but we can all accept responsibility for working to do so.

<> We are each responsible for our own healing of childhood wounding and past relationships. If we don't, we will dump our toxic emotions, most of which began with our family of origin (blame, guilt, shame, resentment) onto our partners rather than dealing with them. Taking this responsibility would include each person in a relationship being on a conscious path of growth, whether spiritual or with a therapist of some kind: having a space outside the relationship to deal with one's own life, including relationship experiences.

<> Jealousy is not what it seems to be, and to love organically we need to get to the heart of the matter. Jealousy is an expression of deep attachment, and to transcend it we must approach it as a natural erotic force, in a sense, as erotic pain. We are all of mortal flesh and will not be with our partners "forever." But we can be with them in any one moment, which is all that there is anyway.

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