Monday, July 06, 2015

Musing on communication

Reading a post in one of the forums I regularly visit has got me thinking about something I have worked on personally over the past few years:  trying to successfully communicate what I need/want to other people.  I have taken some aspects from Non-violent Communication (there are a couple of good videos on Youtube detailing it);  and from a parenting book called Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting;  I have found a couple of very useful communication techniques in this book--I use them all the time, with both children and adults. 
Peas on a tripod

Something from Non-violent Communication which almost always works is to say please and thank you--and you're welcome doesn't hurt!  I also try to speak respectfully to people, even if they are not respectful to me.  In fact, with children (who often don't have enough experience in communication and are often reacting emotionally), I will specifically tell them "I need you to speak to me respectfully (or calmly, or nicely, etc)."  It usually works, especially when they realize I am speaking respectfully too. 

From the Calmer book, I have learned to phrase my statements or questions in a positive way, particularly in high stress situations like work.  I'm basically telling people what I want, instead of what I don't want.  For instance, if during the dinner rush, the servers have chucked the dirty plates all over the sink area without stacking them neatly, I will say to the next one who appears with a plate, "will you help me stack these plates up?", instead of, "why aren't these stacked properly?"  The second question doesn't actually accomplish anything except to make the server feel bad, and maybe get defensive and start an argument.  The first one solves the problem without attaching blame to anyone.  I could also say, "when you bring the plates in, will you please stack them up?" 

My little fig cutting, with cute little figs--it's finally growing more leaves

It also works the other way:  say if a salad I made got sent back because the customer didn't want onions, and the server says to me, "why did you send this salad with onions?  It clearly says no onions!"  I can choose not to be defensive about it and simply solve the problem, "ok, I'll make a new one";  or if the server comes in yelling, I can wait until they're finished and say calmly, "there's no need to shout", or "everyone makes mistakes," or anything that won't escalate the situation! and give them a new salad.

It's true that it's easier to write about it than actually do it :)  Both of the above scenarios were fairly typical at the restaurant where I used to work, and I noticed that when I started speaking positively, and not reacting negatively, people responded positively too. 
White peony
Another thing I have taken from Calmer is to notice people's efforts and praise them;  it's also a technique I learned from the Dog Whisperer!  I know it sounds cheesy, like something you do on your kids to raise their self esteem (or your dog), but it really works.  When I use it on adults, I generally (but not always) phrase it as a "thank you":  "thank you for folding the laundry," or "thank you, this dinner is lovely."  Or "I noticed you mowed the lawn;  thank you."  A non-thank you one might be: "Wow, you must have done a lot today;  it looks great in here." It costs me nothing to say, and after a while some people start doing it back to me!  I started doing it with my son, and after a while to my husband, and they now both do it to me and to each other--and neither has read the book!  I have also used it at work with my colleagues: "your Sunday roasts look really nice" or "it looks like you've done a lot of cleaning today".

A final tool in my positive communication toolbox is to genuinely listen to people.  The thing about people who are just waiting their turn to talk isn't such an issue when the other person simply listens;  I'm not naturally a talker, so I find listening pretty easy, and I have learned to ask questions to get people going.  It builds rapport and relationships, which make for better communication in the long run.  As an introvert, I practice my conversation skills with random strangers, like cashiers in shops, or people waiting at a bus stop, or people out in the park walking their dog.  I don't have to worry about building relationships with these people, so it's not a big deal if there's an awkward pause or I make some sort of faux pas!  
The last of the white roosters, having a nap with his sisters
For the most part, I can get along with most anyone now;  it's true there is the occasional person whom I truly dislike, but I still do my best to be respectful and build rapport if I have to deal with them regularly.  I try to see the best in people, and I even try to point out the good to other people.  I did this once a long time ago to my mother when she was complaining about my grandfather (who is admittedly not an easy person to get on with), and she laughed and paid me a compliment:  "you always find something good about a person."  I've always remembered that and tried to live up to it, as it has served me well over the years.

It's true that it takes more than one positive person for healthy communication, but I also think that just one person can start the seeds of positivity in other people.  My home life is so much calmer and happier since I started practicing speaking positively a few years ago.  It took time for it to become habit--and I still have occasionally have to take a deep breath before responding to someone.  But I'm happier and calmer, and I notice that people I interact with are more friendly and respectful to me too. 
Red scented geranium, rose, calendula, rosemary