If you’re like me, you probably hate making new year’s resolutions. They are something we do out of some traditional obligation, knowing full well that we won’t stick with it for more than a day or two at best. Then, to make matters worse, there’s a predictable little twinge of guilt for falling off the wagon, since resolutions are supposed to make us better people, somehow. Enough. I want to make this year different.
Decide for yourself that this year, the resolution will be about others rather than about you. Specifically, take an honest look at your relationships and the nature of your communication patterns with those people. Is there something about your collective dynamic that compels you to be excessively blunt, passive-aggressive, or indifferent? Do you shut down to avoid confrontation? This year, let your resolution be a gift to them – and to yourself: a shift in the way that you communicate, and, as a result, the start of a new, healthier and more positive relationship.
Here are three ways you can wrap your gift:
First, beware of what your eyes say, regardless of what comes from your lips. Even if you don’t say a word, you may not realize that your face is projecting your true opinions about what the other person is saying.
For example, do you roll your eyes, look away, or cock a single dubious eyebrow if you disagree with someone? These micro-expressions are signs of disdain, and convey the message loud and clear that you are not open to hearing what they are saying. It’s a sure-fire way to put people on the defensive.
Personally, I realized several years ago that when I’m concentrating on something, my eyebrows furrow. It doesn’t mean I’m angry or disagree at all, but that’s often how people misinterpret my “thinking face”. Ironically, they should be happy when I do that, because it means I’m truly listening and contemplating what they say. So it’s my responsibility to remember to “reset” my eyebrows to a more neutral, nonthreatening position.
If nothing else, be sure to make eye contact when someone else is talking. Resist the urge to multitask; don’t look at your computer or smartphone. Give them the gift of your full attention. At the start of a meeting – formal or informal, suggest that you both leave your phones off the table until you’re done. It might feel counterintuitive, and even counter-cultural, but the respect will be felt by everyone there.
Second, watch your choice of words. Small details in word choice can have a big impact on how people interpret what you say, and how they feel about it as a result. Try to avoid using absolutes, such as everything, never, everyone, nobody, and always… Statements like “Everybody thinks it’s a bad idea,” or “There’s nothing you can say that will convince me that…” show that you are not willing to listen, and that you think you’re right and everyone else is wrong. Moreover, they are a form of exaggeration, and exaggeration is melodramatic. Nobody likes to work with the “drama queen/king.”
Instead, to promote mutual listening, try hedging those statements. Try phrases like from where I stand …, on several occasions…, or It concerns me when … You can still clearly state your case, but it acknowledges that you are sharing your perspective, not claiming it to be “gospel truth.” It shows you are open to working together. Avoiding absolutes and related melodrama promotes productive conversation, and achieving a mutually acceptable solution.
Finally, engage people. We’re all busy, so I’m not saying you have to listen to someone’s life story, but make an effort to connect with them as individuals, not just as coworkers or employees. For example, when you’re walking down the hall or waiting for the elevator, don’t just give them the perfunctory nod that acknowledges their existence. Say hello and ask a simple question that shows interest in them personally. Is the company going to be closed for a holiday? Ask if they have plans for the time off. If they have pets or children, ask how they’re doing. It’s not forced “small talk” if it’s sincere. Just remember: a little effort goes a long way.
But you know what the greatest beauty of these tips is? The effort they require is a drop in the bucket compared to what you get back, so it becomes the resolution that you can – and actually want – to keep!
Do you have a comment or question about how to comfortably and easily make this resolution? Click here to set up a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally.