Clear communication is not cliche. Don’t believe me? Go into any business, talk to any couple, or interview any dream tender, and you’ll soon learn that most challenges or problems stem from communication issues. You’ll also discover that when communication flows well, it’s easier to make your dreams come true and to maintain them when you do.
For many years, I’ve worked hard to develop myself as an excellent communicator. I’ve read books, listened to podcasts, watched interviews, attended conferences, and even went through intensive training to become a Certified Communications Specialist. And I can tell you, not an ounce of time or energy was wasted from investing myself in this endeavor. I’ve learned a lot, and on today’s show, I’m going to share some of my top tips for improving your ability to communicate clearly. But first, I want to share a short story about the power of consequences and rewards, depending on whether someone is willing and able to communicate well.
Before I tell you this story, I want to back up just a bit to dig a little deeper into my last statement. Years ago, I worked as a banker, and we had a saying that I’ve never forgotten, as its truth applies to much more than financial matters. As lenders, we were often told, you need to consider both the willingness and ability of the proposed borrower to repay.
You see, some people are willing, but due to life’s circumstances are unable to repay. It may be no fault of their own, but it also means a banker would be foolish to give them a loan. However, I’ve seen the converse play out an insane number of times: a borrower had the means and ability to repay, but due to immaturity, lack of commitment, or plain old laziness, did not repay their debts in a timely manner. So guess what happened the next time they wanted a loan? Most got angry when they were told “no” because they met the criteria, but what they were missing was the integrity to follow through.
This principle is equally important in communication. Yes, we need training and education in order to become better communicators, but then we must be willing to act on what we learn. No amount of information does us any good unless we do something with it. One man’s example shows us the difference in knowing and doing.
I’ll call him Steve. He’s like a multitude of women and men I meet, who avoid communication mostly out of fear. Steve’s afraid for a myriad of reasons.
He sometimes fears being asked to do things beyond his comfort zone.
Sometimes he’s afraid of embarrassment if he can’t meet expectations.
In some cases, he’s buried years of emotions, and fears communication will cause a dam to break on a buildup of feelings he’s carefully tried to hold back.
And other times, he fears triggers that remind him of a past he wants to forget.
Recently, Steve walked into the middle of a conflict between two other people. Conflict is a trigger for him—reminding him of a parent who often berated him by yelling and calling him names, because he could never meet their expectations. But this particular conflict also triggered something else for Steve.
Because of the context of the conflict, it caused him to see an old side of himself he’s worked very hard to overcome. Though he has made great strides, he still battles a pervasive guilt and regret from mistakes in his past. The situation caused him to fall back into an old pattern, and the consequences did not initially turn out well.
Steve went into avoidance mode. Instead of taking a deep breath and calming facing his emotions, he walked out and left the situation. But he did so without explaining himself, leaving others to have no choice but to make assumptions about his choice. Sadly, as so often happens with lack of clear communication, those assumptions were misinterpreted to mean something different from his motive.
This led to an escalation of emotions directly involving Steve. It could easily have magnified to the point of a complete relationship breakdown. But thankfully, Steve did communicate with someone close to him and the others involved in the situation, and explained what he was truly feeling inside. And he took another very important step.
Steve chose to take responsibility for his part in the communication breakdown, versus getting defensive and stubbornly making excuses to defend why he was right. This was much different from the Steve of his youth—who would have fought like a cornered cat to prove why he was right and everyone else was wrong. He went so far as to say, “I can see how I made things worse by walking out. I shouldn’t have done that. I know I need to explain how that kind of situation makes me feel and what it does to me inside.”
Steve is learning the art of communication, and the power of its impact. His willingness to take responsibility gave everyone in the situation a chance to start fresh.
As a result of Steve’s courage to confess his part in the communication conflict, to humble himself and work to make it better, others are also willing to communicate and cooperate, making healing and resolution possible. This is a lesson that can help any dream tender, no matter what you pursue.
When tending your dreams, it’s crucial that you understand good communication practices—and then exercise them in your daily habits. Whether you are reaching out to a potential customer or client, dealing with a vendor, conversing with colleagues, co-workers, or those you lead, or simply sharing your message with the public in a wider world, clear communication is key to your success.
I’ve created an acronym for the word C.L.E.A.R. that may help.
Communicate early and often. Do not put off what needs to be shared today, unless your emotions will drive your words, then the wiser choice is to let your feelings normalize.
Leave assumptions out of communication. Ask more questions and make fewer statements.
Encourage others to speak and keep your lips zipped when they do. Interruptions are not only rude, but can magnify confusion, chaos, and conflict. Dominating a conversation destroys clear communication.
Repeat what you thought you heard. When we ask clarifying questions, it’s amazing how often we figure out what we’re missing. For example, you can say, “I thought I heard you say _____________, am I right?” Or, “When you said __________________, did you mean?” Or, “Am I off base in thinking this is what you want ___________________?”
From experience, I can assure you, these kinds of questions will improve communication in all areas of your life and lead to greater success: at work, as you chase your dreams, with your spouse, in your relationships with your children, and even if you’re trying to get a loan. Anytime people are involved, there are simple tips and secrets that can take your communication efforts to the next level. Not only will this save you many headaches, but it will help you achieve your dreams much more efficiently and effectively.
- Be willing to step up and take responsibility for clear communication. Be a hero who initiates improvement when understanding breaks down, and influence others by setting a good example of proactive communication.
- Seek to understand before fighting to be understood.
- Remember that in communication your responsibility is two-fold—to ensure you clarify, so you fully understand what the other person is saying, and to speak clearly so the other person understands what you mean.
How have communication challenges or victories hindered or helped you as you tend your dreams?
This episode’s Dream Tending Tips:
- Never assume others know what you’re thinking, or that they should. And don’t make the mistake of assuming you can read someone else’s mind.
- Remember, you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen twice as much as you speak.
- Use clarifying questions to ensure you clearly understood what the person you are communicating with truly means.
- If you feel a twinge of frustration, schedule a time to speak up calmly and assertively with the individual(s) involved, instead of stuffing your feelings until they build into a frenzied emotional explosion.
- When there’s any kind of emotional element, before texting, emailing, or snail mailing anything in writing, let it sit for a minimum of 24 hours before you send.
- Communicate honestly. Do not set yourself up for failure by presenting something you cannot provide. It’s better to say nothing at all than to make a promise you cannot or will not keep. When you communicate, be a promise keeper, not a promise breaker.
- Ask yourself daily, “Who, what, where, when, why, and how do I need to improve my communication skills?” What potential impact might it make if I invest myself in this? What will it cost me if I don’t make the effort?”
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Until next time, remember, your dreams are waiting for you to grab and tend:
Never stop believing.
Dare to dream bigger.
Host Anita Agers Brooks can be found on various social media platforms, and you can discover additional dream tending tips at tendyourdreams.com.