Most of us never formally learned how to communicate. As children, we modeled the behavior around us and learned about our emotions. As we progress through life, we might have learned that our words can be helpful but can also harm others. We may have also learned that there are many ways to ask for things and to feel heard. I’ll let you in on a secret: communication is not just about talking and using words. It’s about listening. Yes, the foundation of communication is being a good listener.
I’ve been working on communication and received formal training in communication as health and wellness coach. Recording over 350 hours of podcasts has been a master class in listening and communication. If you’ve done some work yourself, you’ll hear me bring up non-violent communication, motivational interviewing, active listening, and growth mindset talk.
Today, I’m going to give you some actionable practices to help you be a better listener, improve your relationships, approach conflict, and identify and ask for what you need. This is also a culmination of books I’ve read about parenting, relationships, and further education on coaching. As a bonus at the end, I’m also including some conversation sparkers to help you start conversations if you struggle with small talk.
There has been a lot of emerging research pointing to relationships as the most important part of well-being. I recently read The Good Life by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz that outlines the 85-year-long Harvard Study of Adult Development. (Read this if you don’t want to read the book). The ongoing study reveals that the strength of our connection to others greatly predicts mental health, physical health, and longevity. How we communicate to the people around us is an essential piece of our relationships. Many of us never learned how to communicate and learn by trial and error.
Managing Conflict: Practice Non-Violent Communication
You may have heard the term non-violent communication before. It’s about understanding our needs and the needs of those around us. Clinical Psychologist Marshall Rosenburg developed the NVC framework. It has four key components.
observation– feeling– need– request
The framework involved the formula of stating your observation, how you feel about it, what you need, and the concrete action you would like to have happen. Expressing or listening without blame or criticism is key. It sounds simple, but understanding your needs and feelings, and knowing how to articulate them requires emotional intelligence. It also requires active listening when someone is discussing their expectations and reflecting back what they said to make sure you got it right.
Here is a list of needs. Needs often fall into seven categories. The link adds a lot more depth to these five categories.
- physical well-being
A large part of making requests is understanding what your needs are, and it can be tricky. Having a variety of words to explain your feelings can add a lot of context to the discussion. For example, you may say you are mad, but you could mean you are impatient, frustrated, grouchy, disgusted, bitter, or enraged. Wen you feel happy, you may mean glad, hopeful, satisfied, grateful, inspired, proud, or joyful.
NVC is also a big proponent of making requests instead of demands and observing instead of evaluating. All of these communication methods take practice and are especially challenging in the heat of the moment. Something to remember is you can always stop what you are saying and tell the person you are talking to that you want to start over with what you are asking.
Mindfulness and presence go a long way in communication. Sometimes our mind wanders when someone is talking. Just like in meditation, notice your mind has wandered and gently come back to the conversation. It also means noticing your body and body language. I feel energy bubble up in me and the tension and breath holding that comes with it. I remind myself to breathe and focus on gently exhales if I feel my body wanting to interrupt or feeling impatient with the conversation.
I encourage you to check out the podcast conversation I recorded with Meditation Teacher Oren Jay Sofer where we talked about his book, Say What You Mean. It was my first introduction to NVC and I actually enjoyed it more than Marshall Rosenburg’s book on NVC. Oren told me, “to say what you mean, you have to know what you mean. How do we know what we mean? We actually have to listen very closely and deeply and understand what’s happening inside in order to communicate something meaningful and clear to someone else.
Respond with a Reflection
When someone expresses something to you, repeating back to them what they just said enables them to feel heard and for you to make sure you got it right. It also allows space for them to develop their idea or point further. Reflections are huge in coaching AND podcasting. In fact, I reflect a lot more often than ask questions. Asking questions is helpful, but too many questions can make the speaker feel threatened.
Reflections grow empathy or what FBI Negotiator and previous podcast guest Chris Voss would call tactical empathy. You want to build empathy so the person speaking feels safe and heard. That means listening for underlying emotions and labeling them. Reflections also fall under the observation piece of NVC.
Example: I never have enough time to get everything done and I’m always stressed because I’m running late. There’s never enough space in between tasks in my day and I’m falling behind.
Simple Reflection: That sounds like you are overwhelmed.
If someone is giving you feedback, you can reflect back saying, “What I’m hearing is… is that right?”
Speaking of Emotions
Naming someone’s emotions or your own emotions is a powerful skill. With children who do not yet know how to self-regulate, you may have heard that you can label the emotion for them. “That sounds really frustrating” can be a powerful reflection.
