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  • Writer's pictureShandy Welch

Are You a Supercommunicator?

We all know those people who can begin a conversation with anyone and create a connection in a matter of moments. They seem to garner information and relationships that you might only hope to achieve over a matter of months. Those people are “supercommunicators.” So what is it that they do, or say, that turns the tide, and does it matter?

As Charles Duhigg explores in his new book, Supercommunicators: How to Unlock the Secret Language of Connection, he reminds us that while some people inherently have this trait, everyone else can learn the skill.

Becoming a supercommunicator requires a set of tools that, if used consistently, will create deeper connections and more thoughtful conversations.

The premise is set in the desire to understand others more deeply, and a genuine curiosity to know and explore people in a way that builds a connection. It is often less about the outcome and more about creating an experience. 

One of the first steps is asking questions, Duhigg estimates that the supercommunicator asks 10-20 times more questions than the average person.

Some tools to consider: 

  • Ask “deep” questions: In the spirit of getting to know someone, or something more deeply, ask a question that doesn’t require a “yes” or “no” response. “You said that you are a veterinarian, so what was it that got you interested in this career?” Here, you are thoughtfully inviting the other person to expose another side of themselves, which most people don’t take the time to do.

  • “Looping for understanding”: This technique is taught at some of the top universities. It is a technique that slows you down to make sure that what you hear is accurately reflecting what the speaker is saying and thinking.

  1. Ask a question

  2. Repeat back, in your own words, “What it sounds like is… ”

  3. Ask if you understood correctly. “Did I capture that correctly?”

  • Listen: Listen with the intent to hear the nuances of the words, tone, and choice of vocabulary.

All of these techniques not only allow for a more substantial dialogue but also create the feeling of reciprocity and deep caring for the other person and their story.

It can be tempting to want to have a conversation that yields a clear end or outcome. It is a lot harder to stay present, focusing only on the words being spoken. Untethered by expectation or assumption, and unknowing as to where the conversation may lead. To many, this is anxiety-provoking, since it requires comfort with unpredictability.

There is a skill to staying present in a conversation, allowing yourself to be released from any expectation that may come as a result of the exchange. Redirecting your mind to appreciate another person’s words with such sharp focus that you become open to new ideas and discoveries.

With all of this said, there is a time and place. Not everyone is interested in having a deep conversation.

So how do you figure out who is interested in diving deeper? 

  • Watch for clues: It takes two to tango. If you are genuinely curious, begin by asking a deeper question and then watch their reaction. If you get a short, superficial answer, then that will tell you that the other person does not want to, or that they may be uncomfortable with going deeper. That is your sign to stop.

  • Wade into the waters: Begin with open-ended, not too personal, questions, and then slowly invite examples or specifics to their story.

Communication is an intricate dance that requires two respectful participants, willing to engage. You can only go as deep as the person with the lowest threshold of trust/ interest is willing. It is important to respect that boundary and read the signs of discomfort.

I find that asking people about their tattoos can be a great topic for starting a conversation. If they have a tattoo, it must hold some sentimental value, or at least have a good story, given its permanence.

“I noticed your tattoo, what beautiful colors.” - Superficial

“Does the eagle hold significant meaning for you?” - Deeper

“I had a very similar experience.” - Share your story“I appreciate you sharing that with me.” - Make a connection

True story: I was working in urgent care and was evaluating a patient for pneumonia. She seemed nervous, so I began asking her about her back tattoo, which wrapped around her arm and down her wrist. At the end of the discussion, she didn’t have pneumonia, but she shared a full 101 tutorial on S&M and bondage! Wow! See? You never know where a bit of genuine curiosity will get you!

Our bodies are designed and seek to connect and find symmetry with others. Research shows that when you engage in deep and meaningful conversation you physiologically begin to sync with each other. Pupils begin to dilate at the same rate, and your breath and heart rate begin to take on the same cadence.  Almost as if a dance has begun and our neural pathways are aligned to the same music, this is known as neural entrainment. (fascinating research)

Why does this matter?

Certainly, it is nice to feel heard and have others genuinely interested in you. It also creates change on a larger scale. Supercommunicators build trust, loyalty, and connection, which fuels innovation, collaboration, and higher levels of organizational success.

My Challenge to You: 

If this does not come naturally to you, challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone.

  • Pick a person and hold a conversation a bit longer by asking one more question without an intended outcome.

  • Allow for “conversational time” in your day. We have become very rigid and transactional with our time. Grant yourself opportunities to learn something new about someone you have known for a while.

  • Here is a great interview with Charles Duhigg, explaining not only the skill but also the science behind being a supercommunicator.

Another great book that dives deeply into the power of communication and connection is, How to Know a Person by David Brooks.

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