We Seniors Need to Use Words That Make a Difference
“We don’t develop courage by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.”
Barbara De Angelis
In today’s constant turmoil of still adhering to strict guidelines of social distancing and no group gatherings, we sometimes feel stuck and emotionally distant from family and friends. It’s been a year since we’ve been dealing with this pandemic and who knows how much longer we will have to live with these constraints, vaccine or not. As a result, we are talking more on the phone, texting, emailing, using social media and Zooming with people all over the country and globally.
With that, I find it vitally important to have several verbal and written skills that you can keep in your quiver and use them to improve your level of communication. As the caretaker of my family’s estate, I am talking and texting to my family more and more as we practice distancing. My BoomerGuy stays well connected more than ever with his long-time friends, who happen to be scattered across the country. The same holds true with the professional segment, such as doctors, bankers and lawyers. The days of the in-office visits are quite limited so we’re relegated to relying on our verbal skills to get our points across, making every conversation as complete and fulfilled as possible.
How do we do that? Well, I think we can elevate our communication skills by attending to our communication habits. Practicing good habits will yield an improvement in communication skills, whether verbal or written. It’s a little bit of the old adage, teaching an old dog new tricks, so here goes.
“Tell Me More.” Experts say this is one of the most powerful phrases in the universe, and it is now a favorite of mine. It’s an all-purpose phrase that you can say in virtually any situation, and you’ll reach others like never before. It reassures the other person in the conversation that you’re interested and listening; it avoids the temptation of turning the focus from the other person to yourself; and it sets you up to practice silence which is a powerful tool that emotionally intelligent people use.
My BoomerGuy has this skill, he calls it the “golden silence rule” and has used it successfully throughout his business and personal dealings for many years.
Just think of any conversation you’ve had, especially if it turned awkward. Imagine replacing any of your responses with this simple phrase. For example, you’re on the phone with a friend and they begin to tell you how really hard it is being stuck at home. Most of us would naturally come back with a comment such as, “yeah, it’s hard at my house too” or “it might go more smoothly if you just tried this.” Your response sets up a slight bit of friction, and neither is very satisfying to you or the other person. Instead, try the “tell me more” idea and you’ll be surprised at the level of deeper and more rewarding conversation.
With this, you’ve given the emotionally intelligent response of inviting your family, friend or business associate to share, explore and confide in you. It will most certainly cement a stronger bond and will help you both to mutually uncover solutions, rather than it being one-sided.
“Thank You for Your Understanding.” This phrase is one that can replace the word “sorry.” Not that you should never apologize, of course you can and should when you have wronged someone and want to make amends. The word sorry is used far too frequently without understanding its intended consequences. So much of our emotional intelligence involves shifting the focus of interactions from yourself to others.
It’s subtle, but this phrase combines gratitude, sympathy, and other-focus all in one package. It can be very powerful.
“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, he turned into a butterfly”
“Hello.” Wait you say, doesn’t everyone say hello. Actually no. Pay attention to how people open conversations and you’ll see that more often they start with open-ended questions that people simply have no desire to know the answer.
For example, these are what people use most often: “how ya doing,” “what’s going on,” “what can I do for you” and “how in the world are you.”
It’s the rare person who wants a truthful answer. People will let you know how they feel and it comes out as a complaint most of the time. If you’re truly interested, great, you will most likely want to know. I’ve found what people want most is to vent. The vast majority will let you know every little complaint and detail. Not always do we want to hear about the down and dirty of another life unless we are really close to that person. The goal is to move past the answer and get to the point.
I know this might sound incredibly insensitive, maybe even hair-splitting, but opening instead with a declaration—basically anything that doesn’t involve a disingenuous question that you really don’t care about or want to hear—is an improvement.
Examples: “hello,” “great to hear from you,” and “thank you for the call.” Yes, you can open a conversation with any of these. These are naturally positive messages, none of which are particularly self-centered. Try them out and I think you’ll notice an improvement.
“Am I Making Sense?” What a great way to diffuse ambiguity. You can use it in place of two less positive responses, “do you understand,” and “do you have any questions.” Both of these leave a slight bit of bad taste, and can be viewed as somewhat harmful.
By asking this question, it’s powerful in its humility. You’re shifting the presumption that if there’s a breakdown in communication, it might actually be your fault in that you haven’t made sense, as opposed to the other person’s inability to understand. This makes it far easier for the other person to respond thoughtfully, truthfully and completely. Yeah, OK, you might have to overcome a bit of vanity by taking your ego out of the conversation, but trust me, it works.
This approach uses an emotionally intelligent strategy to facilitate further communication and make it more likely as a result that you will get what you want and need.
“Thank You.” Come on now, how difficult is it to say those two words when you sign off of a conversation, or when you end written communication. The effort is the same as saying “thanks,” “OK then,” “later,” or you say nothing at the end, which is the worst. Those two little words are endearing and add sophistication to your style, they show that you care in a very caring way. Make it a habit and you will benefit from it.
Don’t be like all the other people in 2021 who don’t try to sophisticate their conversation. Use these phrases to work on your emotional intelligence, and if you don’t have something emotionally intelligent to say, say nothing. Think of how you will respond to family, friends and other folks, especially during this time when our life-line is the phone, text, email, Facetime, Zoom or whatever other platform is out there.
As I mentioned in my last blog, this has been a very difficult time for me in losing both of my parents to COVID related complications in January. I’m still working through the grief, but moreover I’m working through all the logistics and details surrounding their deaths–very time consuming. Inasmuch as I wanted to expand this blog to include more on meaningful communication skills, I simply ran out of juice. Words do make a difference and Thank You for Your Understanding.
“There are two types of people who will tell you that you cannot make a difference in this world: those who are afraid to try and those who are afraid you will succeed”
Goodbye Boomers, for now, and until next week with my next installment of inspiration and kindness. I intend to keep both front and center in every blog I write since the world is short supply of both right now.
Your Number One BoomerGal.
Thanks to www.inc.com for their insight to the many aspects of this blog.