Have you ever noticed that some people are on a completely different wavelength to you? Here’s some tips to get ‘in sync’ when communicating in business and life…
Have you ever noticed that some people are on a completely different wavelength? No matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to agree on things. The touchier the subject, the more likely this is to create tension. When it comes to communication of any kind, rapport is a lubricant that makes everything run smoother - without it conversations can just grind to a halt.
Most people are aware of the lubricating effect that comes from being ‘in sync’, but it is usually assumed that people either see eye-to-eye or they don’t, and there is nothing much you can do about it. Numerous studies have overturned this belief by proving that the elements of rapport can be enhanced in any situation by applying certain techniques. According to communication specialist, Rachel Tobin of Spectrum Education in Wellington, “People who are good communicators seem to instinctively read others and match them in ways that make them feel understood.”
This is all very easy with friends and colleagues who you naturally feel comfortable with, but how can you tune in with someone you don’t know or even like? According to Rachel, the first rule of rapport in any conversation is to be aware of all available signals. “Studies in communication show that only about seven percent of someone’s message is conveyed by the words they speak. The remainder of their meaning is communicated through body language, tone of voice, pace of breathing and other signs that are picked up on a subconscious level. By mirroring some of these subtle characteristics, you can make the other person feel that you arc paying attention to them. This is what a feeling of rapport is all about and it forms the basis of all good communication.”
Mirroring is a recognised technique used by therapists to put people at ease and gain trust. “This is the process of offering back to another person portions of their own non-verbal behaviour - just as a mirror does.” By observing someone’s body position as they speak, for example, you can sit or stand in a similar way.”
Situations of conflict often arise when someone is emotionally upset and they feel that the listener is disregarding their concerns. While non-verbal mirroring can help, it is also important for the listener to demonstrate verbally that they are paying attention. A highly effective technique to use in these situations is known as `reflective listening’, whereby the receiver openly acknowledges the concerns being expressed. “Reflective listening does not mean you have to agree with what the speaker is saying, it means accepting that the person is upset for whatever reason, and that they have a right to those feelings. There is nothing worse than pouring out your problems to someone only to have them reply that you are worrying about nothing. This can be very insulting and damaging to the relationship.”
When dealing with someone who has a problem, it is necessary to suspend judgement and listen to their concerns without attempting to fix everything. In most cases, people do not want advice, they just want to unload a burden. Reflective listening involves making a statement that mirrors back the emotional content of the speaker such as, “So you are feeling let down by the treatment you received?” Simple, non-judgemental statements can make the person feel validated and understood. If the observation you make is incorrect, then the speaker has the opportunity to clarify exactly what they mean. This allows a natural process whereby people can feel supported to resolve their grievance. As Rachel says, “Reflective listening requires that you trust the other person to reach their own solution. It requires no agenda on the part of the listener.”
Genuine, honest listening is one of the most powerful rapport building tools available, but it can be a sadly under-utilised skill in our culture. When people are confronted with someone who is angry or upset, they often wonder Uh oh, what can I say here?” or “How can I help?” Common reactions are to either get defensive, try to fix the problem or shy away from it completely.
Building rapport does not mean that every conversation has to be warm and fuzzy, or every listener submissive. Effective communication allows for every participant to assert their own needs, express their feelings and offer challenges when necessary. All of this can be done much more effectively from a place of trust and mutual respect.
As Rachel Tobin points out, “Building rapport is not about manipulation or pretence, it is about establishing a solid foundation so that understanding can be enhanced and relationships can be deepened. This may feel a bit risky at first, and requires a high level of awareness but it is definitely worth the effort. Wherever people interact, in whatever situation, everyone stands to benefit from improved communication.”
Roadblocks to Effective Listening
Solution giving Advice: “Why don’t you try….?”
Lecturing: “Well the fact is that you should have…”
Commanding: “Stop that right now!”
Warning: “If you carry on like that, you’ll be sorry.”
Moralising: “You are old enough to be more considerate.”
Judgements/Blaming: “Serves you right.” or “It’s your own fault”
Name calling: “You’re being silly.”
Analysing: “Deep down what you really mean is…”
Denying/Praising: “You don’t need to worry. You’ll do fine as always.”
Reassuring: “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”
Distracting: “Let’s not think about all that right now.”
Interrogating/Asking a lot of questions: “Why did you do that?” or “Did you tell her?”
From material by Dr Thomas Gordon - founder of “‘Effectiveness Training-.
Good Listeners are:
- Attentive: Face towards the speaker and do not engage in other distractions. Nod occasionally and indicate understanding. Available for eye contact. Refrain from making judgement or offering unsolicited advice.
- Reflective: Offer minimal encouragers based on simple observations. Use open gestures (Don’t cross your arms, it implies defensiveness.) Position yourself at roughly the same height as the speaker (ie sitting or standing). Mirror body language without mimicking.
- Appreciative: Always focus on something you like or appreciate about the other person, no matter how small it might be!
By Margaret Richardson. Originally published in Her Business magazine. Copyright ©2008-2009 flokka.com and ©2008-2009 herbusiness.com. Article material on flokka.com is copyright. Reproduction in whole or in part without advance written permission is prohibited.