Emotional granularity is the ability to add more depth to the basic happy, sad, mad, angry emotions. It is also a key player in self-regulation and resilience. For communication, having more words to label your own emotions or someone else’s creates an even stronger bond. Just as you heard me outline a few minutes ago with a few different “feeling” words, developing your vocabulary and understanding of your own feelings will help you make better requests and help you understand others.
Ask open-ended questions
Open-ended questions are a keystone of a good coach and conversation. Asking questions that cannot be answered with yes/no or 2-word responses allow for development of an idea and more nuance. It also encouraged collaboration in a relationship.
How, What, Why instead of are you, do you, is it, etc.
How would you like things to be different?
What contributed to…?
Use Both/And Thinking for Feedback and Discussion
A lot of times, we default to something having to be either/or. In improv, they call it yes, and thinking. Two things can be true at the same time. A big challenge in our culture and deeply polarizing issue is thinking that things must be either one way or another way. The reality is that two conflicting things can be true at the same time. Two peoples’ feeling can be valid at the same time. You can be overwhelmed with work and happy to spend time with your family.
Either/or thinking also is a friend to all-or-none thinking. Things have to be this way or they can’t be at all. Where are you drawing hard lines in your life where maybe you can create space? How can you validate both experiences as true in a discussion, even if you don’t agree?
Another communication tactic with giving feedback is replacing the word “but” with “and.” This one came from all the parenting books I’ve read.
- I’m tired and I need to work on this podcast right now.
- I know you want to stay at the park and we need to go home now.
- I know you have a lot going on right now and I still need your help.
Check out this book for more on both/and thinking.
Giving Compliments: Affirm Instead of Cheerlead
Praising effort instead of a person being good or bad helps them maintain a growth mindset and maintains motivation. A lot of times, we can default to cheerleading. This was another skill I had to work on when I was learning to become a coach. As a naturally enthusiastic person, I love pouring my energy into someone. “You got this, woohoo!” It can be so easy to say “Great Job!” or “Good boy!” Praising the person might feel like you’re doing the right things, but praising the action build their motivation and confidence. It also just feels better to hear specifically what you did to be good or great.
Affirming someone is talking about their strength, abilities, and their actions. Affirmations usuallys starting with You instead of I. You worked hard instead of I think you worked hard. Adding “I think” adds your evaluation to it.
Describe instead of evaluate.
-Replace: You’re so awesome or Great Job!
- With: You were so focused you were when you did that work. You had such a determined effort when it got challenging.
- Replace: Thanks for cleaning
- With: You did all those dishes AND wiped up the counter. Thank you!
This is one of the most challenging for me and I’ve made huge imporvement. A lot of times, we just want people to know we support them and believe in them, but by glossing over how someone is feeling or diving in to “fix” the problem isn’t always helpful because the person doesn’t feel heard. If you want to later go into problem solving mode, you can ask the person if they would like help finding a solution. “Would you like my help brainstorming a solution” or “Do you want to try to dive into problem-solving right now?” You can also offer “what do you know about (topic)” before diving right in.
Telling someone that “they’ll be fine” when expressing concern or disappointment is not helpful and can potentially damage a relationship.
Example: I’m really nervous about my upcoming race.
Replace: Oh, you’ll be fine.
With: Wow, that must be tough to feel nervous. How do you feel about your preparation?
Example: My aunt is really getting on my nerves right now. She keeps criticizing what I’m doing!
Replace: Well, can you just tell her how you feel?
With: Gosh, that sounds really frustrating. Tell me more.
That said, there are limits to talking about our lives when it turns into rumination. Ethan Kross, director of the Emotion & Self-Control library in Michigan and author of Chatter (link to our podcast) warns us to avoid the co-rumination trap. Kross suggests it’s important to engage in empathy and active listening, but at some point, it’s important to try to help broaden their perspective. Of course, there is a lot of context when helping the person see the big picture and when it is appropriate to do so. Noticing if one negative comment is leading to another, and then to another might be a good indication.
Use: Practice Active Constructive Response (ACR)
We’ve covered a lot together. A quick reminder that all of this is written out on my website under podcasts if you want to revisit some of these ideas. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. This is a lot to take in, and it’s a lifelong practice.
The way that we respond to people when they are telling us something can also have an impact. Ever been around someone who always tried to one-up you in a conversation, brought the attention to themselves, or gave you a lukewarm response? It turns out that those are all typical ways of responding. and that there are four ways we typically respond to someone in a conversation.
