One important, but often neglected, aspect of communication is the act of reflection.
Reflection simply means that you review things and learn. We can learn from what went well and also from what went not so well. Experience provides us with data and feedback. If we take the data and feedback and use it to grow our skills and abilities we’ll get better and better at whatever it is we are trying to improve.
Face to face communication is no different so use the power of reflection to improve your skills.
There’s no right or wrong way to reflect on anything. We’re all different. You can reflect straight after a conversation or presentation and analyse what went well or badly then determine what, if anything, you will do to improve next time the situation arises. Some people like to reflect much later when they are quiet and they have the time to reflect more deeply and with more focus. I reflect and analyse conversations and presentations over many different timescales. I particularly like to reflect long-term and the end of every year is a good time for me to do this.
To further enhance the benefits you gain from reflection, you may like to try one technique I use regularly — especially right after a difficult conversation or a training event. It works for me and it may well work for you. Adapt it to suit yourself and then reflect on the results you get. Whatever works most effectively for you is the most important thing.
This technique is one used regularly by practitioners of Neuro-linguistic Programming, or NLP, and it’s known as Perceptual Positioning. It may well feel awkward at first but no-one’s watching you and remember that everything new can feel strange at first.
If you’re analysing a conversation that didn’t go as well as you’d hoped try the following:
Take two chairs and place them opposite one another. Sit in one chair. Replay the conversation in your mind as if watching a movie. You can see the other person and their reactions to your words and gestures. You can watch and listen to their gestures and words to you. Experiencing this replay from your own perspective is known as first position.
Now physically move to sit in the other chair and replay the conversation again as a movie. The difference is that this time you’ll get into the mind of the other person. You’ll try to experience the event from their perspective. Match the way they sit and how they talk and try to feel how they’d feel and think about your words and gestures. Remember that as you are now the other person you can now see yourself in the original chair and hear you using your own words and making your own gestures. This bit may feel very weird at first but can be very illuminating. How are you sitting? What facial expressions do you use? What’s your tone of voice like? How does it emotionally affect the person you now inhabit and how do they respond back to you? Experiencing the event from this perspective is known as second position.
Now physically stand up and move away from both chairs until you can comfortably visualise looking at yourself and the other person from a neutral or third position perspective. Replay the conversation and note how both participants, you and the other person, react to each other.
Now here’s a real mind blower. From this third position is there any advice or useful comment you could pass back to your first position self to help them out for next time? If there is then just let yourself know it.
Now go back the original chair and replay the conversation again from your own first position perspective; along with any new knowledge or perspective you’ve gained from the exercise. It can be fascinating to note how the scenario has altered. You may find that whole areas of your communication landscape have changed. Things you were completely sure of before can seem far more fluid and open to interpretation now. It can feel very strange and disorienting but the knowledge you now have may well help you grow and adapt and the next conversation you have with that person could go in completely new ways.
If you’re a trainer or a speaker you can place yourself in the mind and position of an audience member for second position. If you’re a salesperson, place yourself in the mind and position of your customer for second position. If you’re a parent then go for the child’s point of view. It works across the board so experiment a little.
Try it and see if it works for you. Nothing ventured — nothing gained.
Always reflect with an open mind and you’ll find there are always new things to learn.
Andrew D Pope