I stumbled across a great article by Julian Treasure today, discussing the habits we have that keep us from being great communicators. The list was powerful, but as I was reading, I couldn’t help but think that these ideas applied in every setting of our lives—not just the traditional workplace or classroom.
I started thinking about the everyday conversations we have—the words we share with the people we love, the quick running-out-the-door moments with a boss or coworker, the phone calls we have with long distance relatives or friends, the emails we send back and forth, the interactions at the grocery store or coffee shop. The list goes on, but the principle is the same: How often do we really think about the way we talk with, and to one another? How often are we speaking with patience, kindness and love?
Here are 5 unconscious habits (or inner desires) that are actually ruining the way you talk to the people in your life—a spouse, a friend, a partner, a family member, a boss, a coworker, a stranger, etc.—and how you can start to make changes in a positive direction.
1. Your need to have the last word.
Having the last word means you’re always trying to get your point across. You want to be the one who finishes the conversation, who shares the ending point, who is ultimately in control.
I’m so guilty of this. When I argue with people (even, and especially people I love) I want to have the last point, the BOOM at the end of the conversation, the final thought. But sometimes I’m so busy trying to have this last word, I step on other people or interrupt their thoughts and perspectives just to get to mine. It’s a very selfish habit and it makes the people I talk to feel undervalued.
Here’s what you can do: Instead of focusing so much on the end of the conversation, see how you can be an active role during. What points can you bring? What thoughts do you have? Not only work on being active while speaking, also listen. Give the people around you the chance to speak without interruption.
Take a second, or a short pause before you begin speaking to make sure that others are finished. Slow down. Instead of rushing into your points, allow others a chance to catch up, or even bring up perspectives and ideas you might not have thought of. (Or even heard because you’re always trying to open your mouth.)
2. Your need to be right.
Sometimes you can’t help it. You want to show that you’re smart, that you know what you’re talking about, that you have things figured out. But the problem with this unconscious habit…is that more often than not, you’re too afraid to admit there are some things you don’t know.
This habit brings about overconfidence, and frankly, some bigotry. When you’re trying to prove you’re right all the time, you can come off snooty, bossy, or downright rude. And the thing is, you don’t really need to impress anyone—your knowledge/actions/perspectives/thoughts will speak for themselves.
I think we can all fall into this habit at times. We want to puff our chests, seem like the best, or gain someone’s approval. But when we have such a strong desire to be right, we often insult or bruise the egos of the people we’re talking to.
Here’s what you can do: Shut up. Seriously. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. Do you have to talk about every single thing you know? No. Do you need to make it a point to tell someone they’re wrong (even if they are)? No. Do you want to come off as a know-it-all? No.
So quiet. Give others room to share their perspectives before putting yours out there. If someone is dead wrong, be gentle in correcting them—but not for your own benefit. Help others learn or see a different perspective, rather than declaring your own importance in a conversation. And remember, this isn’t a one-person conversation, a one-man/woman show. Let others talk, too.
3. Your need to look smart/bada$$/good.
This goes hand-in-hand with the need to be right, but it’s more about your overall presence than what you say or prove. When you have a strong desire to ‘look good’ in front of the people you’re talking to, you’re basically treating them as if they’re irrelevant. You’re not listening to what they’re saying; instead, you’re already writing your next ‘speech’ or thought in your head. You’re arguing back instead of letting others speak. You’re acting as if nothing impresses you. And yuck. That’s just yuck.
Here’s what you can do: Quit arguing (unless you’ve having a debate, of course…and if you are, make sure to be polite and not just rude). When you’re having a normal conversation, there’s no need to bicker or to continually shut down someone else with your perspective. The convo isn’t all about you, what you know, or what you think. Don’t shoot down a thought that differs from your own, and stop writing your next idea in your head without even listening to the person who’s speaking.
Conversations are about getting to know others, not about looking like a bada$$. That’s for when you’re alone with the mirror. 😝
4. Your need to suck up or people-please.
You want to get on a person’s good side. You want someone’s support, attention, or praise. You just want to be the favorite. Whatever your excuse or reasoning is, being a people-pleaser is less-than-ideal. And it’s almost always obvious.
I think we can all be guilty of this at times; I know I am. I get into conversations and I don’t really want to share my thoughts because they might step on someone else’s. I don’t want to be the one person who disagrees, so I shut my mouth. I get nervous that saying something will make a person dislike me, and God forbid someone dislikes me.
But the problem with people-pleasing is that it’s fake. It comes off as insecure, insincere, and sometimes even downright pathetic, which is never a good look.
Here’s what you can do: Don’t worry so much about what other people think. Seriously. A conversation isn’t about making someone else happy, and it sure as hell isn’t about kissing someone’s butt. Who cares if someone doesn’t like you? At least you’re being honest. (Within reason, of course…I mean, don’t be a jerk just to be a jerk). But if you speak your truth and are kind about it, then someone having a problem with you is their problem.
Be truthful. Be kind. And don’t change your feelings or perspectives just to match someone else’s.
5. Your need to be a fixer.
Maybe you’re the type of person who likes to ‘fix’ people. When they share a problem or concern with you, you’re all over it—trying to find solutions or remedies or ways to make things better (even when it might be completely out of your expertise or control, or might not even be your problem). This doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but when you’re always trying to solve other people’s problems, or trying to find a solution before the other person is even done speaking, you might make them either feel a) incapable, or b) emotionally frustrated.
Sometimes people just want to vent—they’re not looking for a solution, they’re looking for a listening ear. And sometimes, by trying to ‘fix’ their problem, or even them as people, you’re taking away their ability to do so on their own. You’re making them feel less empowered and less strong.
Here’s what you can do: Let them finish speaking. When they’re explaining, venting, crying, or expressing what’s on their mind, let them do so without interruption. Then see what it is they’re looking for. Maybe it’s just a shoulder, or a friend. Maybe it’s some advice or consoling. Maybe it’s a change or a step in the right direction. Or maybe it is for you to do something to help. But make sure you’re not doing everything for them, or feeling like you have to be everything to everyone. (Because you don’t, by the way.) Though being a fixer can be a beautiful thing, you don’t want to take on weight that’s not your own to carry.
So take a second and reevaluate yourself this morning. Are you bringing positivity to your relationships and conversations? Are you being selfish in the way you talk to people? Do you need to take a step back and make some changes?