The way we respond to someone can strengthen the relationship. Interestingly enough, Passive Constructive is the most detrimental to relationships. There’s a chart in the show notes if you want to see this because it’s a bit confusing the first time you hear it, but here are some examples. I first learned about ACR in the Choose Growth workbook (listen to my podcast with Jodryn and Scott Barry Kaufmann about their book), where they talked about the importance of connection for self-actualization and transcendence.
Comment: I’m so excited to be starting my Master’s Program this fall! It was very competitive to get in and there’s so much to learn!
AC: Wow! You got into the program and have a lot of opportunities for growth on the horizon! What are you most excited about learning?
AD: Hmm, how are you going to manage doing a Master’s with everything else you have going on? Have you thought about how you’ll manage childcare when you’re away? That is going to be super busy for you.
PC: Oh, that’s nice.
PD: Oh, a masters! I remember when I got my PhD and got my dream job at a university.
What response style do you tend to default? Is it different with family versus friends? Is it different if you potentially feel jealous?
Ok, we did a deep dive into how to be supportive of others, manage conflict, and describe your needs. But what if you are not sure how to even start a conversation? Especially after the pandemic, people are more reticent to start conversations and yet, even small talk at the grocery store strongly impact our well-being. In fact, in the Harvard Study of Adult Development I mentioned in the beginning found that people who make small talk with strangers are happier than those who don’t at all.
Here are a few to try:
How was your day? vs What was the highlight of your day?
How’s work? Working on any exciting projects lately?
What’s your favorite coffee shop here?
What trail is your favorite trail? What stories do you have from that trail?
Here are more. I loved talking to author Vanessa Van Edwards about her book, Captivate which goes into the science of succeeding with people.
There’s a lot to learn and practice when it comes to conversation. You don’t have to be rigid around the rules of some of these techniques.
- Today’s topic: Communication. 3:21
- Intro to nonviolent communication. 5:52
- Understanding your needs and feelings. 8:07
- Reflecting back on what someone said. 13:36
- How to label your emotions. 15:22
- How to ask open ended questions. 16:58
- Validating someone’s emotions. 21:31
- How we respond to people in conversation. 24:41
- How to start a conversation with strangers. 27:46
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I’ve been experimenting a lot with the podcast and enjoying collaborating with other people. But man, I love these deep dives into certain topics for the solo episodes. And for today’s episode, I was particularly excited because I’ve had a lot of training and communication. From the two year health and wellness coaching that I did that was all about motivational interviewing, active listening, and a bunch of other communication strategies. I also have been doing a lot of reading, on relationships, on parenting and on communication. So for today, I’m really excited to summarize a lot of the things that I have learned and give you some actionable takeaways so that you can start practicing them on your own. Speaking of coaching, I am taking on just a couple more clients for the summer. I’m actually starting a master’s program at the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s in applied positive psychology in September. So I’m pretty excited about that. I’m going to be taking less coaching clients in the fall because of that. So if you are on the fence about getting health, wellness coaching, or mental performance coaching, I am here for you for the summer. If you are enjoying this podcast, you probably will love my monthly newsletter that comes out once a month, I have a topic that I do a deep dive into much like this podcast and I also share with you some of the podcast episodes from the month and a question to ponder. So you can get that at Sonya looney.com/newsletter and join the 1000s of others who are enjoying this newsletter. I’m pretty excited for this month because I get to do a bunch of races. There aren’t that many local races in BC where I live. And local races are what I need with the family because it’s really hard and not sustainable for us to get on a plane every month to go to a bike race. I’m excited about a local trail running race I’m doing this weekend, it is a trail half marathon on a lot of the trails that I normally ride. So I think it’s gonna be pretty awesome. And I’ve been focusing my training a little bit on that. I was supposed to run a 50k trail ultra marathon last month, but I got COVID and was sick for a month so I couldn’t do the race. So I’m excited about these opportunities to get on some start lines that we can after I’m doing the back 40, which is a very technical cross country race in Whistler BC. And the following weekend, I am doing an endurance race called the Merit Crown which is 120 kilometer race of mountain bike misery. And that is how they describe it on their website mountain bike misery, it’s probably going to take about seven hours, it’s 9000 feet of climbing. So it’s going to be a big day. And I love being on the start line because it’s a celebration. It’s it’s not always perfect. And especially with kids, my preparation and my start lines are far from perfect. But it’s such a great way to express some of my values and what I love to do. All right, so into today’s topic communication. When you listen to podcasts, you are listening to two people communicating, or one person trying to communicate to you. Most of us never formally learned how to communicate. As children, we model the behavior around us and learn from our emotions. And it’s pretty interesting to be able to see this firsthand when I have a one and three year old in the house. And as we progress through life, we might have learned that our words can be helpful, but that they can