Imagine a force that has the power to influence people’s thoughts, emotions and bodies. A description of this “force” might seem to be the stuff of science fiction, and yet it is a power that resides within each one of us—the power of communication. Communication is a basic building block of relationships. The following principles and practices can help you improve your communication skills with clients and students.
In the communication realm, the task at hand is to pay full attention to the words of your clientele (as well as your own words), while receiving their words with a sense of acceptance. Mindfulness can be cultivated within a formal meditation practice or as an informal practice of fully attending to the present moment. One quick way of cultivating present-centered awareness is to pay attention to your breathing.
Practice: Notice what you are saying to students in the present moment. How do your words align with your posture, voice tone, eye contact and facial expression? If necessary, adjust these aspects of your nonverbal behavior so that they are fully congruent with your words.
Encouragement, praise and supportive communications can increase your clients’ motivation to achieve desired goals. On the other hand, criticism can lower motivation, especially if the criticism is not balanced by positive communication.
Practice: Notice the amount of positive (e.g., encouragement, praise) versus negative (e.g., criticism, judgment) messages that you express toward clients. Make a commitment to express more positive messages toward them.
If you would like your students to change in a desired direction, it is much more effective to focus on actions that are moving toward the goal, as opposed to highlighting actions that are off target. Intentional communication focuses more on solutions and skills than on problems and deficits.
Practice: Declare an intention to yourself, such as, “I would like to be more acknowledging of the competency of my students.” Use your imagination to visualize how you will use your thoughts, words and actions to express this intention. After you have developed a clear picture, practice expressing yourself intentionally in a real situation with your students.
Be sensitive to the gender, cultural, ethnic and geographic differences among your clients. Don’t stereotype others, but be aware that sometimes differences do exist with regard to communication styles. Clients who are emotionally resilient or “thick-skinned” might be able to tolerate aggressive communications from their instructor, while others who are shy and unassertive might withdraw from such interactions. The sensitivity of your communication can mean the difference between having thriving or dwindling classes and numbers of clients.
Practice: Notice the differences in communication style among select students and clients. Further notice how you can best make contact with these individuals, recognizing that you may need to use a slightly different style of communication with each person you encounter. Think of this as “speaking a different language” in order to skillfully fulfill the responsibilities of your role.
Communicating respectfully means considering the point of view of your students, especially when there is a difference of opinion. A respectful instructor or coach also recognizes that every student has a unique frame of reference that will affect his or her understanding of instructions and directives. Respectful communication is supported by your willingness to understand the opinions and perceptions of those you teach, without the need to be “right” or to fulfill an image of being “the expert.”
Practice: Listen to the opinions of your students without judging them as being right or wrong. Acknowledge their point of view without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing with them, and ask gentle open-ended questions to develop a deeper understanding of their perspective. Open-ended questions usually facilitate more in-depth responses. Open-ended questions typically begin with words such as how, what, where or why.
Humility allows you to quietly embody your self-worth without having to boast about being better than anyone else. A humble instructor is open to learning from others. A humble instructor functions as a “servant” to his or her students, not as a self-important “master.”
Practice: Look for instances where your clients are spontaneously teaching you valuable lessons or providing meaningful information to you. When appropriate, communicate appreciation for their contribution to your learning.
To learn more about effective communication skills, see “Fit for Communication” in the online IDEA Library or in the May 2010 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.
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