Words Can Change Your Brain (2012) is a step-by-step method of communicating effectively and compassionately. This book, which is based on the brain’s natural activity and responses, defines steps we may take to improve our listening skills, our ability to explain ourselves, and our ability to promote trust and collaboration with others.
About the author
Andrew Newberg is the head of research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health in Philadelphia, where he is a neuroscientist specializing in neurotheology. He is the author of several books, including the best-selling Why God Won’t Go Away.
Mark Robert Waldman is a corporate and personal development coach who uses brain-based methodologies to teach leadership and communication. He also teaches in the Executive MBA program at Loyola Marymount University. Newberg and Waldman collaborated on the best-selling book How God Changes Your Brain.
Good communication necessitates a calm, present, and silent mind:
What do you do in the days leading up to a big event? Do you count down the days until race day and cross your fingers if you’re running a marathon? This is probably not the method you’ll take if you want to run a strong race. What you’ll be doing is trying to get in shape for the big day.
Communication works in a similar manner. The only difference is that you must train your mind rather than your body. And that’s precisely what the first three of our 12 steps to mastering communication are about.
Anyone who has ever been in a foul mood and snapped at someone innocent knows how stress affects interactions. It increases the likelihood of frustration and rage, two moods that can stymie dialogue. As a result, the first of our 12 steps to improve communication is to relax.
So, when you’re anxious, how do you de-stress? In a nutshell, unwind! This does not, however, have to be a long massage. Before a conversation, just 60 seconds of breathing exercises will suffice. This is enough to activate parts of the brain that control mood, social awareness, and communication, according to a 2007 study published by the United States National Academy of Sciences.
The second of our 12 steps, learning to be present, is similarly aided by breathing. Keeping your attention on your breath brings you back to the present moment, allowing you to pay attention to the other person’s words and emotions.
Isn’t that appealing? However, there is a catch. Most people can’t stay focused for long periods. A notion comes along rapidly, followed by another. Inner speech consists of a continuous stream of ideas and discourse that runs through your mind. This mental chatter can distract you in conversations, and individuals speaking to you are likely to notice. Consider how many times you’ve been annoyed because a friend or partner’s mind has wandered.
You can, fortunately, control your inner monologue. And cultivating inner silence, our third step to improved communication is all about doing precisely that. The authors suggest the following activity assist you.
Ring a bell for 15 to 30 seconds and pay attention to the sound as it fades. Concentrate on the silence once the sound has disappeared completely. Repeat the practice numerous times, each time attempting to be more attentive. It gets easy to mute your inner speech during conversations once you’ve been used to concentrating this intensively.
Positive thinking can help you improve your communication and cognitive performance:
Have you ever been in the presence of someone who is continuously focusing on the negative? They always find something to complain about, no matter what the situation is. And they aren’t afraid to air their grievances, whether it’s over a slow elevator or unfavorable weather.
Nobody can blame you for avoiding such people because being around them may be pretty tiring. But did you realize that negative thoughts have an impact on more than just your mood?
Negativity, it turns out, not only stifles conversation but also hurts your brain in the long run. As a result, developing optimism is the fourth stage to becoming a better communicator.
Your brain – and the brains of anybody who hears you – releases stress chemicals every time you utter even the tiniest negative thought. These chemicals create anger and anxiety, as well as a reduction in your capacity to cooperate and trust people. But the consequences don’t stop there. Stress hormones have been found in numerous studies to cause mayhem on your memory and cognitive abilities, as well as make you more prejudiced.
Your imagination, believe it or not, can be helpful. Imagine a friendly conversation before a critical discussion. This is as simple as it sounds, and it works! Researchers at Purdue University in Indiana discovered in 2010 that persons who entered talks with optimism were more likely to be satisfied with the results.
It’s also important to neutralize negative thoughts about your relationship with the other person while visualizing a pleasant interaction. According to world-renowned psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, the strength here is in numbers. There’s little chance for the conversation if you can’t think of at least three good thoughts for every bad one.
But what if you want to do more than merely avoid a conversational breakdown? What if you’re going to achieve the finest possible outcome? Then you boost your optimism by replacing each negative idea with five good ones.
Of course, if you’re in a bad mood, you won’t be able to think of anything nice. If this happens to you, consider deferring the chat until you’re in a better mood.
Recognize your inner values and allow them to influence your behavior and communication:
You’ve just arrived in an exotic location for your fantasy holiday. You get on the road, heading for the lovely beach cottage you and your closest buddy have rented. However, there is a problem: you don’t have a map, and you become disoriented. To make matters worse, you have no way of getting in touch with your pal.
It’s a lot like driving through the unknown when it comes to communication. You’ll need a map and the ability to communicate with the individual you’re trying to contact. That is why your ideals are so crucial. They serve as a map for you. And when you share those beliefs with the individual with whom you’re interacting, you’re staying in touch. Reflecting on your inner values is the fifth of our 12 steps.
Our inner values are molded by many factors, including religion, politics, science, and even money beliefs. They differ from one individual to another.
Try this practice to discover your core values. Take a few minutes to rest your mind with a pen and paper. Then, consider what your most resounding, most core values are. Consider what makes you genuinely joyful for more inspiration. Close your eyes for a moment and consider this. Then jot down any phrases or words that spring to mind.
Repeat this process multiple times, writing down everything that comes to mind. Consider the following values, compare them to one another, and state them aloud. Regularly practicing this exercise can help you develop the habit of reflecting on and keeping in touch with your inner values.
You’ll be more robust in the face of life’s challenges, conflicts, and disagreements if you’re aware of your inner values. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles discovered in a 2005 study that is thinking about core values makes people less stressed.
This is how considering your inner values can benefit you as a person. But what about when you’re in a social situation?