also harm others. And sometimes we harm other people without even meaning to we didn’t even know that we said something that was harmful. We didn’t even know that the way that we’re communicating isn’t helping somebody. We may have also learned that there are many ways to ask for things and to feel hurt. I’ll let you in on a secret though. Communication is not just about talking and using words. It’s about listening. Yes, the foundation of communication is being a good listener. And that can be super hard with all of the distractions that we have. And it’s just that not even the external distractions, but even the distractions in our own mind, our monkey mind can make it really hard to focus on what somebody’s even saying. We also have the challenge of our own emotions that can cloud our ability to listen to what somebody’s truly saying. Instead of putting our own lens on what they are saying. I’ve been working on communication and have received formal training through Vanderbilt University’s health and wellness coaching program and becoming a national board certified health and wellness coach where the board certification is a lot about things like motivational interview Viewing and nonviolent communication, how you talk to somebody can greatly impact their motivation and what they believe they’re capable of. And aside from coaching, our relationships are such a big part of our lives and how we build those relationships, how we talk to people that we care about, about things that are important to us. And whenever we are frustrated, and when there’s a conflict. So having some of these tools in communication, and understanding, you’re not going to get it perfect every time, but just being aware of them can go a really long way. I’ve also recorded over 350 hours of podcasts, and that’s been a masterclass in listening and communication and getting the best out of my guests. Today, I’m going to give you some actionable practices to help you be a better listener, to improve your relationships, to approach conflict and deepen a relationship through conflict, and to identify and ask for what you need. If you’ve done some work in this area yourself. You’ll hear me bring up nonviolent communication, motivational interviewing, active listening, and growth mindset talk. This is also a culmination of books I’ve been reading about parenting and relationships and further education on coaching. As a bonus at the end, I’m also going to include some conversation sparkers to help you start conversations if you struggle with small talk, there’s been a lot of emerging research pointing to relationships as the most important part of well being and flourishing. I recently read the good life by Robert Waldinger and Mark Schultz, who are both PhDs and outlines in 85-year-old long and slow running study called the Harvard Study of Adult Development. And I included a link to a bunch of these things that I’m going to be talking about today in the show notes. I also have an article that they wrote, If you don’t want to read the whole book, that is a great summary. The ongoing study reveals that the strength of our connection to others greatly predicts mental health, physical health and longevity, how we communicate to the people around us is an essential piece of our relationships. And many of us never learned how to communicate and learn by trial and error. Many of us feel lonely and want to have better relationships. In fact, the surgeon general says that loneliness is its own epidemic. Of course, relationships is more than just communication. But communication is a really big part of that. And if relationships are a keystone to our health and happiness than working on how we talk to people around us at work at home to our kids, and even to ourselves, is so important. So first, I’m going to start with nonviolent communication. I don’t really like the name, to be honest, it’s kind of a mouthful. But it’s about understanding our needs and the needs of those around us clinical psychologists, Marshall Rosenberg developed the nonviolent communication framework. And from here on out, I’ll just call it NVC. He’s written a book about it. So I encourage you to check that out. And basically, nonviolent communication has four key components, an observation, a feeling, a need, and a request. Basically, all of our needs are underlying everything. And we can look to our feelings in order to figure out what those needs are. And there’s a way to communicate those. And it’s not always easy to know what we need, we can feel a certain way but not know why or not know what we need. The framework involves the formula of stating your observation. So that’s what the observation pieces observing what I noticed, this is what I’ve noticed, how you feel about it, what you need, and the concrete action you would like to have happen. Expressing or listening without blame or criticism is also key. And that can be one of the hardest parts. It sounds simple, but understanding your needs and feelings and knowing how to articulate them requires emotional intelligence. It also requires active listening when someone is discussing their expectations. And then you reflecting back what they said to make sure that you got it right needs tend to fall into seven categories. And there’s a lot of depth and nuance underneath each one of these categories. And I’m not going to read every single word under every single category, because we’ll be here all day. But here are the seven categories of needs. They are physical well being, connection, honesty, play, peace, autonomy, and meaning. A large part of making requests is understanding what your needs are. And it can be tricky. Having a variety of words to explain your feelings can also add a lot of context to the discussion. For example, if your need is for connection, maybe you need compassion, maybe you need safety, maybe you need stability. Maybe you need appreciation, there are many, many more words that go underneath that connection need, but understanding what the depth is underneath that can really help you tell somebody what you are missing. I’m also going to talk