Communication Not Conversation

Bees are great communicators.  When bees find a food source they fly back to the hive and do a little dance to tell the rest of the bees where to find the pollen. Once they have communicated this the other bees can go get the pollen for the hive. If they do not communicate this location well, the hive could die.  Thus, we can learn a lot from bees on communication. By communicating effectively we are able to share ideas, thoughts, and directions.  However, there are times when communication breaks down causing confusion and hurt feelings.

We have all had times when we couldn't say what we wanted to convey clearly.  Whether it was spoken or written, we are human and make mistakes.  What's important is to learn from our mistakes and learn to communicate in ways that are clear and concise. 

A major component of communication is listening.  It is by actively listening to another that we can better understand them.  Unfortunately, when we are listening to another person we are only using about 25% of our mental capacity leaving the rest of our brain the option to wander off.  Many times we might find ourselves in the midst of a conversation and we may drift off in our thoughts.  You might find yourself putting together a grocery list, thinking about your schedule, planning just the right thing to say next.  All of this distracts us from being in the present.  So remember that when you are really wanting to communicate with another to actively listen and try not to interrupt them.  Remember those bees? Not only does the one bee need to communicate; the other bees need to listen.

When speaking we also need to be aware of the words we use and our phrasing.  If we start to use a lot of technical words or drone on, people's eyes will glaze over and they will never hear what you are trying to say.  If you've ever fallen asleep during a lecture it's probably because the speaker is not engaging their audience in a way that is understandable.

Breakdowns in communication also arise when we use negative words or phrases.  When we do this, people's defenses immediately go up and they stop listening.  When you start using negative words you create tension, fear, and nervousness in the other person.  Over time this may cause confusion, defensiveness, conflict, and a loss in self-esteem. 

Negative Positive
I'm glad you're talking to me but I didn't need to hear it. I'm so glad that we have had this chance to talk.
No you can't do this/No you're not listening I feel like you could do it better this way.

In the first example, we are going to talk about the 'but' principle.  When you use the infamous 'but', you end up being dismissive of the other person and their feelings.  You claim one thing but since it is not what you really wanted to hear you will invalidate the other person's comments.  This makes it difficult to communicate as you have caused the other person to quickly put up their defenses and they stop listening to anything you have to say.  By using the 'but' you have said that the other person does not matter.  For effective communication, stay away from the 'but'.

The second example is using multiple negative words instead of truly explaining how it could have been done.  This is what is meant by constructive criticism.  When we are negative, the receiver of the message will more than likely shut down and anything you say after this will not be heard.  By changing the way you start the conversation, you are able to open it up to helping the other person. By being aware of our word choices, we can turn a negative into a positive.  Take a moment and think about your word choices.  Will they convey a positive message that is receptive?  Will it be negative and turn people off?

Sometimes we want to start a conversation with someone and we know that it will be a difficult conversation so we are hesitant.  How do we create that bridge when we do not know, or feel, that the other person would be receptive to the conversation?

It's best to try and plan it out, knowing that what will actually happen will be different than what you imagined.  Begin with a clear, concise explanation of what you want to tell them.  Once you are done, you need to listen to their response.  Make sure you don't say things just to fill in the silence.  "It's fine," or "Don't worry about it," are a couple of examples but you know that it's not fine, so try not to just blurt it out.  Be okay with the silence.  This is an opportunity for both parties to digest what is being said.  Lastly, be empathetic.  Try putting yourself in their shoes.  Understanding where someone is coming from is the best way to improve relationships and create better communication.  Keep the conversation positive, relevant, and try not to blame each other.  Even if the conversation doesn't go well, you have probably achieved more than you think so the next time you try it could go better.

I know that this is a lot to take in and you are wondering how you can incorporate all of this into your next conversation.  Know that this is just a guideline as to better communication with others.  A simple way to remember how to effectively communicate is:

Actively listen.

Be aware of your body language.

Ask questions.

Be clear and concise (less is more).

Repeat back and summarize to make sure you understood what was being said.

Show empathy.

When we learn to communicate clearly we can begin to develop trust and rapport in our relationships.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship."  The bees have learned to communicate to build teamwork, comradery, and trust within the hive to survive, let's be like the bees.