How to be a ‘supercommunicator’ : Life Kit : NPR

1709228344 How to be a supercommunicator Life Kit NPR | isentertainmentgroup
An illustration in an oil pastel style shows two figures sitting on the grass in a field, working together to plant and harvest a garden of beautiful flowers. Their connection and collaboration is fostering fruitful growth, symbolizing the power of connection to grow understanding and relationships.

Have you ever met someone who is exceptionally easy to talk to? Someone who – simply through good conversation – gets you to open up? Makes you feel smarter, more interesting or just understood?

These are all common traits of « supercommunicators » — people who are consistently able to create authentic connections with others just by listening and talking. They’re the topic of a new book published this month, Supercommunicators: How to Unlock the Secret Language of Connection, by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg.

You don’t need a specific personality type — like being outgoing or chatty — to be an effective conversationalist, says Duhigg in his book. « It’s just a set of skills that anyone can learn, » like asking deep questions or being vulnerable.

You’ll want to master these skills, he says, because they can help you bond with others in « a profound way that makes life so much more meaningful. » In fact, studies have shown that when people have positive personal relationships and feel connected to their communities – a feat made possible through good communication – they tend to have happier, healthier and longer lives.

Duhigg, who drew on scientific research, psychology and interviews with people whose jobs rely on communication (like executives and spies) to write his book, shares four habits of supercommunicators.

1. They know what kind of conversation they’re having

One key trait of supercommunicators is that they know what kind of conversation they’re having — and are therefore able to respond accordingly, says Duhigg. Generally, conversations tend to fall into three categories.

Practical conversations: Let’s say you are talking to a friend who is complaining about work. If you were having a practical conversation, your friend might ask you to help problem-solve and make hard decisions. They may ask straightforward questions like, « What do you think I should do about my boss? » If you’re in this type of conversation, be ready to give good advice.

Emotional conversations: People engaging in these types of discussions are are seeking empathy, not answers, says Duhigg. If your friend who is complaining about work is expressing their feelings and saying things like, « I’m so frustrated this is happening! » or « my work environment is so stressful! » you may want to show your support by being a good listener.

Social conversations: Any time you’re, say, gossiping about office politics, discussing relationships with friends or sharing how your family background influences your identity, you’re having a social conversation. These discussions reflect « how we see others and how other people see us, » says Duhigg. If you’re in this type of dialogue, be mindful of the different perspectives each person brings to the table and seek common ground.

2. They ‘prove’ they’re listening

There are plenty of ways to appear like you’re listening, says Duhigg, like making eye contact or nodding intently. But proving to someone that you’re listening is the quickest road to making someone feel heard.

To do that, he suggests a technique called « looping for understanding. » First, ask someone a question and then listen to their response. Next, repeat back in your own words what they just told you. Lastly – and this is the step that people usually forget, he says – ask your conversation partner if you got what they said correct.

This practice might sound fairly simple, but it packs a big punch, says Duhigg. « When we’re in conflict, the other person doesn’t know if we’re listening or if we’re just waiting our turn to speak, » he says. So if you can show someone you genuinely want to understand them, it creates trust — even if you both completely disagree with each other.

3. They ask (a lot of) the right questions

Research shows that highly effective communicators tend to ask 10 to 20 times as many questions as everyone else. They may simply be follow-up questions that signal to the other person that you’re interested in the conversation, like « So did you make it on time? » or « What happened next? »

Supercommunicators also ask questions that get people to open up. Duhigg calls these « deep questions. » They « ask about people’s values, beliefs or experiences » and « spark an opportunity for emotional connection. »

This might sound overly intimate, especially if you’re talking to a stranger, but he says it doesn’t have to be. Be intentional with your framing and take time to think of « the real question instead of the rote question. »

Let’s say you’ve met an acquaintance at a party. Instead of just asking what they do for a living, ask, « Do you love what you do? »

When in doubt, Duhigg says to just ask « why.’ Generally, people love to talk about how they see the world. « What I’ve found is that within three questions you can get to something real if you ask ‘why,’  » he says. « And by listening closely to that, we can figure out where this person is coming from. »

4. They aim to understand

For a supercommunicator, the goal of a discussion isn’t to impress someone, convince someone or wait for their turn to speak, says Duhigg. It’s to genuinely comprehend someone else’s point of view and share their own views accordingly.

Let’s say you mention to your co-worker that you’re stressed about your childcare situation. Many people might breeze past an emotional comment, feign curiosity or offer empty platitudes. But a supercommunicator would sit with the emotion you offer them. They might ask you a deep question about your situation and then offer a story about some of their own struggles at home.

This kind of response, says Duhigg, creates an atmosphere of trust, vulnerability and openness that both parties can benefit from. It says, « if you know I want to understand you, you’re going to want to understand me. »

« And that is actually the most magical thing that can happen, » he adds.

The audio portion of this episode was produced by Andee Tagle. The digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. The visual editor is Beck Harlan. We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.

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