about feelings and emotions more in a couple of minutes here, but you might say they say that you’re mad, but what you really mean is you’re impatient or maybe frustrated, maybe you’re disgusted, bitter. When you’re saying you’re happy maybe you actually mean that you feel glad Add are hopeful or satisfied or inspired. So there’s a lot of nuance when it comes to some of these words. And it might sound silly, like, yeah, yeah. But it actually does matter to have some depth in these words. Nonviolent Communication is also a big proponent of making requests instead of demand and observing instead of evaluating. And it’s so easy to tell somebody that we think that they’re doing something a certain way, or we feel a certain way, but just observing what somebody is doing. And stating that observation can really help you get down to the bottom of it. And I’ll talk about that a little bit more in a minute. All of these communication methods take practice, and are especially challenging in the heat of the moment. Something to remember is that you can always stop what you’re saying and tell the person that you want to start over, you can just say, Wait a second, can I try that again? Or you might even need more time to process and it’s really important to say how long you need to process you could say, can we come back to this tomorrow, because I need some time to think about this. Pausing and leaving silence can also be very powerful. Instead of jumping into something before you’re ready to start talking about it. Silence is also really helpful. Whenever you are helping somebody process certain emotions or ideas. A lot of us are uncomfortable with silence. So we’ll jump in too quickly when somebody is actually processing an idea. And you can actually see it on their face while they are thinking and processing. And just waiting a few extra seconds can make all the difference. Mindfulness and presence also go a long way and communication. Sometimes our mind wanders when somebody is talking, I know this happens to me all the time. And just like in meditation, notice your mind has wandered, and gently come back to the conversation. Don’t beat yourself up that your mind has wandered away in the conversation. But just notice and come back and do it over and over again. It also means noticing your body and your body language. Whenever I’m talking to somebody, I get super excited sometimes and I feel energy bubble up inside me. And I feel tension and I feel my breath. I feel myself holding my breath. And then I remind myself to breathe and focus and gently exhale if I feel my body wanting to interrupt or I feel impatience in the conversation. And that helps me so much, especially in podcasts whenever I want to jump in. So I’m excited about something but I have to let somebody finish what they’re talking about. And actually listen while they’re talking. There’s going to be several previous podcast guests that I will reference in today’s episode, because this has been a big topic of this podcast. I encourage you to check out the podcast conversation I recorded with meditation teacher Oren Jay Sofer, where we talked about his book, say what you mean, it was my first introduction to nonviolent communication when I read that book, and I actually enjoyed it more than Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Oren told me in the podcast, to say what you mean, you have to know what you mean? How do we know what we mean? We actually have to listen very closely and deeply and understand what’s happening inside in order to communicate something meaningful and clear to somebody else. So we’re talking about self awareness. That’s a big word that’s thrown around. But a lot of times, we might not know what we need. I know I’ve certainly been there. I felt a certain way. But I still don’t really know what I need. And you want somebody to fix it for you. But really, you have to understand what’s going on inside yourself first. Okay, so moving on from nonviolent communication, I want to talk about reflections responding with a reflection, this was beaten into us in my health and wellness coaching program, we had to do a lot of live coaching, where people were grading us and saying writing tally marks down how many reflections we gave in a conversation. So this is really big, and it feels weird at first, it’s hard whenever you’re practicing this at first, but it makes such a big difference in conversation and in relationships. So when someone is expressing something to you, you basically just repeat back to them what they said, and it enables them to feel heard. And it also helps you make sure that you got it right. It also allows space for them to develop their idea or to go further into their point. Reflections are huge in coaching and in podcasting. In fact, you might start noticing in podcasting that sometimes people don’t even ask podcast hosts. Don’t even ask that many questions, you just reflect back what somebody said. And I do that a lot because they end up elaborating even more on an idea. Asking questions is helpful. But too many questions can make the person feel threatened. Reflections grow empathy, or what FBI negotiator and previous podcast guests, Chris Voss would call building tactical empathy. And in fact, his book is awesome. It’s all about negotiating. So back to empathy here, you want to build empathy, so that the person speaking feel safe and heard. And that means listening for underlying emotions, and then labeling those emotions for them. Reflections also fall underneath that observation piece of nonviolent communication. So here’s a very simple example of a reflection. The person says, I never have enough time to get everything done. And I’m always stressed because I’m running late. There’s never enough space in between tasks in my day, and I’m falling behind. That simple reflection would be that sounds like you’re over Holmes. So it doesn’t, it doesn’t have to be anything really hard it just repeating back what they say is incredibly validating for them. If someone is giving you feedback, you can also reflect back saying, what I’m hearing is you’re