Practice Makes Perfect – Especially when it Comes to Communicating

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Practice Makes Perfect—especially when it comes to communicating.

We often take communicating for granted—after all, everyone can talk. But, like anything in life you want to get good at, it takes a lot of practice to be a truly effective communicator.

Consider the following scenario:

A genuine smile when you enter the room can set the stage for a successful meeting and more fruitful collaboration with your team.

Now picture the same scenario, but, this time, instead of smiling, you are frowning and you avoid direct eye contact with everyone.  Maybe it is innocent and you don’t realize you’re doing it.  Maybe you’re just distracted or absorbed in a problem. Or maybe you’re frustrated by the pace of the team’s most recent meetings and are feeling disgruntled at the prospect of another sixty-minute time sucker.

Imagine how this change in body language might shift the energy in the room and your own emotional state? How might this impact the experience and outcomes of your meeting?

Everything you do or say, or don’t do or say, communicates something.

Now think about the complex nature of your interactions at work and the decisions you are required to make to drive results. The need to continuously innovate and adapt to change, while also delivering on current commitments, can bring out the best and worst in each of us. The rewards are greater for the business, but so are the risks. As a result, we may feel that our individual efforts are exposed to greater evaluation and criticism. This can set up a threat and avoidance cycle that plays out as if we were facing down lions in the jungle every day.

And what do we do when we are under threat? We’ve got tens of thousands of years of highly refined biological programming to tell our bodies what to do.

Fight or flight.  Our brains are hard-wired to react to perceived threats in mere milliseconds by triggering fight or flight hormones, such as adrenalin, nor-epinephrine, and cortisol.  These neurotransmitters function to protect us by putting us into an activated physiological state or self-survival mode.

So, whether we’re in the jungle or in a conference room, we communicate in ways that are self-protective and more narrowly focused when we perceive ourselves to be under threat or in danger. Over time, these reactions can embed into habits, and we may find ourselves, habitually, imagining lions and engaging in self-protective behaviors.  And, depending on our neural circuitry, past history, present situation, and many other factors, some of us go into hiding and others puff up our chests and put up our dukes.

As you can guess, neither reaction is helpful in the workplace where trust building and collaboration are key.

So the key is to catch yourself in mid-fight or flight and consciously work to change your behavior. In order to interrupt this natural stress re-activity  it’s critical to closely examine communication cycles and learn to substitute what is not working with what we know to be useful and productive.

This is why we practice. And the more we practice, the better we get at interrupting and replacing negative patterns with more mindful, constructive, strength-based skills, such as mood checking and body scanning, empathetic listening, deep breathing, refocusing, reframing, de-escalating, voice modulation, meditation, and other mindfulness techniques.

What do you notice about your own reactivity habits? Do you puff up your chest and put up your dukes or do you run for cover? How do you interrupt and replace negative patterns with more mindful practices? What differences have you seen in your work environment?  Share your story

To refine your communication skills further, you can practice ten essential tips for open and effective communication.

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