The Wrong Toothbrush: Your Communication Kit



Yesterday I used my husband’s toothbrush.

It was an accident, honest, guv. You see, we share one toothbrush base and have different coloured rings on our brushes to distinguish each one. Trust me, it’s the kind of thing you do when you’ve been married for 33 years.

I have yellow, he has red. It's a simple system that's worked well up until yesterday.

Yesterday, he changed his brush for a new one. His new brush has a blue ring.

So, why did I take his blue brush instead of my yellow one?




Communication with myself
It was all the fault of communication, but not his communication with me. After all, my toothbrush ring is still yellow. He had not touched it. There was no reason why he should mention he had changed his own brush. 

Unfortunately, the language of the subconscious monologue that runs in my head gave me a mixed message.

In my mind, I distinguished my toothbrush ring not as “YELLOW”, but as “NOT RED.” Instead of using a positive description, I had a negative idea floating in my mind.

I grabbed the toothbrush with a ring that was "NOT RED", and used it. What I missed was that there was now a choice of two "NOT RED" brushes. I had a 50-50 chance of getting it right and I chose the wrong option.

After I finished brushing my teeth I put the brush back on its little holder and realised my mistake. I noticed the ring was blue. That was a head-scratching moment.

“Blue.” I thought, perhaps a little slowly. “We don’t have a blue toothbrush.” Then, light dawned on me.

At least it was my husband’s toothbrush. It would have been much worse if it had belonged to a stranger.

So take care with negatives, even with the words you use to yourself. In fact, avoid negatives altogether if possible. Here's more about the horrid effects of negative language.

Negatives are unreliable and confusing and they bring you down with a bump. Think positive.

From now on, my toothbrush ring is YELLOW. Have you got that, brain? YELLOW.

PS I confessed and yes, we are still talking, thanks.

Does Your Boss Care What You Wear? Nonverbal Communication: Your Communication Kit



We talk to connect with people. We make energetic and loudly meaningful noises from the moment we’re born. Most of our communication, though, involves more than words. Many people find it easier and more meaningful to communicate visually than through their other senses.

For most of us, the way we make sense of the world is mostly visual. Our visual input is huge. We watch films and video games for entertainment, go to the theatre or sports events, decorate our houses and buy clothes, our eyes constantly open for the way things look. Beauty calms us and makes us happy.


Even our language is full of visual references. We talk or write about having bright ideas and may describe the experience of being let down as “seeing someone in their true colours.”   

Painters, sculptors and filmmakers, fashion (and kitchen) designers, interior decorators and gardeners all rely heavily on our love of visual stimulation. Even writers provide their work on the page.

Connect visually
Since sight is so important to us, it makes sense to watch out for ways to increase our connection with each other through visual means.

Nonverbal communication tells us more about meaning than the words we choose. Mehrabian found that over 80% of communication about emotive subjects came through body language, gesture, facial expression and posture, so it pays to think about the way you ( and others) use body language.Don't fall into the traps set by clever salesmen!

All of us, even (or especially) children are amazingly quick to recognize when your body language is different from the words you say. That’s why they complain when you keep glancing at your iPad. They know you’re not really giving them your attention.

How to spot a “looker.”

A looker may gesture constantly and speak quickly as though she’s describing a film. Maybe her eyes turn upwards up as she talks, as she accesses her visual memory. She pays attention to her clothes and hair and likes her house decorated beautifully.


Seven ways to communicate with lookers.
  •  Take care that your nonverbal signals match the mood of what you say. Smile when you’re angry and you look false. It’s almost impossible to completely fake your body language, unless you’re a brilliant actor, so don’t try.
  • Think happy thoughts about the person as you talk. If you tell yourself you like them (or just their shoes or hat) the warm thought will come through in your expression. Your eyes will crinkle, just so, and your lips relax. (NB muscles of mouth). If your mind is full of fury, you may find yourself pointing, folding your arms or standing too close. You just can’t manage all those little give-away signs at once.
  • Use verbal imagery to a looker. Talk about being on the same page with them, tell them to watch out for a bright idea you’re about to explain. Ask them to let you paint the picture.
  •  At work, they may prefer an email approach to a phone call. But, take care with your emails: they can be a minefield of misunderstanding. Read every one over at least twice before you hit the “send” button.
  •  Check your appearance, especially if your boss is a looker. A hem that’s falling down, baby sick on your shoulder, a skirt that’s too tight: she’ll spot them all.
  •  Describe things with pictures and diagrams and put them in writing. Verbal directions may be too confusing. Write things down whenever you can.
  •  Use colour carefully. Red is energetic, but it can look aggressive. Blue is relaxed but can seem cold. Yellow looks bright and cheerful, especially in winter, but too much can tire the eyes. Use colour to match the mood you want to convey.


Connect to a Listener's World: Your Communication Kit



We need our senses to feed information to us about the world. We use a constant supply of information to tell us where we are, what’s happening, what might happen and what people think. Remember the film “Short Circuit?” When the robot, Number Five, becomes human after a lightning strike he needs constant “input.” 