saying that I am not doing X, is that right? And that also gives them a chance to, to correct you if maybe you misunderstood what they said. And that can happen a lot whenever we are in the middle of a conflict. All right, so let’s move on to talking about emotions and feelings and emotional intelligence. Naming someone’s emotions or your own emotions is a powerful skill. With children who do not yet know how to self regulate, you may have heard that you can label the emotion for them. It’s really helpful for tantrums or just for kids who are having a hard time you can say something like, that sounds really frustrating. Or you can say you are very frustrated whenever it’s a little kid or you seem really tired. labeling our own emotions, whenever things are challenging, it can also help us have more self compassion. Emotional granularity is the ability to add more depth to the basic, happy, sad, mad and angry emotions. It is also a key player in self regulation, and in resilience. And those are things I love talking about, but I’m not going to talk about them today. For communication, having more words to label your own emotions, or someone else’s creates an even stronger bond. Just as you heard me outline a few minutes ago with a few different feeling words, developing your vocabulary and understanding your own feelings will help you make better requests and help you understand others. So earlier, I gave you a few words for mad. Here are a few words for sad, tired, bored, ashamed, lonely, depressed, or a few words for strong, eye, important, valuable, worthy, confident, respect, respected, strong can mean all those things, but having a little bit more detail as to what that word means can go a long way. Alright, next, I’m going to talk about questions. How do we ask questions? And this is another thing that we really had to work on a lot in coaching in my cohort. So it’s about asking open ended questions, open ended questions are a keystone of a good conversation. And an open ended question is one that allows for more development of an idea and more nuance. If you ask questions that are quote, close into questions. That means that can be answered with a yes or no, or a two word response. And that’s not very good for developing conversation. open ended questions also encourage collaboration in a relationship. So an open ended question starts with how, what or why, instead of a closed ended question that starts with Are you or do you? Or is it? So the next time you are asking somebody questions, try and frame it using how, what or why, how and what are kind of the gold stars here instead of mining for things like are you or do you? Or is it because you’re going to just get a yes or no answer? Here are two samples of open ended questions. How would you like things to be different? What contributed to this challenge? Alright, so moving on, using both and thinking for feedback and discussion. A lot of times we default to something having to be either or, in the improv, they call this yes and thinking. Two things can be true at the same time and a big challenge in our culture. And a deeply polarizing issue is that things oftentimes in our minds must be either or, or they must just be one way you have to be this or that you can’t have two things be true at the same time. And the reality is that two conflicting things can be true at the same time, two people’s feelings can be valid at the same time, two people’s perceptions can be valid at the same time, you can be overwhelmed with work and happy to spend time with your family. Either or thinking is also a friend to all or none thinking and many of us fall prey to all or none thinking things have to be this way, or they can’t be at all, I’m going on a two hour bike ride or I’m not going on a bike ride at all. I’m gonna cook an entire meal or I’m not even going to start. Those are some examples. Where are you drawing little hard lines in your life where you may be able to create space using the word and how can you validate both experiences as true in a discussion even if you don’t disagree? Another communication tactic with giving feedback is replacing the word but with and this is one I’ve talked about on the podcast before and it’s also come from some of the parenting books I’ve read. You can say I’m tired and I need to work on my podcast right now instead of I’m tired but I need to work on my podcast right now. I know you want to stay at the park and we need to go home now instead of I know you want to say the park but we need to go home now. I know you have a lot going on right now and I still need your help. So notice when you’re throwing in the word but and maybe try switching it to end. And there is a book that just came out recently about both and thinking I haven’t read it yet but I put it in the show notes. I’ve listened to a few podcasts on it and I think it’s going to be pretty interesting. Alright, let’s moving on to giving calm limits. giving compliments can be tricky, especially if you are a very enthusiastic person because you might turn into more of a cheerleader and I have had to work on this. So you need to affirm instead of cheerlead in a lot of cases, praising effort instead of a person being good or bad, helps them maintain a growth mindset and maintains your motivation. And a lot of times we can default to cheerleading as a naturally enthusiastic person, I love pouring my energy into somebody. So I might catch myself saying, you got this woohoo, or great job or good boy, and praising the person might feel like you’re doing the right things. But praising the action will both build their motivation and confidence. It also just feels better to hear specifically what you did to be good or great. And it takes away your evaluation of what they did. And it makes them focus on their strengths and abilities. So affirming someone is talking about their strengths, their abilities and their actions. Affirmations usually start with you instead of I, you worked hard, instead of I think you worked hard, adding, I think, to something as your evaluation into it. So basically, you want to describe what