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How to change your communication habits one step at a time

By Abigail Handley, 28 Jul 2021

In Outlandish we have put time into learning how to communicate more effectively. One of the approaches is called¬†FONT. It’s a simple approach using that acronym (Feelings, Observations, Needs, Thoughts) to help break down what is going on in our heads when we have a reaction to something, which in turn helps others understand what is actually going on!

We run workshops¬†and offer team support introducing the approaches and allowing as much space as possible to practise within them… but taking something from a workshop and applying it in real life (especially something to do with communication habits which, let’s face it, are fairly ingrained in us) is challenging. This blog gives you some simple steps to start trying.

Simplest:

– notice whether you use I statements – I think, I feel, I saw, I need – normally or not (if not, what do you use?)

– have a go at using more I statements – just one of them, or as many as you can, and try to notice any difference it makes to you feeling heard or understood, and for the person or people you are talking to

– for trickier conversations, jot down on a notepad beforehand what your feelings, observations, needs and thoughts actually are around the subject. I find doing this helps me communicate more clearly, whatever language I choose to use (because it is clearer in my head anyway!)

These simplest steps require no understanding or awareness of the approaches for anyone else and so are easiest to have a go at, because it only involves you!

Next level up:

– Notice when you have had an emotional response to something that has happened. Those emotions mean that either your needs are being met (positive) or they aren’t (negative). Spend a bit of time identifying what those needs are.

This is tricky, but I think really worth it!

Notice if your need is for someone else to do something (“I need them to take more responsibility”) – it is very hard to ‘make’ anyone do anything, and so having a need that is reliant on someone else can be draining. How might you turn it round so that you own that need? “I need to have less responsibility for this”? There might be other ways of meeting that need than for a specific person to do something. Much safer, and much more empowering for you.

And another:

– Start to have conversations using I think, I feel, I saw/heard, I need more explicitly

– Gently introduce what you are doing to others – and ask for their permission to continue

– Practise FONT conversations with those that have been introduced to it with you – not necessarily tackling difficult subjects, just seeing what comes up and playing with it. You will always learn things about each other, and probably build trust between yourselves at the same time

Finally

Using the approach to help resolve conflict:

We use FONT in general communication but it is particularly empowering if used when there is conflict, as it allows space for different parties to be heard rather than fighting and not really listening to each other. Here it helps for the parties involved in the conversation to be aware of the FONT approach. And a third person who can keep the focus on what you both want to speak about is often even more useful.

Try to really clarify the feelings and the needs of both parties – this will help cut through the thousands of thoughts and get to what is really important to each.

Simple, right?

Nope. The approach is simple, but putting it into practice and working to change your habits of communication is difficult stuff.

Try the steps above as you feel comfortable doing them, and pause or stop at any point.

The valuable thing is to keep trying – with a goal to understand yourself, and those you work with better. If you can do that, you will all be able to identify and then meet more of your needs as a group, and have a happier, more effective team that is constantly working on understanding each other. We still have lots of conflict and difficult conversations… and we always will, but we have approaches that allow us to tackle them.