One of the key steps towards successful communication is turning the so-called implicit knowledge into explicit knowledge. Or, in simple words, to find lost information and bring it back to the table.
For the sake of example, let’s take a person X and a person Y. X’s parents often came home tired and asked for some change of scenery. “I’ve had a rough day and now I want to take my mind off work. How about we go out for a movie and a dinner afterwards?” Soon the phrase “I’ve had a rough day” automatically began to mean “Let’s go out and do something to ‘reboot’”. However, Y’s parents came home after work and wanted some solitary time for quiet relaxation. “I’ve had a rough day. I’ll just go and lie down for an hour, please do not disturb me”. So in Y’s family the phrase “I’ve had a rough day” acquired a different meaning, “Do not disturb”.
Now, let’s say that at some point X and Y met, started going out, fell in love and moved in together. Soon Y comes home after a stressful day at the office and says, “Gosh, I’ve had such a rough day!” And X puts on their coat and shoes, and says, “Let’s drive to the movies!”. You can imagine what happens next: Y is confused and hurt, they wonder what happened to their partner and why is X so insensitive. X is confused and hurt: after all, they were trying their best to support Y! What happened to Y, what’s up with this crazy reaction? If asked, X would probably say, “My partner came home and asked for something fun to do together, so I was happy to oblige”, and Y would explain, “I came come and asked for some quiet time alone”. Whereas all that was really said was, “I’ve had a rough day”. Which means… well, that the day was rough. Period. Everything else is hidden knowledge: a communicative reflex that leads to misunderstanding. Both partners used a typical phrase without clarifying the message first. Neither of them thought that another person might have a different association that goes with the phrase. Why would they? Their linguistic image of the word suggests that a rough day always means a specific thing and requires specific actions.
Our lives are filled with hidden knowledge – something that we think to be standard and self-explanatory. Only it stops being self-explanatory when we meet a person with a different luggage of hidden knowledge. And that’s when communication fails. What to do when it happens? Listen carefully. Notice what is really said and what is not said. Ask questions. Bring hidden knowledge to the surface and negotiate.
When it comes to the art of communication, the most common question usually looks like this: So, what and how must I say to win people’s hearts and minds? At the same time, there is the following bit of information to consider. When approached by someone with a new proposal, people the situation according to three main criteria:
– Is it safe?
– Is it interesting?
– Is it profitable?
Notice how logical arguments come in third and how safety belts interest. Usually, it takes us only a few seconds to estimate potential danger. Overly enthusiastic behaviour may be unconsciously interpreted as aggression.
When it comes to communication, safety should be number one priority. It is a mandatory condition for building up trust. And what is the better way to show that you are offering a safe communication field than listening to another person.
Now, listening is often regarded as something passive. The truth is that it is an action – and a challenging one! There is all the difference in the world between listening and waiting for your turn to talk. So one of the crucial techniques for a good communicator is active listening, also known as empathic listening. An active listener is fully present, concentrated and responsive. Instead of explaining, persuading, reasoning, encouraging and proving, a sensitive listener tries to get inside the other person and see the situation from their point of view. This manner of listening translates an important message: you are valid and what you say is valid, I want to see it the way you see it. When people are listened to sensitively, they tend to open up more. They also tend to be more attentive to what they say and to make clear what they are thinking.
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