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Kathleen Reardon Headshot

Being Predictable -- the Relationship Kiss of Death

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Tomorrow is the day -- the one when you surprise people. Why not? After all, being predictable does two things none of us should want: (1) Makes us easily managed by others who know how we'll react, and (2) Makes us boring. Neither is good for relationships -- whether personal or professional.

If you're like most of us, you're a creature of patterns and many of them are not desirable ones. People see you coming and know how you'll react to what they have to say. Your communication status quo has you hooked. And you may not even know it.

Sure, you're smart. But are you aware of how you present your thoughts? Do you have a repertoire of responses to difficult situations and do you keep adding to it? If not, then it's likely that people who knew you years ago could meet you again today and accurately predict how you'd respond to a set of hypothetical situations. If this is indeed that case, your communication skills stagnated long ago.

"Who has time?" you might be thinking. Life may seem too hectic to be observing how others around you make things happen, to try new ways of introducing ideas or comebacks, to practice and then to add the useful ones to your set while discarding those that have outlived their utility.

And yet that's exactly what separates people who convey their thoughts effectively from those who do not. It separates, too, those who are hired to do interesting jobs from others who languish in the same one for years.

I did an interview this week that you might find interesting. But, if you don't have time to listen, here are a few highlights to make tomorrow a different day than yesterday and today.

First, if you take no control over your communication, there is a 50-50 chance that things will go wrong. If you look at your communication as something that you should have at least 75 percent control over, only 25 percent more than chance, then at least you're moving toward being less predictable and more creative.

Second, we should all be able to recognize choice points in communication. These are junctures where a change can be made to take an interaction on a more constructive track. For example, if someone says to you, "That's a stupid idea," you could reasonably react with anger. But that might derail you from achieving your goals. Why let that happen? Instead, consider not taking the comment as an insult. Receive it instead as an observation. If you do that, your response could then be: "A lot of new ideas sound ridiculous, but hear me out and we'll see if this is one of them."

It's possible to receive a comment that could have been an insult as accidental offense or at least understandable under the circumstances. Then you're not pulled, or suckered, into saying something that takes you away from your communication goals in favor of those of the other person.

Third, our brains are very adaptable if we wish to keep them that way. Most of us use as little of our brains as possible in making communication choices. We know from brain research that people can expand their mental capabilities. Neuroplasticity allows us to learn new ways of doing old things. So there's little excuse for being stuck when it's possible to forge new pathways and develop new ways of expression.

Consider this example. What if someone says, "You're a jerk." That's likely an insult rather than accidental offense. But you might still decide to avoid reacting with anger. Why not use a question instead? Ask him or her, "Do you mean that I don't seem to be completely sure of everything I say?" That should give pause. It might even elicit some self-reflection from your would-be critic. Questions are very effective ways to alter the course of conversations going badly.

These are just a few ideas about how to become less predictable and far more flexible in your communication. You'll do more responding than reacting. You'll be more aware of how what you say and your nonverbal communication influence not only the course of a single conversation but an entire relationship.

So, why not make tomorrow, or even tonight, different than yesterday? It may open doors in your relationships and your future that have been closed for many years.

Kathleen also blogs here and is on Twitter @comebackskid

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