It is virtually impossible to go through a day without communication. We communicate in person, via phone, texts, emails, online meetings, social media, and more. The messages can include clues such as tone, body language, facial expressions, and our perspective.
There is much potential in communication – the potential for productivity or potential for misunderstanding. We can all think of a time when a conversation activated feelings of anger or frustration. Ineffective communication can drain our energy and can affect performance, relationships, and more. When we feel threatened, our amygdala is stimulated, cortisol and other chemicals are released, and we lose access to our thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex. We shift into a protective mode, making us unable to hear the actual message.
The good news is that we can learn to recognize when this is happening and change the pattern by simply slowing down our breath. As we take a moment to breathe in and out at a slower pace, our brain moves from a fight, flight, or freeze response. We can then choose how we respond. We can share how we feel, we can ask questions for clarification, and we can embody calm. When we are genuine and come to conversations with curiosity and respect, we create a coherence that leads to clarity and effectiveness in our communication.
You might consider preparing yourself by making an intention to be respectful and to listen for the real message before you begin a conversation that may create depleting emotions. Before ending the conversation, confirm mutual understanding between those speaking. How might it help to state what you heard and ask for confirmation or clarification? This extra step often serves to build trust and a foundation for future discussions.
As leaders, it is important to be aware that our words hold greater weight. For some, leaders’ words are commands and not suggestions, so being careful with our word choices can be essential for effective leadership. A leader is aware of and sensitive to the reality that our word choices can demoralize or motivate others. If you sense discord, it is an opportunity to create mutual understanding and get back into alignment with shared goals and missions.
Remember, it is difficult for many to hear our messages if they do not feel listened to, valued, or appreciated. Effective communication requires a level of mutual respect and trust. Trust is critical to effective communication. If we do not trust someone, we are often unable to hear their message.
I have shared with you what can happen when there is discord in communication, now let’s focus on those conversations that inspire us to be the best we can be. Please take a moment and recall a time when someone’s words allowed you to connect to a renewing emotion, such as confidence or appreciation. You may also remember a time when you aligned with someone and felt heard, valued, or respected.
The first memory that came to me was from a conversation with a boss that I served many years ago. I had implemented new systems and created new programs for the organization, but I was unsuccessful in my attempts to be promoted. One day I asked him for a moment of his time and shared with him a prototype flyer I had created with the idea to start a new marketing business. I felt a bit threatened because I didn’t know how he would respond and if he would start looking for my replacement. Instead, he leaned back in his chair, smiled, and said, “I am very proud of you. You are finally starting to see your potential.” I did start that marketing company and have been serving others for over twenty years. During the lean early years, I held on to his words and determined that his belief in me was enough to keep me motivated. That conversation could not have taken place without the safe space that included trust and respect.
During times of chaos and uncertainty, it is even more essential that we begin our conversations with care and compassion. In stressful periods many experience fears. Those that have experienced trauma in their lives may be experiencing re-traumatization. It is not the time to assume we are all thinking alike.
Our emotions change our perceptions. We cannot have effective communication without access to our prefrontal cortex. To have access to our full thinking brain, we need to be in a state of cohesion. When we are in a state of fear, we do not have access to our mirror neuron system. This system is what allows us to have empathy for others. Without empathy, our ability to hear and understand other’s perspectives can significantly diminish.
What can we do to find our calm so that we can listen deeply to others, and not assume we know what another is thinking or feeling so that we can share effective and powerful conversations? What can you say or ask today that will lead to better understanding, compassion, care, and improved connection?
If you’re ready to learn more skills to help you listen and communicate with others, then join our Foundation Course or Coaching for Personal & Professional Mastery program.
 Evidence for mirror systems in emotions by J. A. C. J. Bastiaansen, M. Thioux, and C. Keysers https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2865077/
Stacey Bevill, BCC, ACC, NCC, MPM® is the founder of Ask and Receive Coaching. ARC offers coaching, consulting, custom workshops, and presentations that help companies increase their bottom lines by creating an environment that promotes innovation, cooperation, communication, and quality by motivating and inspiring employees. Stacey received her coaching certification from the internationally acclaimed Newfield Network. She is a board-certified coach (BCC), credentialed by the International Coach Federation (ICF), the International Association of Trauma Professionals (CTP), and is a Conversational Intelligence® Enhanced Practitioner. She is also a Certified HeartMath® Certified Coach and Trainer. Stacey holds many business credentials, including a master’s level certification in Marketing Strategy from Cornell and a master’s level certification in Entrepreneurship from the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Lander University in sociology and a minor in psychology. She and her husband, Bobby, and their five dogs, reside in Spartanburg, SC.
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