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Sunday Self-Scaler 13
5 uncommon ways to improve your communication skills, the mind-blowing book I'm reading, and 3 questions I want you to ask yourself.
Unable to hold it in any longer, “C-ca-ca-ca-can I u-u-use the washroom”, I blurt out. Loud sniggers. “You c-ca-ca-can”, the teacher says. Louder sniggers as I turn beetroot red before rushing out.
When I developed a stutter in middle school, the mocking and jeering ingrained the fear of speaking within me. The mere act of pronouncing my own name would have me drowning in perspiration.
My biology teacher who also happened to be a practicing psychologist advised me to clearly voice the words in my head before speaking.
“The mere act of pronouncing my own name would have me drowning in perspiration.”
Speak in Your Mind First
And to my pleasant surprise, it worked. With this, my stutter became manageable. Soon, I completely got rid of it but the habit of voicing the words in my mind stuck.
What was a conscious deliberate effort earlier had become an unconscious habit and this has worked wonders for my communication. To quote a blog by Farnam Street,
“Expertise, as the formula goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence.”
When you speak in your mind first, you better organize your thoughts and validate what you are going to say. And since you’ve already said it, it will come out much more coherently.
Also, this acts as a “circuit breaker” that will help you not say things you don’t really mean or intend to under the influence of emotions. As someone that used to have a sharp tongue, I know just how bad it can be.
Moreover, speaking under the influence of emotions can negatively influence your thought patterns and life in the long term. This is because according to research, our subconscious interprets what we say very literally. To quote psychologist Shirley Vandersteen,
“Not only do your words create a positive or negative reaction in the world around you; your speech influences your thinking and can alter the course of your future. Your words are a way of underlining your thoughts and reinforcing them. When your words are harsh, negative, inconsiderate, or judgmental then these are the aspects of your experience that are emphasized. It won’t be long before you have developed the habit of always focusing your thoughts on the darker side of life.”
So before you speak, voice the words in your mind first. You will not only be able to communicate better but will also say only things that you really intend to.
It will have to be painfully deliberate at first but with time, it will get programmed into your subconscious.
Explain Rocket Science to An 8-Year-Old
“Why?” he asks with the triangle of a watermelon slice sitting snugly in the ‘o’ of his mouth. “What do you mean why? I am tired of your whys,” I say exasperatedly.
His soft brown eyes flash a blank look. “Ok fine,” I take a deep breath and continue. “See, it’s simple. Given an address, you first lookup the region, then the layout or colony, then the street, then the building, and then the house number, right?”
As he nods furiously, I continue, “So it’s easy. Say instead, the entire city had only buildings with numbers and no named streets, colonies, and areas. It would be super hard to find your way. The internet is similar to this.”
“Oh yes, it makes sense now”, he says suddenly brightening up. Then, throwing the green rind in the dustbin and wiping the dripping red around his mouth with his shirt sleeve, he tumbles away on his 8-year-old legs.
I let out a deep sigh of satisfaction and relief. The kid was smart but explaining things to him was a pain. Explaining things to any kid is a pain but that’s exactly why you should.
Efficient communication boils down to just one thing — conveying what you want to in the simplest manner possible. So when you can explain things to the “simplest” listener you can get a.k.a a little kid, you can do it to anyone.
“Explaining things to any kid is a pain but that’s exactly why you should.”
Moreover, since very few things have as short attention spans as kids do, you are forced to keep your discourse as interesting as possible — in my adventurous pursuit of trying to enlighten my little cousin about the workings of the internet, the biggest challenge was keeping the kid interested.
Get a kid and try to explain something complex to him. It could be your sibling, nephew, or someone you kidnapped.
Just kidding, don’t do the last one otherwise you’ll end up in a cell with just a bunch of convicts and the walls to communicate with.
Tell Yourself to Shut the F*ck Up
Back in my stuttering days, since the act of speaking required me to muster every ounce of courage I had, I spoke less and listened more.
But I still had decent conversations, in fact much better than the ones I had once I lost my stutter and became a one-way speaking machine.
It’s crazy how one of the best things to improve your communication skills is not to communicate at all. No, not stark silence, that would creep the f*ck out of the other person.
But rather silences every now and then. It’s only when you stop speaking that the other person can speak. And it’s only when the other person also speaks that it becomes a conversation.
“Also, it’s for a reason that we have two ears but only one mouth.”
