A big factor in improving outgoing communication skills, is improving in coming communication skills. You will be a more effective speaker if you are a better listener. When I talk about listening, I’m talking about more than the ability to receive words from the mouth of others. I’m talking about our ability to read a situation, and hear more then the words that are being spoken. Take some time and reflect on some of the following areas, and ask yourself ‘Am I really listening?’
How are you stood? Are you stood or sat in a way that is receptive to information? Are you huddled over? Are you arms or legs crossed? Where are you looking? The ground, the ceiling? At the person speaking? How aware of your body are you? Take the time to reflect on these things at various points during the day. It doesn’t take long. Just check in with yourself.
Try standing feet hip width apart, feet parallel, going directly ahead of you. Knees soft, not bent or locked. A sense of widening across your hips and shoulders. Spine lengthening up to the ceiling and shoulders dropping down your back. Arms gentle dropping dow your sides. Let’s call this position neutral. It may feel a little uncomfortable, if it does, its a sign that you don’t stand like this habitually which most of us don’t. In this position, however, you are ready. To speak, to move, to respond and to listen. You will be able to hear what’s going on with a much greater understanding. This position allows your breath to flow with greater fluidity making it easier for those messages to reach your brain. Try the opposite. Try standing feet together, knees locked, buttocks clenched, shoulders hunched, hands making tight fists and head stuck forward. Bring you attention to your breath? How does it feel? Shallow? Tight? Restricted?
Now soften all these things and find that neutral position. Check your breath now. It should feel softer and easier.
The Mechanics of Breathing
What do you actually know about breathing? More specifically what do you know about the way you breath? The above exercise should enlighten you as to the way a constricted body stops us breathing effectively. Bring you attention to your breath. If it helps, lie down on the floor. See the image below.
You may what to put a yoga mat beneath you, but ideally you are lying on a solid surface such as the floor. Your head needs to be slightly raised in order to have alignment through your spine and neck. A book or a yoga block are useful. Your feet should be flat on the floor, knees hip width apart and pointing up the ceiling. This position flattens your back into the floor. Your hands can rest on your stomach or by your sides.
Bring you attention to the centre of your torso, How much can you feel the air travelling in and out? Are you sucking, or dragging or pulling big gulps of air or are you taking very small breaths? Take a look at this picture below.
How much can you feel you abdomen expanding as your breath in? What is the quality of this movement? Is sharp and forceful? is subtle and soft? Take your attention to the out breath. Are you pushing out powerfully, or is it quite weak? Imagine your diaphragm within your body? Imagine it like a jelly fish, floating on the tide. It contracts downwards as your breath in and relaxes upwards as your breath out. Try not to change it or alter it, find this gentle rhythm.
We have two groups of muscles that we use when we breath. Primary muscles (essential for full breathing) and Secondary muscles. The primary muscles sit lower in the torso and do most of the bulk of the work. These muscles are generally large and strong as they must work over 22,000 times each day. The diaphragm is in this group of muscles and like the heart, works relentlessly without fatigue. The secondary muscles are higher in the body and act as auxiliary helpers. They give us adaptability in the way that we breath. These muscles are smaller and more delicate. They can act powerfully for short periods of time, such as catching your breath after running fast. They tire easily and quickly.
With modern living and work conditions we quite often neglect to keep these primary muscles in good shape in order to maintain good breath support. There are those, who do actively work the abdominal muscles when it comes to exercises, but their is preference in society for men and women to have toned flat stomachs and stomach crunches are quite oftened practiced to achieve this. The problem with working the muscle group in that way, is that it is actually restricting the muscles. We need strength and flexibility, which is why yoga or pilates is a much better exercise to practice for improved flexibility, strength and breath support.
Good breath support will enable you to receive information better as well as speak with greater clarity.
Take your Time
A huge factor that effects our ability to receive information, is the fast paced cycles of living that we are placed in. Our minds are a huge vat of soup, with all sorts of ingredients floating through them. Deadlines, childcare, loved ones, meetings, emails, appointments and people. In her opening chapter of her book Presence, Patsy Rodenburg (Voice coach, Theatre Director and Writer) tells us how anthropologists research shows us that we really only capable on connecting with 400 people in our lifetime. If you apply this to modern, urban living, it is clear that we could easily come into contact with 400 people in a day. Then there are online platforms in which we receive information about others. Social Media is a wonderful things but we know that while we have increased connectivity, our appetites from human contact and communication are possibly not fulfilled. We increasingly feel removed and lonely.
It is not always possible to reduce the amount of people you come into contact with in a day. However, it is possible to switch off. Turn off your phone for an hour everyday and do something you love. It could be reading, or writing or crocheting a new hat. When meeting friends, place you phone on silent and keep it in your pocket or bag. When it comes to eating, leave you phone in another room. While it may not reduce the people you are coming into contact with, or the pressures of your time, it will make you feel more present. Part of the process in slowing things down is allowing yourself to take your time.
Felicity Goodman is a Voice Teacher and Storyteller based in South Manchester. to find out more about her work, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk.