Relationships are one of the most important facets of a person’s life. If we manage our relationships well and nurture them with trust, compassion, and understanding, we become happier, more successful, more fulfilled people. Many studies have shown that the leading factor in determining a person’s sense of well-being in life is the quality of their relationships. If we learn to be mindful of our communication and develop skills to better express ourselves and act with empathy towards others, the relationships we have with our families, friends, co-workers, and partners will become positive and healthy. Healthy relationship and communication skills facilitate more success at work, helps resolve conflicts, and will help us develop spiritually through deeper connections with others.
Well-intentioned people can unwittingly create a negative atmosphere and develop poor relationships with others when they lack proper knowledge and understanding of how to communicate effectively. A person that has good communication skills is a great asset to any company or in any setting as they will create a positive and productive environment. They will be able to put others at ease and even help others heal (there will be more explanation on how communication facilitates healing later) .
Below are several concepts, strategies, and resources to use to help develop better communication skills:
“Every act of communication is a miracle of translation.”
~ Ken Liu, Author
We communicate who we are to others verbally and nonverbally through our expressions, physiology, the tone of our voice, and our thoughts. In everything we do, we are exhibiting our inner world and communicating it to others. A trained person can decipher and know your deepest internal motives just by watching how you interact with others and the world around you. By being aware of ourselves, we can better understand how we are being perceived by others. Are we portraying insecurity and doubt we have about ourselves, or are we displaying contentment and confidence?
Confidence develops from knowing how to do something well or being content. Your confidence around others will show in your physiology. When people are more confident, they stand up straighter, their bodies are more open to others which invites others to approach them. We can create a more confident appearance by making sure our backs and arms aren’t hunching forward and inward. People who are not confident instinctively try to protect their chest and heart (their emotional center) from getting hurt
Our expressions should be relaxed and inviting. We can facilitate our outward physiology by relaxing our minds. If our minds are relaxed, we are in the present moment. When we are in the here and now, as opposed to worrying about the past or future or a million different things that need to be done, or dwelling on our insecurities, we exude confidence in ourselves, we portray a mindset of abundance and contentment. People gravitate towards others that they feel are successful in life. A person that looks relaxed and content in their current state in life will naturally draw positive attention in any situation and help put others at ease.
Listen to Understand
You will meet very few good listeners in your life, when you find one, hold onto them. A majority of people tend to listen to react, rather than listen to understand. When we listen with an intent to get to know the other person deeper, and give them an opportunity to express who they are, they are essentially giving part of themselves to you, offering you their heart. When we listen without judgement or criticism, and just allow others to open themselves to us, we will gain their trust. We will show the other person we care about them, we validate them when we give them an unfettered opportunity to share who they are.
A good way to show others you care about what they have to say is to repeat part of what they have said back to them. If you repeat something someone said a few hours, days, or weeks down the road, or to repeat something you didn’t understand, they will know you are valuing their presence and paying attention to them.
One of the best ways to listen to understand is to ask questions to the other person, either about them, or to ask for advice. We all love to talk about ourselves, our experiences, and what we are excited about. When someone engages us with questions, it feels good. We get to share part of our story.
Listen to Yourself
“If you don’t communicate well with yourself, you cannot communicate well with another person.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Communicating
In our lives, we often go from distraction to distraction. Taking time to be completely present with ourselves had a wondrous effect in grounding us and reasserting who we are to ourselves. When we know ourselves and feel more comfortable in our own skin, we better represent our true selves and are more authentic. If our internal world is calm, our external bodies will manifest that calmness. If our bodies and what we are portraying externally align perfectly with who we are internally, we will be acting in a congruent way with ourselves and others.
We can be present with ourselves by just embracing silence, relaxing the body, and lovingly focusing on our breath. The important thing is to just observe yourself. Compassion comes from understanding, when we become more aware of ourselves, we will develop more compassion for ourselves. We can apply this mindfulness strategy when drinking tea too. Slow down and just be present with yourself when drinking your morning cup of tea.
If we are in a tough spot emotionally, don’t push the emotions away, but allow them to come and acknowledge them. Emotions rest physically on the body, allow them to process and sit with them for a while, analyze them, and learn from them. When we are calm, we can take a step back from the situation and be calm in ourselves, we can process the emotions anew and allow them to show us how we can improve ourselves.
The masculine/feminine dynamic in our modern world has gone completely askew with the divorce rate now over 65%. Within each energy is a different style of communication and way of looking at the world that many people now are unaware of largely due to how men and women are portrayed in the media. Men do not know how to communicate with or attract women and vice versa.
If we know how the opposite sex and the masculine/feminine operates, we can communicate with them more effectively and create a beautiful polarity. In a strong polarity is where the most attraction develops.
Men think logically. They need step one, two, three, etc.. with things being spelled out directly and explicitly for them to understand. Women think emotionally and often say what they want by using stories, through examples, or relationally using indirect communication. As an example, a woman might say “I used to date a guy that was always anxious.” A translation would be, “don’t be like that guy, don’t be anxious all the time like him.”
Women resolve their problems by talking about them. Men often need to find a quiet space and be alone with their thoughts to overcome their challenges. These are two very different approaches to resolving issues. For men, when women come to them with problems, the men usually try to solve the issues for them. Oftentimes, a woman simply just wants to talk for a length of time about the issue, it is how they process and overcome their challenges. As a man, let the woman talk for a while, ask questions, and just let her talk and be engaged in what she is saying. If you are unsure if she just wants to talk, or is asking for advice ask her, “Do you just want me to listen, or are you asking me to help solve this issue with you?”
Men aren’t designed to get into conflicts with women, they are designed to protect feminine energy and make sure women are happy. If a woman berates or puts down a man, a self-respecting man would never argue or fight back, it is against his nature. Men, when they are being berated by a woman, usually withdraw, become closed off, or become irritable as they find it hard to confront the woman and go against their masculine energy. Both men and women NEED to resolve issues between each other by using good communication skills, by talking through the issues in a calm and compassionate way.
Men grow through challenge and women through praise. For a woman, if she wants a man to do something or change a habit, ect… don’t nag. Nagging a man will make him feel like a failure and will exacerbate the problem. Instead of nagging, offer a challenge. An example would be “Do you think you could make the kitchen look nice so we won’t have to worry about the mess over the weekend?” rather than “don’t be lazy, do the dishes!”
One of the greatest resources I have found on understanding the masculine/feminine dynamic is Corey Wayne’s Understanding relationships. He offers his books free:
Trust and Compassion
“Compassion and love are born from understanding.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Communicating
The more we understand others and get to know them, we see their suffering and anger and ill feelings towards that person dissolve. In any division or rift with another, often the cause is a misunderstanding or unwillingness to reach out to the other. We vilify the other, thus justifying the rift. Thich Nhat Han, in his book, “The Art of Communicating” stated “The first thing is to look deeply and see that not only on your side but also on the other side there’s a lot of fear and suffering. In the beginning we think that we are the only ones who suffer and have a lot of fear. But if we get close enough to the other side and look, we see that they also have a lot of fear—fear of us—and also suffering. When we can see their suffering and fear, we suffer less already. When we’re able to produce a compassionate thought, this thought begins to heal us, heal the other, and heal the world.”
Compassion comes from understanding. When we see others openly without judgement, realizing that they suffer as well, we begin to connect with them. Some of the best relationships in our lives and those we may learn the most from are those that we view as adversaries for one reason or another. Let go of your notions about them and ask questions. You will learn more about their life stories and will want to help, rather than hurt them.
Let Go of Pride
Letting go of pride can be summarized by a story often told in Vietnam. The story goes that a man and a woman were deeply in love. The man went off to war. The woman went into a temple to pray for her husband’s safe return everyday.
The man came home and the couple happily embraced again. Their young son one day told his father (the man that came home from war) that his mom would go off and speak to another man every evening. The father was heartbroken and grew distant. Months went by and his wife grew more and more despondent by his behavior. She eventually committed suicide.
By chance, one day the young boy pointed to a statue of a man in the temple and said, “that’s the man mom talked to everyday when you were away.” The father knelt and cried. He assumed his wife was having an affair. He did not let go of his pride and felt justified in his emotions to remain cold and distant instead of asking for clarity. If he did, that tragedy would have been avoided.
The Modern age
“We believe too much in the technologies of communication. Behind all these instruments we have the mind, the most fundamental instrument for communication. If our minds are blocked, there is no device that will make up for our inability to communicate with ourselves or others.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Communicating
Even in an email, a text message, or any new form of communication, we can ask if what we are sending will be positively understood and be healthy, or will be negative and hurtful towards the other. No matter what, before we respond to others, we have enough time to take a deep breath in and out to draw our awareness back into the present moment and respond with compassion towards the other person.
Also, with the 24/7 ease of access to others, we’d think that feelings of loneliness would dissolve, but there is an epidemic of loneliness, crippling our modern world. If communication is not authentic and does not convey our true selves, it will not help nourish us.
We can only feel nourished by others and be at peace in our own company only when we express our true selves. Many people are too afraid to truly be themselves, but that is exactly where we will find the greatest success and find the most loving relationships, most notably the relationship we have with ourselves.