I’ve just spent a month with family. What struck me during this trip home is how different we all are. How varied our beliefs or ‘truths’ are. And how differently we communicate with each other.
There is the peacemaker, the influencer, the negative nelly, the researcher, and the know-it-all. It makes for interesting and stimulating dinner conversations, sometimes to the extreme. At times, the role we take on varies depending on how we feel or whose company we are in.
It’s how we deal with these differences in communication styles and opinions that I find intriguing, because you could compare our family dinner conversations to communicating in a business setting: Five people, different personalities, ages, life experiences, communication styles, needs and goals.
Breaking it down, here are some of the techniques we use in my family to manage our differences and conflicts, consciously or unconsciously:
1. Ask questions.
Sometimes we make assumptions about how someone will react to our opinion or desires, so we don’t ask for their help or opinion. We leap too far into a fantasy conversation and create an end-result that might never have been if we had actually had the conversation.
- For more effective communication, and 100% better results, ask questions to get more information, clarify points or positions, and get agreement (or not!). We might end up where we thought we would, but we also have a chance of a very different outcome.
2. Listen with an open mind AND an open heart.
It’s so easy to listen superficially because we are texting someone not present or reading an article, newspaper or other document. This is a lose-lose proposition.
- When we listen, and I mean REALLY listen, keep an open mind, and connect with empathy, we can truly understand what is being said and WHY. Understanding the motivation behind someone’s opinion can often lead us to a better understanding, a more appropriate insight, and a way to add value to the other person.
3. Be patient.
Occasionally when we are speaking with someone, they haven’t even stopped explaining the situation and we know what they should do. Or our speaking partner is taking forever to get to the point and we are mentally tapping our foot on the floor frustrated that the conversation isn’t going more quickly.
- This is where we turn on the internal control of patience. Doing this allows others to finish what they are saying without feeling rushed. No annoyed facial expressions or verbal cues to signal the other person to ‘move it along’. It’s a sign of respect.
4. Be kind.
Does an unkind thought or word come to mind sometimes when you are speaking to someone? Do you want to tell the truth when the truth could hurt or cause significant damage to your relationship?
- Let the unkind words go, and if you have to say something, choose your words carefully. Kindness is a currency with value than cannot always be measured in dollars and cents.
5. Change the subject
You’re not getting the response or result you want. Or you can see that the other person is simply not going to change their mind, or worse, calm down. It can make for an uncomfortable situation.
- Once in a while, it ‘pays’ to change the subject, agree to disagree, or even walk away. Not all conflicts can be resolved in the moment, whether it’s family or business. So take a step back, rethink your position, and decide on an appropriate course of action. Sometimes you have to pick your battle, and permanently damaging the relationship may not be worth it.
I’ve had a wonderful, refreshing visit with my family. It has enriched me and most definitely challenged me on many levels. I’ll take what I’ve learned this trip back into my work, helping international professionals communicate their key messages more clearly, concisely and persuasively. These same strategies and techniques contribute to communication success in business and with your families, too.