Let’s imagine you and your partner need to talk about something difficult. Cooperation will be aided by sharing your inner values and your values regarding relationships and communication. Couples counseling frequently uses this strategy. Understanding and mutual support are enhanced by knowing and contemplating the other person’s values, resulting in more empathetic and practical talks.
Expressions are just as crucial as words when communicating:
A fun statistic is that there are approximately 10,000 different facial expressions! That’s almost 10,000 different ways a face can communicate with an observer. Most of us are unable to detect each one. Most of the time, we aren’t even aware of our facial expressions.
However, we can usually recognize an anxious, sad, or furious expression. And how we choose to interact is often influenced by this. If a teacher came in looking glum when you were in school, you might have been hesitant to speak to them – or avoided them entirely. You must be aware of your expressions to prevent similar situations when conversing.
When starting a discussion, the most significant facial expression to use expresses attention and kindness while also encouraging trust. Fortunately, we can all look to the famed half-smile and soft eyes of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa for inspiration.
Here’s when it gets tricky. A Mona Lisa smile is tough to imitate. There is, however, a technique to make the real thing. This is step six in the process of improving communication: recalling a pleasant recollection. When you place a joyful experience, especially one involving a loved one, you get a smile like Mona Lisa’s. This not only makes you more empathic and open to honest conversation, but it also makes you more empathetic.
After you’ve perfected the Mona Lisa smile, practice making angry, sad, and fearful looks in front of a mirror. Each face will trigger mental and emotional emotions. You can learn to recognize the associated feelings by practice, making it easier to check yourself before unintentionally expressing them during interactions.
Your nonverbal cues are made up of your facial expressions and body language. They’re also highly crucial. The seventh of the twelve steps is all about being mindful of nonverbal signs.
What makes these cues so crucial? You risk perplexing people if your facial expressions and body language do not match your words. On the other hand, if what you’re saying and displaying is in sync, you’ll keep your audience’s attention. Consider how frequently comedians utilize grimaces and gestures to convey their message.
It’s also crucial to be mindful of other people’s nonverbal signals. Body language and facial expressions reveal information about one’s thoughts and feelings. They could, for example, imply that someone feels irritated, uncomfortable, or upset. Taking notice of these indicators allows you to address underlying emotions and perhaps avert future confrontation.
To enhance receptivity, express gratitude and use a pleasant tone:
“You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Although this proverb is a little out of date, it still holds. People respond to warmth much better than they do to hatred.
Consider this: if someone phoned you and sounded confrontational right away, you’d be far less likely to listen to them or cooperate. If you don’t employ the correct words and tone, your attempts at communication might rapidly go downhill, much as this phone call.
Giving a compliment is one of the most effective ways to make people more responsive. This brings us to the eighth and final phase in our 12-step plan for better communication: expressing gratitude. You validate the other person and foster positive contact by beginning and concluding every conversation with a compliment. Only one condition applies: the compliment must be sincere. It has to be something about the other person that you truly believe and appreciate.
When one of the authors worked with a publisher who always congratulated him before recommending modifications to a book, this impacted him. The author discovered that he was considerably more receptive to the publisher’s suggestions.
If you don’t get the chance to express your gratitude during a conversation, sending a follow-up message or note isn’t a bad idea.
The ninth step to better communication is to be aware of your tone. People associate tone with meaning, so you risk being misinterpreted or eliciting a bad reaction if you don’t employ the proper one. It would be best if you used a warm tone to avoid this. This connotes empathy and honesty and cooperation, according to 2009 leadership research conducted at the University of Amsterdam.
Take a tip from actors and recall caring talks you’ve had in the past to develop a warm tone. When oncologists deliver bad news to patients, researchers at the University of Houston discovered that using a lower manner is beneficial. Patients perceived oncologists to be more sympathetic when they talked in a lower voice.
This does not, however, imply that you should always sound warm and compassionate. You’ll confuse people if your entire tone doesn’t match your words. Imagine someone telling you they’re angry in a lovely voice!
Say less, speak slowly, and listen intently to hear and be heard truly:
There are roughly 100 billion neurons in the human brain, with approximately one quadrillion connections between them. That’s right, 15 zeros in a quadrillion! This is one of the reasons it is regarded as the world’s most powerful computer.
The brain, despite its renown, can only keep four bits of information at a time! When someone speaks, our brains determine which bits of information to keep. That implies sharing a lot of information at once should be the last thing we do during critical interactions.
We need to employ the tenth of our 12 stages to improve communication: speaking slowly if we want others to pay attention to what we’re saying. Slower speech not only aids comprehension but also builds respect and has a soothing impact. When we speak fast, on the other hand, we can make others feel nervous or afraid.
Step 11 of 12: speaking briefly goes hand in hand with talking slowly. This approach is frequently employed by public speakers, actors, and even professors to aid in the comprehension of their audiences.
So, how long should you speak before interrupting the listener?
The solution is no more than 30 seconds. After each new piece of information you provide, pause to allow the other person to comprehend what you’ve said or ask questions. It may be required to speak for longer than 30 seconds on occasion. When this happens, you should let your discussion partner know so that they can pay attention.
But remember that it takes two to tango. You must also pay attention to what the other person is saying. This leads us to the twelfth and final level in communication mastery: deep listening.
Listening intently enables us to employ various techniques we’ve already acquired, such as focussing our minds and observing nonverbal cues. It also necessitates that we refrain from interrupting as much as possible. If we must interject, we should apologize and reassure the other person that it is essential. Finally, when responding, we should respond to what the other person has said. Changing the subject or bringing up something we’ve already said disrupts the conversation’s flow.
You have a comprehensive set of tools for improved communication when you combine deep listening with the previous eleven steps. Put them to use in many areas of your life and observe how much better your interactions become!