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Practical ways to improve communication

Whilst learning to be an effective communicator requires a depth of internal change coupled with skills training, there are some things that can be done to immediately improve communication - in the boardroom or the bedroom - and everywhere in-between. When used, these techniques will have a positive impact on all your relationships and go some way to you achieving the results you want in your work and personal life.

1. Keep Expectations in Check Expectations serve to focus our conversations to achieve satisfactory outcomes. When working with others to achieve a goal, they are essential. However, internal expectations of others regarding how they should, ought and must act because they are part of a particular social grouping, interfere with our communication, particularly if we don't even realise they exist. Assumptions about different social groups, nationalities, Corporate Warriors in certain blue-chip companies or generational groupings must constantly be challenged to preserve the uniqueness of individuals. A good rule of thumb is to question your expectations about any group to which a person might belong and remain open-minded to how the individual you are taking to might different from that stereotype.

2. Question everything - yourself included Calm communicators have a default button that ensures they question everything on a regular basis - themselves included. They ask questions of other people to ensure that what they think they have heard is what is intended. They question their reactions and opinions on things to minimise blindspots or prejudices that filter. When they have strong reactions to what other people say, they examine themselves closely, aware that buttons may have been pushed for them. They don't assume that their strong reactions to things are always because of strong values on a topic; new information may remind them of something or someone to whom they have a strong reaction to in the past. They become aware of their unconscious counter intentions that become apparent through interactions in everyday life and they work to remove them from their lives where they no longer serve them.

3. Share differences and set up regular times to communicate and question In both relationships and teams, a context can be set within which differences can regularly be discussed. If done in an exploratory way, it becomes an opportunity to share different perspectives and clarify misunderstandings. If we only wait until differences somehow interfere with achieving an outcome, then the conversation becomes a difficult one where the stakes are high, opinions differ and emotions are raised. Making time to discuss differences when each are not pressed to get an outcome right away, allows trust to develop in a relationship. Then when crucial conversations occur in the future, there is credit in the bank, allowing differences to be explored without conflict. When recruiting employees, attention is focused on what can or might be able to do. Great lengths are taken to correlate existing abilities and aptitudes against measures of future performance. Personality and team role types are also used to evaluate the likelihood of a person meeting the job requirements and working well within the team. However, cultural and social norms often only become apparent 'on the job'. If a team culture is developed which encourage discussion of the meanings behind expressed and implicit values and norms, then opportunity exist for innovation and creative ways of solving problems. The same is true when recruiting a partner - becoming a calm communicator allows differences to be examined without threat, ridicule or antagonism.

4. Create new shared meanings - Anyone who has ever been in love experiences a culture of two, each person tuned to each other's dog whistle that only the other person can hear. Alas, if the relationship ends in tears, those shared meanings somehow don't seem to coincide. However, what was created in the union was an experience of perceived 'we-ness'. The likelihood of the relationship continuing and being sustained over time, has a lot to do with the ability of the partners to tolerate differences that previously were not apparent in the honeymoon stage. They still might find their hearts moved by a shared song or mutually enjoyed movie, but for a healthy relationship to develop, each must realise their different identities. Likewise in organisations, the cohesiveness of a team depends on the extent to which the members uphold norms that are important to them as a group. Generational differences make team working challenging when people from different generations are trying to agree on how best to work together. These different expectations of work and life impact enormously on modern day organisational behaviour and together with high turnover and the reality of change and multiple careers over a lifetime, impact on the community which we call work. However, for all teams to work effectively there must develop a sense of 'we' which requires a leadership style that encouraged shared meanings that produce productive results and individual and collective satisfaction.

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