I’m a communication major. As is such, I’ve been studying human interaction and the way it works for over 3 years. Here are just a few of my takeaways:
1. The Whole Is The Sum Of The Parts.
Oftentimes, we think it’s the HUGE earth-shattering moments that alter the course of our lives forever. While without a doubt these can make a difference, in actuality, small, tiny actions can add up to a bigger deal than we might think. For example, asking someone how his or her day was is a seemingly inconsequential action – but repeated habitually, has the potential to add support to a relationship that is otherwise lacking or devoid of emotional stability. Same thing goes for fights. Lots of little fights = one big fight later. I’ve learned it’s best to deal with that monster while it’s tiny.
2. Half Of Communicating Is Actually Not Saying Anything At All.
It’s easy to “listen” without actually listening. And even when we do listen, we’re not always fully attentive to the underlying emotions/concerns of the other person. Learning to identify and give deliberate and undivided focus to what is being said is a skill that really anyone can learn. One phrase I’ve found especially helpful for clarifying (and forcing myself to actively listen) is “So what I hear you saying is…” and then proceeding to rephrase what was said in my own words.
3. When In Doubt, Talk It Out.
Avoiding a problem almost always solves nothing—it is only good for postponing the inevitable. Within communication, a marriage/relationships counselor named John Gottman found that “stonewalling”, where a person refuses to communicate/comply with another person (sometimes as a result of being offended over time) is incredibly damaging to relationships. (Hello silent treatment…) When offended, I’ve learned to be willing to talk it out – and listen to the underlying concerns raised by the other person, which solves a multitude of problems down the road.
4. People Will Change Who They Are To Fit The Situations They Find Themselves In.
Howard Giles first brought to light the fact that “people adjust their speech, their vocal patterns, and their gestures to accommodate to others.” While seemingly natural, I’ve come to recognize it as a potential danger if we’re not aware of its implications. In other words, pretending to be someone I’m not to impress someone else works for a while, but its only a matter of time before they see who I really am. This thereby led to my decision to try to become a more consistent person with everyone I interact with and in all situations. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this seems like a better way to live, don’t it?
5. Men And Women Communicate Differently (But It Doesn’t Mean Both Can’t Learn From The Other).
Generally speaking, women have been observed to enjoy building relationships by talking with one other, while men enact closeness by “doing something” (such as playing video games, watching TV, etc.). This can be seen alternatively as “Closeness in Dialogue” versus “Closeness in Doing”, respectively. It’s not that one is a better approach than the other—they just function in clearly unique ways. When two people that are used to communicating in different ways come together in a relationship, it is essential to remember that these can cause tension if not realized. It also means, that as a guy, I should be capable of learning to hold a lovely conversation about the finer nuances of whatever is important to my female friends.
6. Most People Think About You Less Than You’d Think.
One of the wisest things I’ve ever heard was in a book regarding Group Communication, which read, “It is a mistake to judge people as if all, or even any of their behaviors were oriented towards you.” Furthermore, most people think about us about as much as we do them: unless they are in love with you, seldom, if even at all. Most of us play the starring role in our own minds—and why should we think others do any differently or act out of their own bad intentions towards us? “Yet many people confuse the indifference and thoughtlessness of others with deliberate attempts to offend. Or, they look so much to others for praise that they read the slightest signs of positive or negative interest as being important.” Well said.
7. Become A Storyteller. Let Others Do The Same.
It’s almost a given fact that people like to hear the sound of their own voice, and moreover, talk about themselves. I’ve been in job interviews in which I’m asked to tell a story about myself, an experience that changed my life/made me who I am, what skills I bring to the table, etc. To be put in the “storyteller” position should be seen as flattering – and job interviewers and laypeople alike know it is the best way to get to know someone for who they truly are. So one thing I’ve attempted to do lately is that once I’m done talking about myself, flip the interviewer into back into “storyteller” mode—let them tell me about themselves—what their vision for a successful company looks like, what brought them to where they are today. It’s not difficult to do – you can comment on something they said earlier (like their passion for black tea, for instance…) or even ask them to tell you about themselves a little more. This doesn’t just work in job interviews though—it can be applied to virtually any social situation. Who knows how many “great conversations” you can have—or even what you might learn!
8. Life Cannot Be Lived By Textbooks. (At Least, Usually…)
Life is made through experiences: successes and failures, trials and triumphs—they all shape us into who we will or can become. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned studying communication, it’s that textbooks can only go so far. Sure, you can learn that women communicate differently, and thereby try to change your behaviors and actions to suit what they’d prefer for you to do, etc. But people are not textbook cases, and every so often, you’ll meet someone that just doesn’t fit all those “hard and fast” rules you worked so hard to memorize. (That’s where I find myself realizing I need to learn to be fluid rather than static.) The knowledge I’ve acquired only forms the basis on which I can build on everything else. I’d be a fool to think I know everything. So wherever this life takes me, to be a continuous learner from everyone and everything, and accepting that others know better than myself seems only logical. And learning from the world is half the fun and adventure, right?