Talk That Talk: More Happiness Through Better Communication
This survey asked more than 20,000 adults about the skills they actually considered important versus what they learned in school. The category that came out on top was education in happiness and positive living.
Ask the Buddha, your therapist friend, or anybody who’s lived past the age of thirty and they’ll tell you that one of the quickest routes to a more positive life is being able to communicate better with others. And yet, consider: who ever teaches us how to do that? Add these three uncommon aspects of better communication to your personal learning curriculum and see if you’re not a little happier.
1. Removing self judgment
Nonviolent Communication is about far more than keeping your hands to yourself. It begins with removing judgment—particularly when it comes to how you talk to you. NVC’s basic tenets state that it’s important to notice when you are not being compassionate to yourself by looking out for judgmental self-talk. Familiar refrains include: “I’m such an idiot!” “I can’t believe I did this again!” or “How could I be so stupid?” Getting trapped in this self-hating internal dialogue does you no good. What will, however, is trying to better understand and identify the needs that are fuelling your self-judgment.
Self-judgments—like all other judgments—are the expression of unfulfilled needs. When you start hearing judgmental self-talk, re-focus your attention on your unmet needs. For example, imagine that you are about to dash to a meeting. Just before you leave, you spill the yogurt you were rushing to finish beforehand. You can already hear the voice in your head starting: “How could I do this now? I am such a klutz.” but instead of listening to this negativity, pause and ask yourself a new question: “What unmet need am I expressing with this self-judgment?”
You might realize that, while you were pressuring yourself to serve others by bringing your A-game to the meeting, you overlooked your own need to care for yourself. You didn’t give yourself adequate time to be nourished. You can now replace the self-judgment with a compassionate statement, like “It’s alright, I’ll pay more attention to my own needs next time.” Bonus: honing this skill in yourself means that you’ll be better able to do it for others, too.
Get better at becoming unjudgy by reading the blinks to Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg.
2. Listening for underlying needs
Speaking of underlying needs, it’s important that you identify those needs in others, too. In You Can Negotiate Anything, Herb Cohen notes that in a negotiation, people usually focus on the demands the other side makes, whereas they should really be trying to understand the other side’s underlying needs and unexpressed desires. Since every person has unique, differing needs, several people can usually be satisfied without anyone losing—it’s a matter of listening carefully for the unexpressed needs, then harmonizing.
Say that your family is trying to decide where to go on vacation. This supposedly happy negotiation turns into a deadlock when it turns out your spouse wants to go to Texas, your son to the Rocky Mountains, and you yearn for the Great Lakes. These demands seem irreconcilable at first. However, if you open up the lines of communication and look beyond the demands, you might find that your needs can all be met. Through gentle inquiry, you can establish that your son actually just wants to see mountains, your spouse desires a warm place with tennis facilities, and you basically just want to go to a lake where you can swim and snorkel. After you realize this, it turns out a resort in Colorado fulfills the needs of everyone involved.
More negotiation tips in You Can Negotiate Anything by Herb Cohen.
3. Gift giving
In their book As We Speak, Peter Meyers and Shann Nix present an approach to communication that can be very powerful for creating a positive conversation: The Gift Giving Intention. It works for delivering presentations as much as it does having a tough talk, or even in a job interview.
The Gift Giving Intention is very simple to activate. Instead of frantic, pre-talk “double-checking” that you are ready, worrying you’ll be asked a question to which you don’t know the answer, or stressing over the other person’s judgment of you, take a second and reposition your words and attention for them as a useful gift.
First, decide what kind of gift you can give them. Ask yourself questions like: “How can the ideas I am sharing be beneficial to this person’s goal?” or “What gift can I give?” This becomes clearer in an interview situation. Imagine you’re about to meet a prospective employer for the first time. You’re probably feeling quite nervous, wondering if they’ll like you or find your CV compelling enough. Instead of worrying about what might be lacking in your presentation, consider what gift you can give your interviewer. Can you help make them comfortable in the room by being attentive and considerate? Can you explain to them in a clear, kind way just how you will be able to help their business move forward? By doing this, you’re reprogramming your brain to take you forward, not backward, and reframing the impending encounter for a positive outcome.
Read more in As We Speak by Peter Meyers and Shann Nix.