In fact, the less you speak the better. Most love speaking and consequently people that let them speak. This is mainly because listening is harder. No wonder, I had decent conversations during my stuttering days.
Also, it’s for a reason that we have two ears but only one mouth. So the next time you converse, every now and then, remind yourself to shut the f*ck up.
Cringe at Yourself in The Mirror
Public speaking used to be one of my biggest fears. It still is. But now, I can give one without drowning in a pool of perspiration.
And in conversations, both one-on-one and in small groups, I used to get super self-conscious and fidget obsessively. I still do but only slightly.
What changed was me getting comfortable with how I looked when I spoke. The first few times, I spoke in a mirror and made eye contact with myself, I cringed hard.
“The smile, the gestures, my facial expression, the way my lips moved, everything felt weird and out of place.”
The smile, the gestures, my facial expression, the way my lips moved, everything felt weird and out of place. Not surprising, considering the fact that it was the first time I was looking at myself from a second person’s POV.
So, warm up to your mirror self, strike up a conversation, and don’t forget to cringe hard. You’ll become more self-aware, confident, and more likely to make eye contact.
Listen to Your Voice Recordings
Do you remember listening to your voice in a recording for the first time and going, “Eww! Do I actually sound like that?”. If you do, then you aren’t alone as this is something that’s extremely common.
If you’ve wondered why, then Martin Birchall, professor of laryngology at University College London has an answer,
“When we talk, it’s like everyone hears the sound through speakers, but we’re hearing it through a cave complex inside our own heads.
The sound is going around our sinuses, all the empty spaces in our heads and the middle part of our ears, which changes the way we hear sounds compared to what other people hear.”
Even after the first few times, it doesn’t get easier and we can’t help but cringe. And this is exactly why recording yourself and listening to it can work wonders.
You’ll not only be able to get comfortable with your own voice the way it sounds to others but you will also be able to analyze the way you speak, the words you say, and think about possible changes.
So, swap out music for your own recordings. Soon, your own voice will sound like music to your ears. Nah, it probably won’t ever, but it will at least let you not die cringing from within.
Communication is what fuels the world and good communication skills can take you places. If the traditional advice on improving your communication skills doesn’t cut it, the unconventional will. To summarize,
Before saying anything, voice the words in your mind. You will have to deliberately and consciously do this in the beginning but with time, it will get programmed into your subconscious.
Try to explain something complex to a little kid. The challenge here is not only making him understand but also keeping him interested.
Remind yourself to shut the f*ck up from time to time. Good communication is equally if not more listening than speaking.
Talk in front of the mirror and listen to your voice recordings. You might find yourself cringing hard but that’s normal. Take time to get comfortable with these as they are how you are perceived by others.
The Mind-Blowing Book I’ve Been Reading
Based on my writing friend Akshad’s recommendation and freaking Bill Gates’s five-star rating, I picked up Seven Eves by Neal Stephenson.
And wow. Like legit wow. The kind of effort and brainpower that’s gone into this book is clearly astronomical. Hats off to you Neal, you’ve written a masterpiece.
Coming to the book’s story, it starts off with the moon being shattered into 7 pieces by “The Agent”. What follows is the story of humanity’s struggle to survive as the earth is battered by raining asteroids for thousands of years.
I am around 92% into the book and am kinda sad that it’s going to be completed soon. Nevertheless, this book will remain one of my top favorites of all time.
A small heads up - This ISN’T a light fun read, this is a super-heavy duty science dense one.
3 Questions I Want You to Ask Yourself
Midway through a phone call with a friend while we were talking about future plans and stuff, I realized how fuzzy mine were. I sure have a life I love right now but regarding the future, I didn’t have a powerfully specific enough direction.
Sure, you could say that “People change and plans are meant to be broken” but even then, plans are necessary for a general sense of direction. Without direction, you’re lost in life.
So here are the three questions I want you to ask yourself:
Where do I see myself in 10 years?
Where do I want to be in 10 months?
What do I want to achieve in the next 10 days?
The long to short-term gradient will force you to break your long-term goals into shorter chunks and zone in with a razor-sharp focus on each one of them.
You can share the answers with me and the rest of the community through a comment if you want or you keep them private to yourself.
Either way, have answers.
It is past my bedtime but the joy of having finished the week’s scaler successfully as I promised more than makes up for it.
Hoping you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing, I wish you a great week ahead!