By Trena Winans, Senior Services Education & Community Outreach Director
It is a humbling thing, when one prides oneself on strong communication skills, to find out how much there is yet to learn. Such was the case when I had the opportunity to take a communication skills training in May of 2017 called “Our Community Listens.”
There I sat for three days amongst fellow participants from all walks of life and a variety of professions, learning about how we each communicate most comfortably and how we can improve our approach. All of us came a little hesitant, a bit skeptical, or somewhat concerned about what we would have to do. My deepest hope was that I would discover what I might be doing in my conversations that sometimes drove a wedge rather than forged a link. I can’t speak for the room, but I can say for myself, the class was a life-changer. I expected to strengthen my skills at work but walked away with lessons for my whole life.
So what does a lifelong educator, who largely talks and writes for a living get out of a communication skills class? One of the first things I realized was how often my guy has to repeat something to get my attention. My constant distraction and focus on the next task can make me miss what is right in front of, and most important to me. Homework for the course caused me to sit down and listen, really listen, to something on his mind that had previously seemed trivial to me. In setting aside my judgments and preconceptions, I was able to finally understand why the purchase of a camper was truly important to him. (Spoiler: we now own a camper!) Through the class, I could see where I had been avoiding confrontation at work and at home, and gained the resolve to address it. At work, this meant being brave enough to approach my supervisor about a concern that turned out to be a misperception on my part. I can’t tell you how relieved I felt and how thankful I was for having gained better tools to address my concerns.
There’s no way I could do justice to all of the lessons of a three-day interactive training, but here are some of my key takeaways:
Know Thyself Understanding your own style of communication allows you to also recognize your preferences and weaknesses. Once you understand yourself better, you can begin to gain tools that allow you to adjust, or flex, that style to meet the needs of others.
I AM the Message The words that come out of your mouth are but a fragment of the message sent to others. It is far more important to attend to tone, expressions and body language.
Tighten the Net In order to catch the message others are sending you, one needs to widen the net to catch as much of the message they send as possible, and tighten the weave, so that far less of their meaning escapes. In other words, attend fully, quiet the internal chatter, listen, and reflect back to the speaker their feelings with empathy.
Take the Bended Knee When a concern needs to be addressed with another, avoid coming at them with a bat and knocking them upside the head with it. Approach with bended knee to help them understand your feelings and the impact their specific behavior is having on you. Then pause to truly listen. Rinse, wash, repeat, as often as needed.
Give Compliments That Count Rather than throw away compliments about outfits, or simple thank yous, take the time to craft meaningful expressions of gratitude. This means recognizing the specific thing a person does that has a positive impact on yourself and others, and how great it makes you feel.
Did I get all these lessons down pat, and now remember them at all times? Not by a long shot! It is a journey. A long, slow slog that sometimes goes backwards before inching back forward, but for me, a worthy challenge to embrace.
If you would like to learn more or apply for a class, you can visit ourcommunitylistens.org and click on “Apply for a Class.” You may also send questions to Leanne VanBeek at Leanne.VanBeek@ourcommunitylistens.org.