Noise can overwhelm a listener child. photo dreamstimefree_8577967

Our five main sources of "input" are sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell, although we also talk about others, like our sense of direction or of time. We use all our senses at different times, and often together, but some people have a strong preference for one.

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.

Listeners
John is a musician. You can tell by his preference for metaphors, (comparing one thing with another) that use hearing as their base. References to bells, ears, ticking clocks, being “in tune” with others and traffic noise can indicate that a person is very aware of sound. John likes to use his “auditory channel.”

Jane, on the other hand, likes to see things. I’ll talk a bit more about visual people in the next post.

Depending heavily on one sense can have a downside. Sometimes people, especially some children, are so sensitive to one kind of input that they find it distracts them from using their other senses. Many musicians and others with an “auditory preference” find it impossible to concentrate when they hear any noise at all, especially loud music. 

Children who are sensitive to sound can quickly become tired and unhappy in a noisy classroom.

Seven ways to connect with people who use sound metaphors and rely heavily on their hearing:

  • Speak calmly. Your tone is an important way of communicating and “listeners” will be sensitive to how you sound. Speak too loud and you can come over as aggressive.
  •  Make sure your voice is smooth. Hoarseness, a too-deep, gravelly tone or a high-pitched squeak will infuriate a keen listener.
     
  • Practice breathing from your diaphragm. This is the best way to overcome any problems with voice quality. Your voice will become firmer and you will need to raise it less often to get yourself heard.       

  • Offer spoken instructions alongside pictures or the written word where possible, especially when explaining to children. People who prefer the hearing channel are likely to remember things they hear more easily than things they see and touch.    
     
  • Turn the music down. Yes, I mean you, restaurant managers and shop owners. Above a very low level, many people with high sensitivity to sound simply cannot bear to hear the noise. It hurts and distracts. They will leave and never return.
            
  • Try gentle, quiet music as a way to calm an over-excited auditory child, cutting out visual clutter such as a heap of toys. Keep your voice soft and speak slowly.        
     
  • Check emails from your boss and colleagues. If they uses expressions that suggest they’re “listeners,” use similar metaphors to make your words resonate with them.



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.

dreamstimefree 1407401
Brains
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. 

Preferences
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?

 dreamstimefree
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?

Never Say This To Anyone, Ever



I saw a shocking advertisement the other day. Not one designed to cause distress, nor an appeal for a good cause. The advertiser just wanted me to buy a lottery ticket.

The presenter asked, “Are you doing the lottery?” and then said, “You should be.” My blood boiled.

I have nothing against lotteries, or even against gambling in moderation. After all, I will be happily rich when I hit the jackpot with my one weekly ticket.

However, to suggest to someone that they are somehow failing in some unspecified duty by not gambling is, I believe, immoral and potentially harmful.

I blame the word “should.”

I would like to remove that word from every dictionary, along with its equally insidious, creepy friend, “ought.”

I read the other day that some people struggle for approval from others, while others work harder at avoiding disapproval. The second group, the ones who struggle hard to avoid disapproval, suffer most from “should” torment, but others are not immune.

Our longing to avoid censure means that many of us carry rucksacks-full of guilt on our backs. We may be worried about what other people think or just about the differences between the way we would like to be and the way we really behave. 

The fear of failure to meet our internal goals dogs many of us. We find it hard to avoid our condemnation of our own conduct and we have to work hard to stay positive.

Every time someone tells me that I “should exercise more ” or “ought to recycle” they tap directly into my store of guilt. 

Using “should” can be an easy way of persuading, without taking responsibility for the consequences.

“You should only feed your baby every four hours,” a doctor told a new mother. The baby cried after three hours. What was the mother to do, torn between the guilt of withholding food from her child and the guilt of failing to do her duty, as set out by a person in authority? 

The doctor could have avoided causing that problem. If she had said, “I advise feeding every four hours if possible,” the baby’s mother would have felt free to make her own informed decision. 

Or, if there was some unusual medical issue that meant this particular baby would be in danger if fed earlier, the doctor could have made that clear by saying, “You must feed every four hours.”

When you talk to your child, your partner, your colleague or your friend, you can avoid imposing a guilt trip.

You may be tempted to tell your child, “I think you should let Michael play with the train.” This is unfair. It puts all the responsibility on the child. Instead, be brave. If you really want your child to give the train to Michael, say “It’s Michael’s turn. Give him the train now,” and make sure he obeys you. If you’re not sure, why not let the children sort it out for themselves?

Instead of, “You should read that book,” try “I enjoyed that book and I think you might, too.”

And when someone tries to sell you something by saying you “should” buy it, remember they are trying to manipulate you through guilt and make up your own mind. 

More on making language work for you in these posts



Have you ever found yourself persuaded by someone making you feel guilty? I'd love to hear your story.

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.