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Save Time With Better Communication

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Seriously Useful Communication Skills!

As a health and productivity newsletter, our reason for introducing Psychology Sunday was “mental health is also just health”. The mind and body have a huge impact on each other, and they cannot be disentangled.

Sometimes, however, good psychology is also a matter of productivity as much as health. Today we’re going to look at that a little.

What Are Communication Skills, Really?

Superficially, communication is “conveying an idea to someone else”. But then again…

Superficially, painting is “covering some kind of surface in paint”, and yet, for some reason, the ceiling you painted at home is not regarded as equally “good painting skills” as Michaelangelo’s, with regard to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

All kinds of “Dark Psychology” enthusiasts on YouTube, authors of “Office Machiavelli” handbooks, etc, tell us that good communication skills are really a matter of persuasive speaking (or writing). And let’s not even get started on “pick-up artist” guides. Bleugh.

Not to get too philosophical, but here at 10almonds, we think that having good communication skills means being able to communicate ideas simply and clearly, and in a way that will benefit as many people as possible.

The implications of this for education are obvious, but what of other situations?

Conflict Resolution

Whether at work or at home or amongst friends or out in public, conflict will happen at some point. Even the most well-intentioned and conscientious partners, family, friends, colleagues, will eventually tread on our toes—or we, on theirs. Often because of misunderstandings, so much precious time will be lost needlessly. It’s good for neither schedule nor soul.

So, how to fix those situations?

I’m OK; You’re OK

In the category of “bestselling books that should have been an article at most”, a top-tier candidate is Thomas Harris’s “I’m OK; You’re OK”.

The (very good) premise of this (rather padded) book is that when seeking to resolve a conflict or potential conflict, we should look for a win-win:

  • I’m not OK; you’re not OK ❌
    • For example: “Yes, I screwed up and did this bad thing, but you too do bad things all the time”
  • I’m OK; you’re not OK ❌
    • For example: “It is not I who screwed up; this is actually all your fault”
  • I’m not OK; you’re OK ❌
    • For example: “I screwed up and am utterly beyond redemption; you should immediately divorce/disown/dismiss/defenestrate me”
  • I’m OK; you’re OK ✅
    • For example: “I did do this thing which turned out to be incorrect; in my defence it was because you said xyz, but I can understand why you said that, because…” and generally finding a win-win outcome.

So far, so simple.

“I”-Messages

In a conflict, it’s easy to get caught up in “you did this, you did that”, often rushing to assumptions about intent or meaning. And, the closer we are to the person in question, the more emotionally charged, and the more likely we are to do this as a knee-jerk response.

“How could you treat me this way?!” if we are talking to our spouse in a heated moment, perhaps, or “How can you treat a customer this way?!” if it’s a worker at Home Depot.

But the reality is that almost certainly neither our spouse nor the worker wanted to upset us.

Going on the attack will merely put them on the defensive, and they may even launch their own counterattack. It’s not good for anyone.

Instead, what really happened? Express it starting with the word “I”, rather than immediately putting it on the other person. Often our emotions require a little interrogation before they’ll tell us the truth, but it may be something like:

“I expected x, so when you did/said y instead, I was confused and hurt/frustrated/angry/etc”

Bonus: if your partner also understands this kind of communication situation, so much the better! Dark psychology be damned, everything is best when everyone knows the playbook and everyone is seeking the best outcome for all sides.

The Most Powerful “I”-Message Of All

Statements that start with “I” will, unless you are rules-lawyering in bad faith, tend to be less aggressive and thus prompt less defensiveness. An important tool for the toolbox, is:

“I need…”

Softly spoken, firmly if necessary, but gentle. If you do not express your needs, how can you expect anyone to fulfil them? Be that person a partner or a retail worker or anyone else. Probably they want to end the conflict too, so throw them a life-ring and they will (if they can, and are at least halfway sensible) grab it.

  • “I need an apology”
  • “I need a moment to cool down”
  • “I need a refund”
  • “I need some reassurance about…” (and detail)

Help the other person to help you!

Everything’s best when it’s you (plural) vs the problem, rather than you (plural) vs each other.

Apology Checklist

Does anyone else remember being forced to write an insincere letter of apology as a child, and the literary disaster that probably followed? As adults, we (hopefully) apologize when we and if we mean it, and we want our apology to convey that.

What follows will seem very formal, but honestly, we recommend it in personal life as much as professional. It’s a ten-step apology, and you will forget these steps, so we recommend to copy and paste them into a Notes app or something, because this is of immeasurable value.

It’s good not just for when you want to apologize, but also, for when it’s you who needs an apology and needs to feel it’s sincere. Give your partner (if applicable) a copy of the checklist too!

  1. Statement of apology—say I’m sorry
  2. Name the offense—say what you did wrong
  3. Take responsibility for the offense—understand your part in the problem
  4. Attempting to explain the offense (not to excuse it)—how did it happen and why
  5. Convey the emotions, show remorse
  6. Address the emotions/damage to the other person—show that you understand or even ask them how it affected them
  7. Admitting fault—understand that you got it wrong and like other human beings you make mistakes
  8. Promising to be better—let them realize you’re trying to change
  9. Tell them how you will try to do it different next time and finally
  10. Request acceptance of apology

Note: just because you request acceptance of the apology doesn’t mean they must give it. Maybe they won’t, or maybe they need time first. If they’re playing from this same playbook, they might say “I need some time to process this first” or such.

Want to really superpower your relationship? Read this together with your partner:

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, and, as a bonus:

The Hold Me Tight Workbook: A Couple’s Guide for a Lifetime of Love

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