C is for Communication
Updated: May 7, 2021
“Let’s normalise asking questions for clarity instead of making assumptions and making responses based on the story you’ve created in your head which may or may not be true”
Being able to communicate effectively is perhaps the most important of all life skills as it allows us to make connections with others, express our own ideas and feelings, and at the same time it helps us develop empathy and understanding about the emotions, thoughts and perspectives of others.
Communication and virtue:
“To be able under all circumstances to practice five things constitutes perfect virtue; these five things are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness and kindness.” Confucius
Virtues are an important part of communication because they are the basic qualities necessary not only of our own well being and happiness but in enhancing our connections with others. By recognizing the importance of virtues, in our lives, it will lead to better communication, understanding and acceptance between us and our fellow man.
Communication and listening:
“We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak." Epictetus
Listening is an essential part of communication, but we are seldom taught how to really listen effectively to another person.
"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." Stephen R. Covey
There are five stages of listening: receiving, understanding, remembering, evaluating and finally responding. Listening to reply however is the standard way that most people communicate. Instead of really paying attention to what the other person is saying, we are already subconsciously thinking about what we want to say in response and therefore our interaction with the other person, and subsequent understanding is not as good as it could be.
“Guard well your thoughts when alone and your words when accompanied.” Roy T. Bennett
Communication and thoughts:
We create our lives with the thoughts to which we give the most attention. The communications and interactions that we have with others are affected by our thoughts; and those thoughts can produce consequences if we are not aware and take steps to step back and defuse them.
To be able to communicate effectively we need to develop self-awareness and learn to be honest with ourselves so that we are able to express ourselves clearly and effectively and are able to be honest with others. It is important to continually work on our communication skills and develop the confidence to express our thoughts, concerns and feelings calmly particularly when we feel uncomfortable, or awkward or are feeling emotional – angry, afraid etc.
Communication and honesty:
“If we humans are to be saved from ourselves, individually as well as collectively, we have to learn more about the art and science of speaking the truth. None of us can do it without a lot of help from each other.” Brad Blanton
Being honest with ourselves is the first step towards integrity and the more we deceive ourselves the more this will manifest in our communication with other people. By being honest with ourselves we become more capable of openness and intimacy and have greater freedom and understanding. It allows us to create a space to relate freely to others whatever role they are playing.
Communication and masks:
“Coming out from behind our roles permits us to look behind the roles of others. Because we can see more clearly, the threat of other people, posing in their roles, fades” Brad Blanton
In order to have meaningful connections and communications with others, we need to learn to drop our masks. To be able to communicate the most effectively, we need to bring all of who we are; our personality, creativity and skill-sets to our relationships and what we do.
We all sometimes put on masks consciously or subconsciously because of fear and a concern that people will not like the ‘real me’. When we are more concerned with thoughts about protecting our view of ourselves rather than allowing ourselves to be authentically present, our ability to communicate suffers.
Communication and trust:
Honesty is a behaviour that we can choose or not. When we choose to be honest with others we will have better connections and show that we can be trusted. It is interesting to note that we can still trust people, regardless of whether we like them or not, if we believe that they are honest and sincere.
“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” Stephen Covey
Life is built on relationships and relationships are built on communication. The way we communicate determines whether these relationships are good or bad and by improving communication skills we can ensure that those connections are strong and healthy.
Communication and boundaries:
Personal boundaries are essential in order for us to thrive and have healthy relationships. Boundaries are there to allow us to communicate our needs and desires clearly and succinctly without fear of repercussions, they are also used to set limits so that we feel comfortable and others don't take advantage. It is only by being honest with ourselves and others that we can work through any difficulties and build strong, supportive relationships.
Without boundaries our sense of self-esteem, self-worth and overall personal and interpersonal comfort level can be affected. Clear boundaries allow us to remain connected and when we communicate these boundaries, we are not being ‘awkward’, a ‘killjoy’, ‘selfish’ etc we are showing our respect for ourselves and the relationship, because we’re willing to state our concern and show that we are prepared to stand up for ourselves to ensure that the relationship stays strong and safe for both parties.
Communication and the mind:
An interesting book that I have recently read is The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters. Whether it is making decisions or communicating with others, The Chimp Paradox uses a simple analogy to help us assess our own behaviour, take control of our emotions so we can act in our own best interests, by focusing on the long term and communicating better with others by adjusting the way that our brains take over and view the world around us.
