How to Connect: Your Communication Kit

“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” suggests John Gray. It's a great book, but there's more to our differences than gender. We need to learn to communicate better across the board, avoiding confusion and offence. We have to understand more about what really makes people different from each other. It's possible to find a way to get through to anyone: partners, colleagues, friends, rivals, even teenagers. We just need to understand more about what goes on in their minds.

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For years, psychologists have struggled to tease out what makes people tick. Advances in neuroscience take us ever closer to understanding how our brains work. Maybe we’ve heard a little about mirror neurons and empathy, or we've heard which parts of our brains light up when we’re happy, but we’re still so different from each other that our behaviour quirks and oddities never cease to astonish us. 

My husband loves a James Bond car chase while I’d rather watch Downton Abbey, yet we think alike in many other ways. We’re both members of the “table manners” police and we laugh at the Big Bang Theory. What makes us disagree on some things but agree on others? Is it our genes or the way we were brought up? Would our brains look the same or different?

If we want to engage with someone when we talk or write, we need to understand a bit about them. Then we can choose the best way to get our message across. Talking about a character’s emotions won’t keep my husband’s attention but explaining a scientific study on neurons has him riveted.

The message
Communicating depends on far more than just telling people things. It’s one of our most complex activities. We use complicated verbal and non-verbal patterns, choose the best channel (email, telephone, face-to-face?)  and hope our carefully constructed message is received in the spirit in which we sent it.

Have you ever sent an email that offended? You didn’t mean it to, did you? It seemed OK when you read it. Why didn’t the reader understand that you were joking?

Then, there’s arguing. How can you disagree with someone without fighting? What’s the best way to get your point across without raising the temperature in the room?

To communicate well we have to find a way to talk or write so that it really means something to the other person.

Understanding the world
It’s difficult because we’re all different. Things that are meaningful to me may seem boring or silly to you. Have you ever been given a present that you hate when you know the giver has tried hard to get it right? Maybe your husband gave you an expensive necklace when you longed for an iPad, for example. How can you tell him what you want without pointing to the gift and spoiling all the surprise?

The more we understand about the way other people see the world, the easier it will be to communicate effectively. We might even find our dream gift in this year’s Christmas stocking.

Over the next few posts, I’ll deal with some of the things you might take into account when you communicate.

A starter for ten
Here’s a tiny quiz to start the ball rolling.

John often says, “I hear what you’re saying,” or “that rings a bell.” He likes the TV turned down low. Jane says, “I see what you mean,” and “watch what you’re doing.”  She likes her bedroom to be pitch black at night.

One of them is a musician. Which one?

How could you change the language you use with the musician so that you’re more attuned to each other?

I write this Communication Blog

My photo

Frances Evesham: on the run around Europe for years, with only a husband, three children and a succession of opinionated cats to keep me out of trouble. Somerset stopped me in my tracks. Now I walk in the country and breathe sea air. I will get around to cleaning the house soon.

I've been a speech therapist, a professional communication fiend and a road sweeper. I sometimes work in the criminal courts to uphold fair questioning of people with special needs.

I smell the roses, lavender and rosemary as I cook with a glass of wine in one hand and a bunch of chillies in the other. Writing historical romances and books on communication leaves enough time to enjoy bad jokes and puns and wish I’d kept on with the piano lessons.