7 Tips to become a super communicator

Every time the front door of my gym swings open and a member breezes into the space, the entrance staff cries out “Have a great workout!” Five years into giving limp waves in return, I bellied up to the desk and asked the staffers how they were doing.

Thus began my weeklong experiment in being one of the “super-communicators”. My bible was bestselling author Charles Duhigg’s zippy psychology self-help book of the same name. Inspired by his own chagrin at being a less than sterling conversational partner – with his children, wife and employees at his former workplace – he committed himself to learning how to talk to others in a way that makes them feel heard.

Supercommunicators are rarely the most dynamic people in the room. They are the normies who are blessed with the ability to make those around them feel truly understood. The benefits aren’t only altruistic. Supercommunicators are scarily good at getting what they want.

So here goes my week of trying to live like somebody who is fueled by more than nervous energy, and possessed with the true gift of gab.

Saturday: mirror their wants and needs

It’s my warm-up day, and I’m starting off with a low-stakes audience. After we talk about the post New Years crowds, I ask the gym’s front desk denizens what they all do when they’re not sitting behind a front desk. A bit of an overstep, perhaps, but they’re game. One tells me that he is an actor and poet. Another says he is still in high school and considering joining the military. And the woman tells me that she is a plus-size model.

I think of Duhigg’s “matching principle”– mirroring somebody’s wants and needs is a way of drawing them closer, so I tell her that I’ve been dreaming of becoming a silver hair influencer ever since I stopped dying my hair. (It’s true.) She chuckles and shares the information of a few modeling agencies I might consider hitting up. As I wrap up my conversation and head over to the treadmill, I feel like myself – but on speed.

Sunday: laugh your way into their heart

I swing by my parents’ place, determined to try out Duhigg’s advice about laughter, which he says is invaluable for forging bonds. I think of some of the giddy meetings I overhear taking place behind glass walls at work. What jokes can they possibly be telling? Turns out little of what people laugh at actually constitutes funny material. According to the work of the British researcher Robert Provine, the vast majority of laughter follows “rather banal remarks”.

Unfortunately, the conversation at my childhood home is more baleful than banal. My father and mother are looking after my sister’s elderly cocker spaniel, who is recovering from eye surgery. So I remember that pivoting the conversational tone to reflect the needs of others is another key Duhiggism. I ask my parents about the daily routine with their four-legged patient, then how they are feeling about their adventures in dog-sitting. (Small talk that moves past the surface and asks people how they feel about the information in play, is another Duhigg tip.) Turns out my parents have a lot to say.

Monday: use your influence

Many of the examples in Duhigg’s book end in a supercommunicator influencing others to land on a desired outcome. I decide to try to charm a customer service representative to give me a better deal on my fitness app. Sadly, there is no phone number available, so I strike up a conversation with the chat software. My partner tells me his name is Ken, and assures me he is a real human. I comment on the dreary east coast weather, dash off a sad face emoji, then put in what I hope is a low-key request for a lower monthly fee. Then I say I can imagine he might feel taken advantage of when people ask for more than he is equipped to give.

“I’m just having a difficult time answering your questions. I’m not really used to talking about myself, especially in this case,” Ken tells me. My next reply to him, studded with weirdly placed “lol”s, evidently scares him away. “We’re offline,” a text bubble informs me.

Tuesday: assess what kind of conversation is needed

I’ve done something to annoy my husband. I would tell you what it was, but that would annoy him even more. He’s quiet throughout dinner. Duhigg says that the first step to a successful dialogue with a loved one is to figure out what kind of conversation the other person is looking to have. He likens this to the way elementary school teachers ask their students in distress: “Do you want to be heard, helped, or hugged?”

The cornerstone of Duhigg’s strategy is grouping conversations into three overarching buckets: “What’s This Really About?” (the most goal-driven back and forths), “How Do We Feel?” (a forum for airing feelings, otherwise known as “venting”), and “Who Are We?” (where participants banter about the new TV show they’re obsessed with or gossip as a way to establish their tastes and identities). “Do you want to discuss what I can do differently in the future, or is this about how you’re feeling?” I ask my beloved after dinner. He grunts and buries his face in a magazine. I remain a stupidconnector.

Wednesday: prepare a list of topics to discuss

No-grain diets. E Jean Carroll. A mutual friend’s bizarre career pivot. So goes the list of topics I have prepared for a lunch date with a former colleague who, I fear, wants me to do him a favor. According to Duhigg’s book, showing up to a meeting with a list of conversational topics will obviate the need to scramble for chatter, thus freeing up participants to be present and leave the scene in better moods. Over cheeseburgers, I steer the chat through my premeditated agenda, and find myself feeling leagues less frenetic than usual. After the server has cleared our plates, my ex-colleague clears his throat. But he doesn’t want to ask me for a favor. He wants to tell me about his teenage child’s recent struggles. Humbled, I listen.

Thursday: repeat what they’re saying

I’m falling behind on a story (midday lunches have that effect). Per Duhigg’s findings, reading non-verbal cues is essential, so I ask my editor for a video chat and steel myself to deliver the news face to face. My colleague is harried – more than I would have realized had I shot off an excuse on Slack. I ask them to tell me more about the work on their plate. “Looping for understanding” is a Duhigg-suggested tactic of slowing down a difficult conversation by listening to the other person’s hardship, repeating what you’ve heard, and then sharing what you have to say.

I assure my editor that they are doing a phenomenal job. By the time I get around to my own update, the pressure in my chest has dissipated. It’s evident that my failure to file my article on time is the least of the editor’s worries.

Friday: pay attention to non-verbal clues

My family has dinner with friends. The wife is incredibly kind and brilliant but after years of social visits, I have yet to walk away feeling like we have much in common. I don’t even have her phone number! Tonight is going to be different, though.

Showing that you are listening is just half the battle, I now know. You need to actually pay attention – with your ears and eyes – picking up on clues, and steering the conversation accordingly. I tune into her moves like a hawk-eyed naturalist. I perk up when she says “yeah” or “uh-huh”, which is a sign of somebody being engaged (or “back-channeling”, as Duhigg calls it). I note when she interrupts me, a sign she wants to skip ahead. Our conversation is more loose and fun than I was expecting. As I am leaving we exchange phone numbers. And when I reach home, I see she has followed me on Instagram. Huzzah!

Source: Lauren Mechling, The Guardian

“Communication works for those who work at it.”
– John Powell

Did you know this about disc?

DiSC is an assessment that aids with effective communication

With Conversation Starters on Catalyst, teams have an easy and fun way to tackle common challenges that hinder performance and move to tangible change. By combining DiSC with simple discussion guides, teams can talk about personality-based differences and how they affect group performance.
 You will:

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  1. Visit the Your Groups feature on Catalyst
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