Language is about Connection (not Grammar)

I recently read that the roots of a redwood tree don’t run very deep.

Instead of growing downward, they grow out, extending sideways to wrap themselves around the roots of other trees. When rough weather comes, it’s the network of closely intertwined roots that allows the trees to stand strong.

We humans are the same. We need to interact and connect with others in our daily lives. It makes us stronger.

As Robert Waldinger sums up at the end of his Ted Talk on “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness”: the good life is built with good relationships.

The problem nowadays is that we allow the pressure to be constantly productive and “the cult of busyness” to diminish the time we spend on developing meaningful relationships.

Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism, recently wrote here about the dangers of diminished communication (sms, email etc.), highlighting that when you “strip away these elements of interaction, you strip away a lot of what makes us human“.

In short, we’re losing touch with ourselves and others.

So, how can we connect more with others?

“I can’t connect. My English isn’t that great. I won’t be able to hold a good conversation”.

Ever thought that thought?

If you have, then you’ve forgotten one of the most important rules in life:

Everyone will connect with you if you are willing to do just ONE thing: LISTEN.

How do you listen?

And I’m not talking about listening to:

  1. Interrupt.
  2. Place your opinion.
  3. Contradict.
  4. Tell your story.
  5. Judge.
  6. Perceive signs you’re right.
  7. Confirm what you already know.

Which, let’s face it, we’re all guilty of at times!

I’m talking about deep focus, being totally present, not thinking about past or future, not having any hidden agenda or filters or worries working in the background.

If you do this, then it’s much easier to naturally integrate what is said.

Ozan Varol gives us a great tip here: the best conversationalists listen. And they don’t just listen. They […] listen with the goal of summarizing and highlighting what the other person said.” He also adds: “there’s so much noise in the world. We’re all pining to be heard. If you can make your conversation partner feel heard, you’ll foster a deep connection that will persist long after the conversation is over”.

How do you make your conversation partner feel heard?

– by being able to summarize what they’ve said in simple terms:

You can make this easier for yourself by using clarifying expressions during the conversation:

  • from what I understand, you’re saying that…..?
  • what I’m hearing is that…., is that right?
  • I’m sorry but I didn’t understand your last sentence, could you repeat that for me?

Then summarizing using these expressions:

  • in a nutshell, Kelly was saying that….
  • to make a long story short, Kelly is a coach who….

– by being curious:

  • asking meaningful open-ended questions about the last thing the person just said, such as “So you recently moved to Boston. What do you like most about living here?” (NB: questions that can’t be answered with just a “yes” or a “no”, which are conversation killers!)
  • using 3 simple words: “Tell me more”. “Tell more more” shows that you’re interested and encourages your partner to go more into his story/explanations/experiences. You connect and create a stronger bond by making him/her feel heard.

So, even if you’re learning a language and feel like you don’t have the best grammar or enough words, you can still talk to people all day using the above two steps.

And don’t forget, speaking in English or any other foreign language is only scary if you’re lost in thought, and a thought is like a cloud passing in the sky, it has no substance. If you don’t attach to it, a different one will come along.

A personal note:

I used to get lost in thought about having to know all the answers in my role as a Coach, which was crazy as I know that only my clients know the right answers, deep inside of them. My job is to listen deeply, ask curious questions and often just to say: tell me more. It gets us going deeper into the real reason for something and opens up the possibilities for insight.



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