– If you have aggressive conversations, asking how to improve your communication skills is the right start.
– Improve your communication skills is not easy. According to surveys, most people live under moderate and high levels of stress.
– The principles on how to improve your communication are the same in verbal and written conversations
According to William Ury, conflicts vary a lot in nature and scale, but the principles for their resolution are the same
It’s safe to say that conflicts are unavoidable — and sometimes even desirable, as Margaret Heffernan defends in this video. But in most of our interactions, we want to be able to manage aggressive behaviors that might eventually get us further away from our objectives or well being.
According to an American Psychological Association report from 2010, the majority of Americans are living with a moderate or high level of stress. In this scenario, being able to minimize the number of aggressive conversations — at least the ones in which people are “ready or likely to attack or confront”, as defined by the first meaning of the adjective in the Oxford dictionary — is more than a good relationship hint. It’s also an important skill and habit for keeping our health balanced.
Even if we managed to improve our good communication skills, the safest bet would be that we’d still face aggressiveness when exchanging our emails, picking up our telephone, or simply having our day-to-day talks with our relatives, co-workers, and friends. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use them to minimize the chances of an unnecessary and conflictive communication to be established.
What is your posture when faced with a potentially agressive conversation with someone? Are you doing your part to avoid or minimize its causes and consequences?
First Things First: Are you Part of the Problem?
On the TED Talk we started this post with, William Ury says that the key element to solve a bad relationship is to realize what is our own role when we communicate. In the end, “I” or “we” are really the only domain we can actively work on. “You”, “he”, or “they” might buy us, but influence is all we’ve got when trying to manage behavioral matters.
It all starts with us. Ask yourself, “Are you being unconsciously and unnecessary aggressive with your interlocutor? If so, why?”
These questions take us to a state of mind in which we open ourselves to an exercise of self-analysis and auto-criticism, an important condition when our objective is to be conscious of the emotions we bring up on people while talking to them.
It’s not only what you say. It’s what they understand. Observe manners and let your analysis go beyond the verbal language. Verify the emotions you transmit, your body language, the frequency in which you interrupt people, and if you (really) listen to them when they talk to you.
Do your best for the conversation to remain calm
Put yourself in the very common, but complicated situation of someone who has to answer an email from an unsatisfied client.
His words are harsh, and he shows no sympathy. The logic is lineal: he paid for the product, you have to deliver. That’s probably one of the most common situations customer service agents face everyday, and the reason why it’s such a stressful job.
The worst thing you can do when facing this kind of situation is to ignore what he is saying. Listening should not be a passive action, much less in a situation like this. Do your best to get the message behind all the aggressiveness, and you’ll see the results. No wonder one of the strongest consensus when dealing with negative commentary in your business is that you do your best to convert the bad experience into a good one — a technique that usually brings very positive results.
Improve Your Communication Skills By Adapting to your public
Considering who your target is, is a general and basic principal of the communication science. We all prefer to write or speak in the most natural way for us, and there is no problem doing so as long as we behave accordingly to each type of context (personal, professional, etc.).
Nevertheless, when facing a situation in which you have to do your best to avoid aggressiveness to escalate, being natural might not be an option. Instead, apply some techniques in order to bring calm, transmit credibility, and gain trust.
Especially in those moments in which you meant to say something very different from what was understood, to use a couple of these “crisis” principles might help avoid frustrations and unnecessary conflict:
– Don’t talk fast and know when to pause. This will avoid emotions to build up, creating the right conditions for the chat to stay calm.
– Show empathy and use their words. Feeling understood is comforting for anyone who is emotionally aroused. Under these conditions, avoid criticisms (if they’re necessary, wait for another moment) and check if their anguishes were correctly understood by you. Ask them if you got them right, and don’t be afraid to use the same wording they used.
– Don’t interrupt. Do you know when all that you need is someone to listen to you? That you’re able to say all that you have inside you with no one judging or cutting you in this moment of catharsis? Give that moment to your interlocutor, and they might trust you a little more.
Now it’s your turn
Most of the behaviours are simple to describe or prescribe, but really hard to follow. Try these tips when talking to a friend or writing a relative. Which of these would you change or not use? What other hints would you add?