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The Power of Practice: Communication

An dimly lit restaurant with people talking at tables

The Power of Practice creates tools and instructions for getting better at the basics of daily life. Why don't I know how to do this already? is a question I hear often.

Use the power of practice to become a better communicator.

When I first started coaching, seven years ago, I formed a communication group to see what was really getting in the way when it came to feeling heard and seen. I wanted to know why communication felt hard, what made it go well, and how it went sideways. The thing that stood out the most is that people seemed to be on autopilot- often forgetting that a conversation is a dynamic and alive in the moment activity that can create connection or frustration. Most people in the group felt the latter.

Why do we communicate?

We communicate to connect, get our needs met, and share information. That seems pretty simple, so why is it hard? Humans are complex. There are tons of factors that influence who we are and how we show up every day. That's why it's important to have a basic foundation of communication as a support.

What are the basics?

One of the most important parts of communication is being present. Be where you are. What does that mean? That means you are engaged with the person/people you are talking to. The ability to attentively listen rather than formulate your response is a basic skill, and that skill is built on the foundation of presence.

When I'm present I am able to focus on what's happening where I am. I practice bringing my attention back to this moment, this conversation, this situation. That can be hard! Which is why many of us spend our days feeling disconnected, scattered, and unheard. We don't know how to be present.

In your next conversation, see how many times your attention wanders, or you start to think about what you want to say next rather than connecting with what the other person is saying. I think we do this because we don't trust two things: ourselves, and silence.

Have you even noticed how silence is uncomfortable in conversations? How we try to fill it because we feel so awkward in it? That's interesting, because it brings me to the point that avoiding awkwardness might be one of the things that makes communication the hardest.

What is it about feeling awkward that makes us want to avoid it at all costs?

Rushing to fill the empty spaces can prevent us from sculpting communication that feels connective. Sometimes a one or two second pause lends a sense of support and gives us time to absorb what the other person has said.

The second way we diminish our effectiveness in conversation is by thinking of our responses while the other person is talking. You can tell when someone is doing this because you leave the conversation feeling a little empty. It's like you were thirsty and drank a big glass of air! When you drop into crafting your response you are missing a vital piece of communication: listening. Again, with presence and attention we can have supportive conversations that leave all parties feeling heard and seen.

So, what are the basic changes we can make to help our communication skills get better?

Let's just practice these two. One, see if you can be present. Remember, present means aware and available to the moment you are living in. Two, see if you can listen without formulating your reply while the other person is talking. This could result in awkward pauses or longer silences while you consider what the other person has said. Totally ok! There are ways you can support that space if you need to. Reflecting back what you heard, and then letting the person know you want to take a minute to decide what you want to say is a great way to help your conversation partner feel heard and like what they are saying is important to you. The power of practicing these communication skills will help you be a better communicator.

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