If you want to be understood, first seek to understand. That is the first principle in creating trust, and one that fosters the growth of all close relationships. It is impossible to build a healthy relationship without first understanding the other person, and incredibly difficult if you do not understand yourself.
You’ve probably heard of some techniques for higher levels of communication, and maybe even used them to get what you want, but as the saying goes, there are no shortcuts to any place worth going, and there is no easy way to gain the trust of your fellow man.
The First Key To Healthy Relationships: Listening
The first, and most important key is listening. In war, it would be foolish to send soldiers into battle without first acknowledging the potential risks involved, without properly identifying the danger it would be impossible to recommend a successful strategy. Listening is the preparation before the storm. Sometimes this is as simple as asking someone how their day is, other times you may need to let barriers thaw before getting to know what someone really thinks. As people grow to value your listening, they will open up with what they really think, even if they didn’t show it at first.
As you might have heard, he who can be trusted in small matters will also be trusted with great ones. The key here is to dedicate yourself fully to listening, you don’t want to be so caught up in thinking of a response that you miss half of what they’re trying to tell you! Whatever you say after they are done should come naturally, and I will be going over some example responses in the next step.
Key #2: Understanding – Know Your Enemy and Your Friends
Now, to keep track with the analogy of war planning and listening, understanding is the assessment once the battle has completed, making sure that you have an accurate understanding of the aftermath is important to plan future war efforts.
It may be simple, but it pays dividends to understand that communication is a two-way street. Once you have that idea firmly planted in your mind, you should be ready to start the transition from listening to understanding. The most basic level of listening is hearing, simply letting the surrounding noises fall upon your ears and thinking nothing more of it. One level up from that you have surface-level listening, which is where you only hear what they are saying. The third level is where you begin to understand what the other person is trying to convey, the message behind the words, and this involves watching the person’s movement while still taking into consideration the actual words they are speaking.
Once you have reached the third level of listening, you will begin to see the world much more clearly. You’ve probably heard that 80% of communication is body language, and all it takes to confirm this is to take a look around when others are engaged in conversation. If you work in a social environment, such as a retail store or a relaxed office space that encourages cooperation between workers, try watching for a few weeks whenever other people are talking, with less emphasis on the words than their actions, and then put the two together. You can do this elsewhere, the gym, a park, or any social gathering.
Key #3: Empathize (Allow Others to Influence You)
Empathy comes naturally to most people, with rare exceptions often beyond the control of the affected. Empathy is simple, it is the ability to feel as others feel, and to see the world through their lens. Like living a good life however, it is not complicated, but it is difficult.
It can be easy to be entrenched in our own line of thinking to the point that the views of others seem incredulous or even outright immoral. In one example, I once had a co-worker who I had believed was entirely incompetent, incapable of completing even simple tasks. Had I not been influenced in the way that I had at that time, I would have forever labeled him as a dolt, a dull-witted, weak-willed individual who would never amount to anything. What I came to find out however, was that he had been misinformed about his position, he was told that he would be filling in only for a short time and then would be moved to his desired position. Four months later, coupled with the lack of training he was given, he was disgruntled and lost motivation in his position. While it might be easy to say that he should have just stuck it out, or used it as an opportunity to grow his influence, it is also easy to see that he had been dealt an unfair hand in those four months, and had I thought to ask in the beginning, it would have been much easier to gain his trust, and he might have even learned to enjoy his new occupation.
They key to empathy is to understand, even if you disagree on the most basic of principles, being able to clearly understand each other, and then communicate your point of view in a way that is easy to understand will pave the road to cooperation down the line, and lead to less expended effort in the long run.
Key #4: To Grow Trust, It Must Be Watered Each Day.
Key number four is your follow-through. In relationships, consistency is king. You don’t have to go out of your way to find opportunities to listen, just asking how someone is doing can be enough to get the ball rolling, a handful of kindness can become a mountain of good will if it is done genuinely. Most of this step is repeating what you have learned, pounding it into shape and sharpening your skills to a fine point. The most important thing to remember when listening is that the person speaking is just as complex in their understanding of the world as you are, and it may take time before they will tell you exactly what they think.
The Four Keys of Communication.
1. Listening: This is the stepping stone, the foundation upon which all of your relationship will rest, if there is something that you are unsure of, often times you only need to ask. It is also important to respect the wishes of others, including those who do not find a need to share with you. When it comes to those few people who are unwilling to share at all, never take it personally, as it is usually a product of their experiences, and not something you have done.
2. Understanding: If your advice is asked for, you should be honest in your belief, speak clearly and concisely. Otherwise, your responses should be to confirm your understanding of the situation. For example, “What I’m hearing is, you are (Frustrated, excited, upset) about (work/school) because (it is difficult, it exceeded expectations, it did not meet expectations?” It is not always necessary to put it so formally, but the idea is to convey your understanding of their viewpoint while leaving it open to their correction, should you misinterpret their expression.
3. Empathize: As mentioned before, this is something that comes naturally to many people, and can be learned through consistent exposure to the emotions of others. To put it simply, general is specific. Humans are unique on the surface, but all have a wired capacity for experiences and when open and honest about them can find common ground.
4. Growing Trust: There is a lot to say for persistence, it is the reason for the law of compounding in a nutshell. The more true you are to yourself and your intentions, the easier it will become to create healthy relationships. People will only learn to trust you when you learn to trust yourself. Just putting in a little effort where you can will put you miles ahead of the average listener.
Listening is one of the most important skills that you can learn, coupled with a strong sense of self and rooted principles, it will lead you to live the greatest life you could imagine.
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