When you think of someone who is highly skilled at something you imagine that they did thousands and thousands of hours of practice. An Olympic athlete, for example, has trained at an elite level for years and years just to qualify for the games. World champions in any field of endeavour have had to hone their skills over a lifetime to get where they are.
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggest that the magical number for expertise is 10,000 hours of training. Although that figure is widely disputed, there is no denying that lots and lots of practice is required for mastery.
It is suggested on makingnoiseandhearingthings.com, a linguistics and data science website, that, “Every five hours you speak, you produce enough words to fill a book”, and “most people speak around 16,000 words a day.” So, given that, as an adult, you’ve been speaking for all of your life, minus the first eighteen months or so, that should qualify you as an expert. Right?? In fact, someone declared to me not long ago that they were a conflict management expert because they’d been in so many conflicts and disputes.
There is a real difference between doing something and doing something well, hence the necessary addition of the word “perfect” in front of the saying “practice makes perfect”. For most of your life you’ve been building habits of engagement; habits in the way you hear others speak, in the way you perceive their meaning, in the way the words of others engage with your emotional centre and in the way you respond. Some of those habits become reinforced through repetition, some through the achievement of desired outcomes and some through the receipt of reward chemicals, like dopamine. But, good or bad, your communication habits are well practiced after all this time.
Often I get a new student into my karate school that has come from another style and every now and then one of those students brings with them all sorts of bad habits built into their muscle memory from their previous training. Some of them are really hard-wired in there!! That makes it harder for me and my instructor team, because we have to unteach in order to teach ... to empty their cup in order to fill it. Well, it’s the same with communication. Sometimes people’s bad communication habits have to be erased before they can start to communicate effectively. To do this is going to take someone with expertise – someone to point out where those nasty habits are and to help you work through them, installing, essentially, a new software program.
If you wish to take matters into your own hands and you trust that you can become an elite communicator on your own, fantastic!! Here are a couple of steps ...
Be a better listener
NO, not of others, but of yourself. In other words, be more introspective. Catch the thoughts as they arise and listen to the formations as they take place. Take particular notice of any thought based upon values and beliefs and perceptions and perspectives, for they are the real drivers of behaviour, especially those that give rise to changes in your emotional state.
Be a better challenger
Challenge the basis of your values, beliefs, perceptions, thoughts and emotions. Where did they come from? Were they fed to you during your upbringing? Does that make them right? Here’s a couple of tough examples …
You have some sort of religious or political belief. Where did that come from? Did you do your homework – you checked out the foundations of all religions (You read the Bible, the Koran and the Torah as well as Buddhist scriptures and books of Taoism etc.) and worked out which one you liked? You researched the policies of the political parties to determine which causes you support? Or, like most people, you believe in, and vote for, what your parents did?? No? Then you are simply regurgitating the beliefs and values of someone else!
NOTE: Don’t be too easy on yourself during this process. That’s what everyone else would do. The elite don’t take it easy on themselves.
Be a better learner
Read up on recommended communication strategies. Contact experts and ask for a consultation. Hit the internet and watch the videos that teach the complex art of communicating.
Make a commitment to engage in a discourse with others, with the intent to educate yourself. This may mean being exposed to information (i.e. values, beliefs etc.) that contradicts your own. Don’t stress … it won’t kill you. Commit yourself to finding the middle ground; to being more balanced in your approach; to be FAR less reactive in your processes and much more likely to sit with the information and ponder it for a while.
Be more charitable
This includes towards others AND yourself. Avoid falling into the trap of becoming part of the “Callout Culture”, where you take one word of what someone has said and throw it back at them, or you Strawman their position by attacking the speaker. Try to take what they’re saying in a positive light, giving them the benefit of the doubt for being flawed, emotional chimps. Recognise that YOU, too, are a flawed, emotional chimp, struggling to find their way in a big world. Forgive yourself for the occasional transgression … then DO IT BETTER NEXT TIME!
Be a harder worker
Now, go out and practice the new preferred way you have learned. Practice often, the way the elite do. Practice hard the way the elite do. Start low (e.g. on your family or friends) and then work your way up to practice against difficult opponents the way the elite do. And take away the lessons along the way that make you elite.
You’ve communicated all your life, So, why should you even want to do it differently? Simply because life is more enjoyable when you communicate better. People are easier to get along with in general . Conflicts are quicker and simpler to manage and result in enhanced relationships. You gain more love and respect from those close to you for the mature way you go about your relationships. You are more appealing to employers and bosses and have a greater chance of making your way up the workplace food chain. Your confidence grows and you feel more at peace with yourself.
One of the things about good communication is that it’s informative AND expedient, so I’m hoping you will be somewhat charitable with me for being long-winded. I struggle to provide bare-bones information. On this topic I am particularly bad because I have personally witnessed the difference between being a terrible communicator and being pretty good. It took some work, but it was SO worth it!!