Rosalie Boulter, Paradigm Shifters Consulting Inc.
…. How many times when you were a child did your parents or your teachers remind you to say “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me”?
It takes a while to program us to use those words until they became a communication habit and then once they are fully engrained, it becomes difficult not to use them. For example, I need to be pretty preoccupied to not say thank you if somebody holds a door open for me, and I’d feel terrible if I became aware I’d missed this. Saying “Thank you” is a response I no longer need to think about.
Just as we didn’t come into this world knowing how and when to say please (come on, who’s first word was a nicety?), we don’t instinctively know all the tips and tricks for highly effective communication – plus this can change somewhat depending on culture. For instance, when I was in France I became attuned to saying “Thank you” when leaving any store, as it is more common there than where I live. It felt odd, at first, changing my pattern… And now I do it everywhere.
Why and How We Create Patterns
Patterns. Habits. Routine. Our brains are pattern finding instruments that help us have effective communication with one another. Once we’ve identified a pattern, we create a shortcut and stick it fully assembled into the part of our brain that deals with that stuff. This happens so we don’t have to think hard each time we need to use the information. This is a great thing, and it can also cause us trouble when we are trying to change a pattern or habit, and that includes our communication use.
Changing our Communication Patterns
Therefore, when we’re trying to change our communication patterns it is not just as simple as somebody telling us once and, yippee!, we have it down pat. It takes effort and intention and awareness to change our automatic responses and words we use. Trying to eliminate a word from our vocabulary challenges us because it is hidden away in the unconscious autopilot place in our brain. Now we have to use our conscious, energy sucking part of the brain. It makes me tired to even think about. Now add to this that as we grow older, we tend to lose Beginner’s Mind. Beginner’s Mind is that place where we know we don’t know and aren’t pressuring ourselves that we should know.
Speaking of words we should stop using – that “should” should be on the top 10 list, but I digress. Oh, there’s another one: “but”. But has a lot to answer for.
A New Strategy
Adults sometimes feel like they need to get it right the first time, and do not enjoy practicing and getting it wrong. This is particularly true when it comes to learning new strategies and habits of effective communication. When I see this happening, I like to encourage people to use the metaphor of a research lab. You have a hypothesis, you concoct and conduct an experiment, and you examine the findings – the results. You then refine your parameters, experiment again, and on and on. All well and good if we are aware of the words coming out of our mouths, which is definitely not always or even often the case. That’s step #2 or maybe even #3.
As I mentioned steps, let’s make some up because we all like clear steps:
The Steps to Learning More Effective Communication Patterns
- Become aware of the problem and the solution. For instance, eliminating the word “but” and replacing it with either a period or an “and”.
- Try. If you are 40 years into using “but” as a communication pattern, it is unlikely you are even going to hear yourself say it.
- The icky and tricky bit: Get help. Have people let you know when you say it. The icky comes in where we don’t like to ask for help and the tricky is that it needs to be flagged in a way that doesn’t come off as punishing, judgy, or superior.
- This leads to being more self-aware, when you catch yourself using the word and make a shift in the moment.
- The more you do it, the more you catch yourself before using the word until finally, it is rare you slip up.
- Yay! A new habit and a pattern that you can now retire to the “let’s make things easy” part of your brain.
- Get to work on the next one. What!? Seriously. Well, take a wee break then.
It takes time to learn new habits of effective communication. Keep trying. Keep experimenting. And, if you are somebody that has been asked to assist somebody else in breaking a communication habit, use a ton of compassion. This is simple AND it is not easy. (See me role modeling the “but/and”?)
When feeling discouraged, maybe go listen to singer Sheryl Crow who says “No one said it would be easy. But no one said it’d be this hard.” … So accurate in so many situations. Sheryl may not have taken the communication course about “but” before she wrote the song.