Engaging in ConversationMay 01, 2023
I will never forget that moment. It really came out of the blue. It was so unexpected and I wasn’t prepared for it. Why? Because the words that were said to me really hit me hard
It was like a nuclear bomb went off and destroyed everything I thought was so great.
At the time, I was not glad. But, all these years later, now I am. Looking back, I can see why those things needed to be said. At that moment, I didn’t recognize the significance of it, but this became a pivotal moment in my one-on-one interpersonal communication skills journey.
As a young leader, I loved to communicate! It did not matter if it was connecting over coffee, standing on the stage, delivering a presentation, or making my family laugh at a party. I just loved communicating. I would search for opportunities to be in rooms with leaders because I couldn’t wait to have those conversations. The only problem with all of my leadership and communication passion was…
I was filled with bad communication habits.
I didn’t realize it at the time. I loved people. I loved talking. I love having conversations. I love-loved telling stories. I loved sharing my opinion. Maybe you sense a theme… I, I, I. I made all those connections about me. I honestly had absolutely no idea I was doing this. I missed so many signs and just kept going. My bad communication habits were so bad, it finally took a trusted mentor to blow up my little world.
You may be wondering what the bad communication habits were? Well, I’ll give you a few of them.
WHAT NOT TO DO
I talked too much. When I met someone brand new, I was filled with such excitement that I would begin to ask them so many questions. And that was the right thing to do. When you have a one-on-one conversation with someone, it is great to try to limit your part of the conversation so you’re not talking the entire time. You ask questions. In a perfect world, people shoot for a 50-50 split in talking. 50% will go to the sender and 50% to the receiver. Actually, I think a 30/70 split is healthier and what we should be trying to achieve. 30% of the time we are talking. We’re answering questions. We’re responding verbally. Then, 70% of the time, we’re listening. We’re engaging without words. We’re hearing.
I interrupted. And if I wasn’t talking too much, I would also interrupt. Again, I wasn’t trying to be rude. But I was so excited to share, and I was so excited to contribute to the conversation, that I would interrupt the person I was communicating with. Are you an interrupter? You may have really good intentions, but at times, unless someone points it out, you may not even realize it. I would be listening, and when I heard them talk about something that I was passionate about or I disagreed with, I would jump into the conversation and interrupt.
I crossed my arms. When I wasn’t talking, my nonverbal’s would communicate that I was not interested in this conversation. In my immaturity, if I got bored or impatient with the conversation, I would lean back and cross my arms. Nothing says “I’m done listening” then someone with their arms crossed and leaned back. Again, this may not seem like that big of a deal, but it communicated that I was not that interested in continuing this conversation.
I didn’t maintain eye contact. I would stare off one way or the other when I was listening or talking. Someone once said, your eyes are the gateway to your soul. That’s so true. It is very important for people to see your eyes. When you are sitting across from someone and you are having an in-depth conversation, it is so terribly important to look at them when you listen and speak. When you listen, make sure you’re not awkwardly staring at them, but make sure your eyes are showing them that they are worth this conversation and you are engaged in what they have to say. When you are talking, it is okay to glance away. Just don’t make it a habit and continue to look off for more than five seconds at a time.
This is the list of bad interpersonal communication habits that was addressed to me that day. I will add one more to the habit list that affects us all, especially in 2023:
We can’t leave our iPhone or watch alone. This one is HUGE. These two items are so amazing, but it is incredibly important to give them a break. When I do, my mind can focus on something or someone else. Ignoring your phone communicates with the person I am talking to that my focus is on them and our conversation. Now, some people keep their phones on in case their spouse needs to get a hold of them and I understand that to a point. But in today’s world with shared calendars, unless it’s an absolute emergency, there really should be no reason for a spouse or a child to interrupt during that time. Not trying to sound harsh, but in a time when attention spans are so short, it is important to be present.
I’m wondering, have you put together your own list of bad communication habits? If you are, I’m glad. I know it’s difficult. But, please keep making your list. If you’re not, have you ever thought about what bad habits may have made their way into your communication?
I’m sorry to be the one to reveal this to you, but I’m fairly certain you have a few. I know, I know. It’s hard to believe. But, it’s true. Luckily for you, it hasn’t taken a mentor to sit you down and lay out all your bad habits over lunch. Or maybe they have. Either way, here is a list that will help you identify the bad habits and get rid of them in your communication:
- Pay attention to how much you talk in a conversation. The next time you sit down with a friend or family member, go into the conversation being mindful of how much you talk. Now, if they’re wanting advice, this may not be the conversation for that. But, just pay close attention and guesstimate a percentage of how much they talk and you talk during the conversation. This is not to beat yourself up, but to make sure you’re giving them adequate time to talk and you to listen. Make sure you’re mindful of the 30/70 goal and do your best to talk around 30% of the time and listen around 70% of the time.
- Pay attention to when you interrupt. This is a big one for most people, we cut people off from talking and most of the time we don’t even realize it. So, if you’re having a hard time figuring out if you’re an interrupter, it’s time to ask. Sit down with a close friend, let them know you need the honest truth, and ask them if you interrupt them often when you’re talking with them. Make sure you don’t interrupt them if you disagree. Once you get the answer, begin to work on this. Pay attention to this in conversations and remind yourself to not interrupt.
- Pay attention to your nonverbals. My bad communication habit was crossing my arms. Which almost always communicates that I’m putting up a defense barrier or I’m checking out. Try to watch your conversations and see if your body language is doing all the talking. Crossing your arms, leaning back, slouching way too much, and looking down are all common bad nonverbal behaviors. As you walk into a conversation, remind yourself to stay focused by sitting comfortably, facing the person you’re talking with, and making sure your body is communicating that you’re listening.
- Pay attention to where you’re looking. This is a tough one. But, again, pay attention to where your eyes are going. Do they look up? Down? To the side? A good skill to remember is when someone is talking, just look them in the eye. Even if they look away, keep looking at them. Don’t stare. Don’t move your head awkwardly. Just maintain good eye contact. When you’re talking, do everything you can to keep focused on the person you’re talking with.
- Don’t pay attention to your phone or watch. Nothing worse than someone constantly looking at their phone or their watch. So, don’t be that person. When you walk in, turn off your ringer. Keep your phone in your pocket or put it on the table facing down. This will communicate that your focus is on the person you’re talking to.
I still love talking with people. Learning their stories. Asking questions. Listening. Responding. And I haven’t mastered the art of one-on-one conversation to say the least, but because I had a very honest, raw and real conversation many years ago, I was able to begin growing and learning.
I hope you are able to identify any of these bad communication habits and then break them. My hope is that it doesn’t take a mentor sitting you down and presenting all your bad habits at once. And that you can use this list to determine what habits you need to break so your one-on-one communication will be healthy and effective.
By Jason Raitz - Founder of Speak with People
Jason is a seasoned communication and leadership coach with more than 25 years of experience leading hundreds of paid and volunteer staff as well as speaking from over 500 stages across the country.