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When better communication means changing your beliefs

Read time: 4 min

Have you ever struggled communicating with people at work or in meetings because you are perceived to be abrasive, too direct or confrontational? Consequently, management is unhappy with your leadership skills, your colleagues are irritated with you, and you fear this will impact your career. This is when you finally decide to enroll in a communication class, read books or work with a specialist to help you improve. But no matter what you do, you are stuck in the same position with the usual feeling that people won't change their perceptions of you.

I recently held a group coaching workshop for a corporation in Switzerland and had the opportunity to work with a very bright and diverse team. On the last day, we started our group coaching sessions. The participants brought up various subjects for coaching. One of them wanted to be coached about a communication predicament related to how others perceived her.

Do you have a defeatist attitude?

As I started coaching this person, I noticed something quite familiar. Someone can't shift their energy around their behavior no matter how many books they read or workshops they take if they won’t change their mindset. Actually, over time, our repeated communication blunders deeply affect us, and we will say things like, “The tone of my voice is just too harsh, I can’t change that” or “My facial expression is too rigid, that’s how it is” or “I know I’m hard to deal with, but that’s part of me.” Basically, you believe you are a bad communicator and walk into every single meeting and conversation expecting all will be just the same. The core belief is “I lack that skill. They all know it. This conversation is likely going to be difficult.

Stuck in a loop

This is a common self-fulfilling prophecy and will lead us only to what we expect. The way we think about situations, people or ourselves affects how we approach them. If we think negatively, we will often act in a manner that aggravates the situation. For example, if you come with the belief that every time you talk to Marc from engineering you anticipate an unpleasant encounter, your mind finds all the flaws between you and Marc before and during your conversation just to prove you were right. This confirmation bias is well known and documented*. It can also be very destructive for our relationships, exasperate conflict and create negative experiences for us when none actually exist. This is when you might argue: “Are you kidding me? I’ve always had bad experiences in these kinds of situations and with the same people.” Well, let me challenge you on that one with a simple question: If it happened in the past, does that mean it needs to continue to be so?

Changing your beliefs

In your career, you likely face encounters and situations that are less than ideal. But the more you focus on the faults of these people or yourself, or situational problems, the more your behaviors may come across negatively—and this can hurt your career. Emotional intelligence requires that we manage our reactions. It is even more beneficial to be able to “prevent” these reactions by changing our thinking about them and about ourselves.

Next time you need to meet with that person, that Marc, pause and pay attention to your views and intentions. Ask yourself…