they did instead of evaluate what they did. So here’s an example. You can say instead of You’re so awesome, great job, you can say, you were so focused, when you were working on that project, you had such a determined effort when it got challenging. Here’s another example with a compliment, you could say thanks for cleaning. Or you could say you did all those dishes and wiped up the counter. Thank you. Now, here’s a big one validating somebody’s emotion. So now having lots of words for emotions is helpful for this one as well. This is one of the most challenging for me, and I’ve made a huge improvement. A lot of times we just want people to know that we support them, and we believe in them. But glossing over how someone is feeling or immediately diving in to fix the problem isn’t always going to be helpful because the person doesn’t feel heard. I know that I tend to be a fixer and I have to back away from that and all of my friendships. If you want to later go into problem solving mode, you can ask the person if they would like your help finding a solution. You can say would you like my help brainstorming a solution? Or do you want to try to dive into problem solving right now? You can also offer what do you know about this topic before diving straight in and giving them unsolicited advice. But before you do that, you definitely want to validate how they’re feeling. Telling someone that they’ll be fine when expressing a concern or disappointment is not helpful and can can potentially damage a relationship. Here’s an example. “Man, I am really nervous about my upcoming race.” A person can say to me, “Oh, you’ll be fine. You always do well.” Well, that’s not very helpful for me. Because that’s not going to change how I feel. They can replace it with, “Wow, that must be tough to feel so nervous. How do you feel about your preparation?” Here’s another example. “My aunt is really getting on my nerves right now she keeps criticizing what I’m doing.” You can replace, “Well, can you just tell her how you feel?” with “Gosh, that sounds really frustrating. Tell me more.” Again, this is a practice can be really challenging to do. But man, it feels better whenever somebody validates your emotions. And I noticed when people do that for me, and I always appreciate it. That said, though there are limits to talking about our lives when it turns into rumination. Ethan Krause, Director of the Emotion and Self Control Library in Michigan and author of Chatter, which is a fan not a phenomenal book that I have read. And of course, there’s a link to that podcast with Ethan Kross on the in the show notes. He warns us to avoid the corumination trap cross suggests that it’s important to engage in empathy and active listening. But at some point, it’s important to try to help broaden their perspective. And that’s where this would you like my help? Or do you want to try problem solving right now part comes in, there’s a lot of context with helping people see the big picture and when it’s appropriate to do so. But noticing if one negative comment is leading to another and then another and then this person is on this huge pattern of negative rumination. And if you’re feeding into that pattern by validating the emotion, that’s where things get tricky. And that was a big takeaway that I had from that book, because I had no idea that this is a problem. Whew. So we’ve covered a lot so far together. A quick reminder for you is that I’ve written all of this up on my website under podcast and the show notes on my website. So if you want to revisit some of these ideas or dive deeper into some of these links, they’re all there. I love podcasts. And a problem sometimes is that whenever we have deeper topics like this with a lot of tools to use, it can be hard to remember them all. So that’s why I make sure to have robust show notes on my website and also transcripts of all the podcasts. So let’s talk a little bit more about how we respond to things. The way that we respond to people when they are telling us something can have a huge impact. Have you ever been around somebody who always tries to one up you in a conversation or always brings the attention back to themselves or even just gives you a lukewarm response? It turns out that those are all typical ways of responding and that there are four ways that we typically respond to someone in a conversation. So this is going to be a lot, but bear with me for a second. So you have active and passive ways of responding and you have constructive and destructive ways of responding. So active constructive response is the best way to respond to everybody. It multiplies joy. The responder shows authentic interest in what the person is saying. And that’s the best way to build rapport and a relationship. Then you have active destructing where you steal joy. The responder squashes the event by bringing on concerns and I’ll give you an example of all this in a second. Then you have passive constructive, where the person just doesn’t really care. They seem lukewarm. They seem silently supportive, they seem uninterested. And then you have passive destructive where people start talking about themselves or they change the topic very quickly. Interestingly enough, passive constructive is the most detrimental to relationships. Passive constructive, is that lukewarm kind of uninterested, lacking enthusiasm and further questions, whenever somebody tells you something. There’s a chart in the show notes, if you want to see this because it is a bit confusing the first maybe five times you hear it, but there are some examples there. I first learned about active constructive response in the Choose Growth Workbook that I talked to Scott, Barry Kaufman and Jordan Feingold about on this podcast, and I love that workbook and refer to it often. And in that workbook, they talk about the importance of connection for self actualization and transcendence. All right, so I’m going to bring in this active constructive response and all the different types of responses together right now. Okay, so here’s the comment. And this is a true comment in my life. “I’m so excited to