Effective communication – the key to a better life

Couple sat on camping chairs in the sunset

You may have heard the phrase, ‘money makes the world go round;’ but for me ‘people, nature and our harmonious relationship make the world turn.’ As we grow older we spend time with people who have similar interests, quirks and humor, and this is all wonderful. If we were to work on effective communication and become better at connecting with others we will live happier lives. What is effective communication? What are the barriers to communication? In this article we will learn all of this and also how to improve communication skills.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place

George Bernard Shaw

Why does it matter?

Why, where, and in which circumstances does communication really matter? With our loved ones communication is vitally important. We can connect with our parents and find out more about them as people beyond their roles as parents. When we are younger our friendships might be predominately based around fun, but if we learn to communicate better we may take our friendship to a much deeper level and form unbreakable bonds; we can find out more about our friends and what makes them truly who they are. Within friendship circles, and notably with males, we can struggle to confide in others and open up when we are going through a hard time. The quality of our relationships, romantic, friendships and family have a significant impact on our happiness, health and physical well-being.

In an 80 year old Harvard study, they discovered the true impact of relationships;

“Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.”

The happiest and healthiest people on the planet have high levels of quality social engagement. Having quality connections and friendship is not just for fun, it is paramount to our overall well-being.

According to Blue Zones;

“Dr. John Cacioppo from the University of Chicago and Dr. Steve Cole from UCLA, both prominent social psychologists, have researched the effects of loneliness on health. Their work shows that people who are socially isolated have less protection against contracting and fighting off infections. They also have higher rates of cancer, heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes than people with more social connections.”

Outside of spending time with our loved ones, we spend on average one third of our lives in the work place. We may or may not enjoy our work, but we can always improve the quality of connections and our communication in the workplace.

Why is communication important in the workplace?

If we pause and reflect on what work really is. We all have tasks to do, some are more complex than others and some have higher value outputs than others. In essence it is often the people in our jobs that often make the day positive or negative. It is often the people’s quality of communication that predicts the quality of the work output and it’s sustainability. It is so important to create a healthy environment at work and a safe space for people to communicate effectively. If the workplace has a healthy office environment, rewards for work not just output, encouragement of communication between staff, and positive feedback from our piers, then the foundations are in place for effective communication in the work place.

 

Barriers of communication

Why do some people find it so difficult to communicate effectively? What are the barriers of communication?

  • Self-acceptance: We all have insecurities, doubts and challenges throughout life. When we feel this way we can act impulsively, overcompensate and not act with mindfulness. When we practice self-compassion and self-acceptance, we can be happy with who we are and communicate from a foundation of calm sincerity and authenticity. Understand your self-image and identity.
  • Cultural differences: When we meet other people from different cultural backgrounds it is important that we enter conversations with curiosity, enthusiasm and leave our ego at the door. Grow as a person and learn about world culture and be open minded to ideas and new ways of thinking. When we enter a conversation with a closed mindset, neither individual will gain that much and it will often cause a conflict in dialogue.
  • Lack of transparency: When people are more transparent in their conversation and work on building trust, others will often naturally follow suit and open up more to you. It is important to gage the conversation dynamic and share what you feel is right for you; but if we are too guarded and we hold back our personality too much then this can result in a lack of trust on both parties.
  • Wanting: It is much healthier to go into a conversation with kindness and compassion instead of secretly wanting something from the other person. People may detect that you are after something and this in itself can cause mistrust. If you focus on compassion and openness, people often respond in a friendly manner and there is no elephant in the room.

What does effective communication mean?

“Language is underpinned by systems of symbols and rules that have evolved to facilitate communication (Eysenck & Keane, 2015). While we are predisposed to acquire and use languages, they have to be learned, and like many other cognitive functions, their use improves with training and practice.”Jeremey Sutton, Ph.D.

Effective communication is an admixture of empathy, trust, connection and growth. In contrast ineffective communication would mean an incongruency in dialogue and physical mirroring, and also a lack of trust and hence a lack of connection and mutual growth.

The keys to communicating effectively

How can we become better at effective communication?

  • Emotional Awareness: Quite often our actions are on auto-pilot and our emotions often control us. Emotional intelligence helps us to understand our emotions, have a healthier relationship with such emotions and to regulate our emotions more healthily. Not only does this mean we will become calmer and happier in general but it means that we can communicate with others more because we are more mindful of what is happening within and externally. We can also then begin to notice subtle language from other people; facial expressions, micro expressions, body language and so on which helps us to communicate with that person beyond their words alone. Our emotional intelligence course is a great start to help you understand your emotions more deeply.
  • Iceberg Connection: When we have a conversation with someone we can organically learn to become aware of deeper layers of connection and meaning behind that persons words. Just like an iceberg we often only see the part above the water but not the many layers below. People often talk in facts and these things are very important but we often get to know the other person better when we find out what makes them ‘tick.’ For example if someone says that they are doing an Iron man competition you can of course enquire the location of the event and so on; but you could ask, ‘what drives you/how do you find the energy to commit to such training each day?’ If someone says that they are a dancer you can of course ask them about the facts too, but you may recognise that they are physically creative, they feel ‘free’ when dancing and you begin to understand that they are particularly expressive with emotions using their body.
  • Curiosity: Learn to become more naturally curious about life, people and nature. When sitting in the garden observe a bee going about it’s day, watch trees and animals when on a nature walk, observe the hustle and bustle of people in a township or city centre. When speaking to someone be curious to find out what makes them ‘tick,’ their passions, their beliefs, and in particular look for good and kind merits about that person. Someone might be a bit brash and stubborn but beneath that you may find the reasons as to why, discover that this individual has a lot of depth and a strong story behind them.
  • Celebrate Others: When others have some good news, no matter how small, celebrate those wins and embrace them. If someone has lost 2lbs, if someone has a new job, if someone has done something that may seem small but is very important to them, make a gesture to embrace that. We can have deep connections with others around challenging moments in our life and this can form very strong bonds. In the main we spend time with others because they make us feel good and the more we embrace others qualities, strengths and achievements; we will continually grow together and want to be around those people very often. The small gestures based on positivity make the world of difference.

Conclusion

Connecting with others is not simply just a formality; positive relationships are quite likely the biggest indicator of our happiness and well-being. Positive relationships have a big impact on our physical health and stress levels. We now know more on how to improve communication skills what are the barriers of communication? Practice empathy and curiosity in day to day life. Embrace the small wins and victories with friends, family and those in the work place. Explore more in emotional intelligence to understand yourself better and to understand others as well.

Wishing you health and well-being.

References

Friends Nourish the Body and Soul – Blue Zones

https://drexel.edu/goodwin/professional-studies-blog/overview/2018/July/6-barriers-to-effective-communication/

Over nearly 80 years, Harvard study has been showing how to live a healthy and happy life – Harvard Gazette

Positive Psychology and Relationships: What the Research Says About Happiness & Healthy Relationships — Blue Sky Mind (ablueskymind.com)

Positive Leadership: 30 Must-Have Traits and Skills (positivepsychology.com)

20 Effective Communication Techniques To Start Using Today (positivepsychology.com)

Image references

Featured image – Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

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