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Issue 21


In this issue ~~

* Creativity in Communication

* Creative Tip

* Wise Words

* Bookshelf


Creativity in Communication

Communication is probably not something you would instantly equate with creativity. It's something that we do throughout our lives, but often don't give much thought to how we're doing it. But communication is a skill (and perhaps an art), and like any other skill, we can improve upon it.

With better communication, we can enhance our relationships, both personal and business. And since just about everything in life is based on relationship, the impact of improved communication can be far-reaching.

Business and personal development coach Henry Barbey, whose seminars on communication have impacted many people, has shared some of his thoughts on communication with me.

Barbey suggests that one of the primary factors in good communication is listening. Listening is hearing, but with the added component of seeking to understand what the other person is communicating. We achieve this by listening with the intent to understand, rather than thinking about our reaction or response to the communication. The result is that the other person feels that we are interested in them and what they have to say. By paying attention, we can pick up clues about the person and what they are saying that will forward the conversation and help create relationship.

It's also important to note that communication is a two-way street. Speaking is only half the picture; the message needs to be acknowledged in order to be complete. When someone else is speaking, you can let them know you're receiving their communication by focusing your attention on them and perhaps adding an occasional nod or saying "uh-huh" to let them know you're with them (this is particularly important on the phone, where the speaker is otherwise met by dead silence).

Barbey also uses what he calls a "feedback loop." What this means is that, from time to time in the conversation, you rephrase or paraphrase what the person said and repeat it back to them. They can then acknowledge that you understood what they said or provide clarification. It's as if the person is communicating in code, and you are decoding the message and sending it back to them for verification. By using the "feedback loop," you can confirm that the communication has been received accurately. You'd be surprised how often this is not the case.

Part of becoming conscious of good communication is being aware of the barriers. Barbey lists several categories to consider:

~ Environmental -- There are times when the environment is not conducive to certain kinds of communication. For example, a noisy restaurant is not the place for an intimate, meaningful conversation. Likewise, the office may not be the best place to discuss personal issues.

~ Preoccupation with one's own thoughts -- Often as we listen to someone, our minds are busy planning how we will respond. Or we're off thinking about a personal issue that's on our mind or in a past memory that the conversation has triggered. When we do that, we're not fully present and miss a lot of what is said. This is an example of hearing rather than listening.

~ Personal judgments and biases -- As with preoccupation, as someone is speaking, we may find ourselves off in our head, having a running monologue judging what the person is saying. "I like that, I don't like that, I don't agree" and harsher judgments fill our mind. Or we may have personal biases about what the person is saying, or about the person him or herself, that block us from really listening to what is being said.

~ Cultural factors -- Different cultures have different styles of communication, including use of words and body language. We may misinterpret what is said or even take offense. The person's gestures, or lack of them, may be distracting. The language barrier itself or a difficult-to-understand accent may also cause us to "tune out" and lose what's being said.

~ Low self-esteem -- If you feel unworthy, and therefore intimidated by the person you're speaking with, it's hard for the communication to flow. Your attention tends to be on yourself -- what you're saying, how you look, what they think of you -- and not on really listening to what's being said.

So how do we begin to improve our communication?

~ Become conscious of your communication. Awareness is the first step to change. Start noticing how you communicate, how you listen, which barriers are getting in your way.

~ Have an intent to communicate more effectively. Intention is a powerful force that sets change in motion.

~ Listen with the intent of understanding. Give your attention fully to the other person. If you find your mind wandering, pull it back. Refocus on the message and its meaning. Trust that you will be able to respond appropriately and at the right time (and let it be okay if you don't have a brilliant response prepared!).

~ Whether you're speaking or not, actively engage in the conversation. Begin practicing the "feedback loop." At appropriate points, rephrase and "mirror" what the other person said. Ask questions or build on what's been said.

~ On a more advanced level, we can become aware of whether a person's primary sensory system is auditory, visual or kinesthetic (touch). So you would connect more with an auditory person by asking, "Do you hear what I'm saying?" rather than "Do you see/feel what I'm saying?" You might get through more easily with a visual person by drawing a diagram. And a kinesthetic person would learn more easily hands-on, rather than watching a demonstration or hearing an explanation.

As artists, better communication can help us in our work. For actors, listening and *then* responding, rather than just waiting for your cue, is integral to good acting. One of the things I admire about musicians playing together is the way they tune into each other so beautifully; this is an excellent example of non-verbal communication.

For visual artists who work solo, the communication may be with yourself. By tuning into your own intuition and creativity without the critical chatter, you can more authentically touch your own self-expression. Or if you're doing a commissioned work, by listening to what the client says and using the "feedback loop" to be sure you're receiving their communication clearly (as well as expressing your own vision for the project), you can create greater rapport and thereby more accurately fulfill their desires while also completing the project to your own satisfaction.

So start by becoming more conscious of your communication and practicing some of the skills listed here. As you begin to listen more fully, your relationships and your life will become more effective and begin to take on a flow that makes them more fun and pleasurable. And with practice, you can lift the skill of communication to an art!


A special thanks to business and personal coach Henry Barbey for sharing with us his passion for helping people communicate more effectively.


Creative Tip

When you're in a conversation with someone and feeling distracted, stop. Acknowledge your distraction and ask them to repeat or clarify what they said. If the issue on your mind is preventing you from giving them the attention they deserve at this time, explain that and set up another time when you can.


Wise Words

"The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer."

~ Henry David Thoreau

"Excellence, to me, is the state of grace that can descend only when one tunes out all the world's clamor, listens to an inward voice one recognizes as wiser than one's own, and transcribes without fear."

~ Naomi Wolf, "The Most Important Thing I Know"



(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships . . . Michael Nichols

Listening: The Forgotten Skill . . . Madelyn Burley-Allen

Changing the World: One Relationship at a Time: Focused Listening for Mutual Support & Empowerment . . . Sheryl Karas

Effective Listening Skills . . . Abby Robinson Kratz, Dennis M. Kratz, Art James Productions

Listening : How to Increase Awareness of Your Inner Guide . . . Lee Coit



© 1999 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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