Communication Missteps: “cha, cha, ch’OUCH”​!

Most of us really do try for a “Cha Cha Cha” rhythm of communication with a steady flow of back and forth – I talk, you listen, you talk, I listen. But we ALL slip and stumble from time to time and the dance can end up being more like “Cha Cha Ch’OUCH!” – I talk, I talk, I talk, you don’t listen.

I’ve observed my own communication routines with my family and sometimes I’m on point and glide through routines, while other times I can’t keep up and I get lost in the shuffle.

There are many variables that affect my ability to stay on point and I think they basically boil down to me getting distracted and tuning out. Although I don’t tune out often, I’ll admit that I do, especially when…

I have work related stress on my mind

I’m not interested in the topic

I feel too full or too hungry

I feel too tired or too energetic

I’m especially prone to tune people out during repetitive conversations that I’ve lost patience for.

Here’s a specific example. About a year ago my sweetheart Gord started going through difficulties managing his work/personal life balance. During that time we shared heartfelt conversations and brainstormed options on how he could adjust. I was patient, I listened, and it felt like we were working as a team to tackle the problem.

Several months went by and the problems persisted. I started to feel irritated that we were having the same conversation over and over and I began to tune him out. One day when he brought the matters up again I said,

“Here we go again…” with a wildly sarcastic tone. Ch’OUCH!

My reaction put an abrupt halt to our discussion. We took a moment to reset and recognized that we were mindlessly carrying on an unproductive conversation and neither of us were really listening to the other. After this realization we decided to change our tune for that situation and step into a new dance – which we’re still working on today.

What I experienced with Gord is common for couples and parents. No matter how hard we try to be present and connected to a conversation, at times we get swept away by distractions or emotions and lose our ability to stay engaged.

Learning to listen more intently is a powerful tool that helps us tune in to conversations and more fully comprehend the communication.

When we truly listen, our understanding of a dialogue is more accurate. Psychologists who’ve studied how meaning is conveyed in a conversation conclude that about 40% is vocal/tone/intonation, 50% is body language/facial expression, and 10% is verbal.

A measly 10% or less of what we interpret someone else saying is based on the words they use. The other 90% is a combination of their body language and tone of voice.

Deep listening is also an important skill that helps us understand our self. When we listen deeply to what’s happening in our own mind, body, and mood, we’re better able to take care of our needs, therefore, we have more energy and patience for our relationships.

Here’s a list of a few common listening barriers and examples of listening supports that can help us stay engaged with others.

Listening Barriers

  1. Energy (i.e. low energy or excessive energy)
  2. Escalating emotions (i.e. feeling triggered about the situation)
  3. Environmental distractions (i.e. other people around, the room being too hot/cold, or too noisy)
  4.  Media/Technology (i.e. television, music, radio, cell phones, computers, IPads)
  5. Not interested in the conversation

Listening Supports

  1. Arrive well fed, well rested and get some fresh air.
  2. Engage in a mindfulness practice prior to the meeting.
  3. Position yourself to allow for eye contact and use a pen and paper to make notes as a way to stay focused on the conversation.
  4. Schedule a meeting during a time when you can shut down all media/technology.
  5. Be empathetic, ask curious questions.

Use these examples to get started in creating your own lists and invite your family members to contribute. Post a list on your fridge as a way to keep listening barriers and supports top of mind.

For more communication tips, check out my Map to Limitless Parenting workbook or join me for one of my upcoming courses, see below!

On a final note, when you encounter communication missteps remember it’s perfectly okay. Take some deep breaths, apply your listening supports and tune in to yourself and the other. Then, play around with changing your tune and dance!

Until next time!

Amber McAuley