be starting my master’s program this fall, it was very competitive to get in, and there’s so much to learn.” So an active constructive response, which is the one that we want is, “Wow, you got another program and have a lot of opportunities for growth on the horizon. What are you most excited about learning?” The active destructive response: “Hmm, how are you going to manage doing a master’s degree with everything else you have going on? Have you thought about how you’ll manage childcare work while you’re away to that’s going to be super busy for you?” The passive constructive: “Oh, that’s nice.” Passive destructive: “Oh, a master’s, I remember when I got my PhD and got my dream job at a university.” So there’s an example of those four styles of responding. What response style do you tend to default to? Is it different for family versus friends? Is it different whenever you could potentially feel jealous, or maybe even insecure when somebody is telling you something? Practicing that act of constructive response is so helpful in relationships. And again, it’s not about being perfect. It’s about just noticing what you normally do, noticing how people respond whenever you maybe slightly tweak your communication methods. So we did a deep dive into how to be supportive of others manage conflict and describe your needs. But what if you are not even sure how to start a conversation or you’re super uncomfortable doing so especially after the pandemic, people are still more reticent to start conversations. And yet even small talk at the grocery store or at the park can strongly impact our well being. In fact, that Harvard Study of Adult Development that I mentioned in the beginning of the podcast, found that people who make small talk with strangers are happier than those who don’t at all. And that’s something that I have noticed since I moved to Canada is that people in Canada don’t make small talk like Americans do. Americans are the most friendly people on the planet. If you’re at the grocery store in Canada, generally you won’t see somebody making conversation in line or whatever. And people always look at me a little bit funny sometimes, because I like striking up small talk. Of course, I just made a huge generalization for a enormous country. But that might be a surprising cultural difference that some of you might not know about. So conversation sparkers. These are for the people out there who are uncomfortable starting conversations with strangers, and who maybe you want to try, instead of saying “How was your day?” I mean, saying how was your day is great, because you’re starting a conversation. But you could say, “What was the highlight of your day?” Instead of saying, “How was work?” You could say, “Are you working on any exciting projects right now?” Or you could just say things like, “What’s your favorite coffee shop here? What trail is your favorite trail, what stories you have from that trail?” So ways that you can help somebody have more positive emotions around what they’re telling you and asking questions that will further develop those can actually be a great way to build small talk. So that’s, I think that’s good for today. I’m going to wrap it up because I’m sure that was a lot of information. But basically what I talked about today are better ways to communicate so that you can know your own needs, understand your emotions, try and understand the emotions of others and build empathy in your communication. I talked about the framework of nonviolent communication. So observation, feeling, need and request and ways to state observations, ways to describe feelings, ways to listen actively. So you can try to understand the needs underneath somebody’s feelings, and how to make requests. I talked about different ways that you can respond and ask questions with reflections and open ended questions. I also talked about how to use both and thinking to further the discussion and create less polarization in conversations and in relationships. I also talked about how to give compliments to make sure that you are affirming somebody instead of cheerleading and talking about their actions and their strengths, instead of your evaluation of those actions and strengths. And I talked about how the importance of validating somebody’s emotions instead of diving right in to fix something. And then I talked about the active constructive response, the best way to keep a conversation going and to build rapport and relationship with somebody. And I wrapped it up talking about a few conversations sparkers. And the importance of small talk, connections and relationships are so important. And even more important in this digital age that we live in. It can be easy to sit inside our house on our computers or to look down on the street whenever we see our neighbors, or to misunderstand somebody completely not give them a chance to explain what they actually mean or what they actually need, or even ourselves to struggle to say what we need. So I hope that this podcast was helpful for you. I really enjoyed sitting down and writing out all of these different things that I’ve learned over the years, and that I continue to practice that have been so impactful in all of my relationships. If there was something that particularly resonated with you make sure that you leave us a review or share it on social media or with your friends, as that helps this podcast, find others. And if you have any further questions about something, I’m always open to getting feedback one on one, you can go to my website and use the contact form. Or if you’re thinking, Gosh, this is really cool. Maybe I want to try this coaching thing because that’s this communication is such a huge part of coaching. I’m here for you, and I’m here to help you close the gap from where you are to where you want to be. Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. I really appreciate your support and attention and the joy it brings me to utilize my strengths. So as always, I’m with you on this journey of personal growth adventure and our mission to be better every day and I’ll see you right back here next week.