“Summary key points The Psychological Mind is made up of three separate brains: Human, Chimp and Computer. You are the Human. Your Chimp is an emotional thinking machine. Your Computer is a storage area and automatic functioning machine. Any one of them can take complete control but usually they work together.” Steve Peters
There are two competing forces in your brain – the prefontal cortex the ‘human’ part of our brain that acts rationally and the limbic system; our ‘inner chimp’ that bases its decisions purely on emotion. When the ‘wrong one’ takes charge it leads to problems so we need to start observing our own state of mind
We communicate in four distinct modes that determine how best to say what we want to say. It is difficult to second- guess how someone else is feeling so we tend to make assumptions which are often not accurate!
We can communicate human to human (our most rational mode), you can be in human mode but the person you are communicating with can be in chimp mode, you can be in chimp mode and the other person can be in rational human mode or you can both be in chimp mode and acting emotionally not rationally and is a scenario best avoided!!
When communicating with others, it is more effective to explain ourselves in a respectful manner and try and bring all participants back into rational human mode by addressing assumptions and problems immediately.
Communication and body language:
Body language is a huge part of conscious, or more often subconscious, communication and this non verbal behaviour has an influence on our interactions with others; not only on how we are perceived by others but also whether we trigger reactions which cause others to shut down rather than respond to us openly.
Studies led by Dr. Mehrabian to devise a formula to describe how the mind determines meaning concluded that the interpretation of a message is 7 % verbal (the actual words spoken) , 38 % vocal (tone of voice)and 55 % visual (through body language) . The conclusion was that 93 % of communication is “non verbal” in nature
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t being said. The art of reading between the lines is a lifelong quest of the wise.” Shannon L. Adler
Communication and the language used by your authentic self and your mind:
Language is the key with any form of communication. It has the power to reach from one ‘being’ to another bypassing the mind. The choice of language of your authentic being is descriptive language; simply describing what is so without any attachment. Your authentic self is concerned with self-awareness and psychological flexibility, it can embrace change and is also referred to as the observing self or the neutral observer in ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Theory). The language of the mind in contrast is evaluative language; it makes evaluations and judgments and has self-limiting beliefs and opinions.
“Connection happens through the Observing Self. It involves bringing our full attention to what is happening here and now without getting distracted or influenced by the Thinking Self. The Observing Self is non-judgmental. It can’t judge our experience, because judgments are thoughts and therefore a product of the Thinking Self. The Observing Self doesn’t get into a struggle with reality; it sees things as they are without resisting Resistance only happens when we fuse with our judgments that things are bad, wrong or unfair.” Russ Harris
Communication and the Toltec agreements:
The Toltec agreements can be a useful aid when we think about communication
Communication and words:
The first agreement is entitled ‘Be impeccable with your word’. In essence, this agreement focuses on the significance of speaking with integrity and carefully reflecting on and choosing your words before saying them aloud
If you look at the world today we constantly see the media changing people emotionally as a result of words that are being communicated, regardless of whether these words are true or not. As individuals too, it is important to be impeccable with our word and be aware that our words, and words from others, have power. We need to respect the words that come out of our mouth when we communicate with others, and also when we use self-talk, because the words we communicate to ourselves will also impact us.
The old adage ‘Sticks and Stones’ is wrong on so many levels. The words we speak, read or write (or even think) can leave a huge impact and have a lasting effect – positive or detrimental, so it is important to choose the words we use wisely.
“Words are the most powerful thing in the universe... Words are containers. They contain faith, or fear, and they produce after their kind” Charles Capps
Communication with kindness:
Words are important to communicate generally, but the way that words are spoken or written provide a whole different level of communication.When we speak to ourselves or others we should try to do so in a way that is kind, conveys respect and comes from a place of empathy.
Communication should be based on speaking the truth, (avoiding exaggerations and being consistent in what we are saying), not using double standards or words to manipulate others, and most importantly not using words to insult or belittle anyone. (The theory is easy in practice it is often more difficult after all we are human!).
Humans are constantly interacting with one another, whether it’s via technology or face to face. These interactions range from simple fleeting eye contact with a stranger to longer intense conversations. Too often, these interactions aren’t used as opportunities for connection and kindness. We may be able to do a lot of things now that hadn’t previously been possible because of modern technology but kindness adds another dimension to all our communications and actions with others.
Kindness is the real key to changing the perception of people towards each other and contributing to an empathetic world with more meaningful connection and communication. e.g. it is possible to help someone or explain something to them but to do so with kindness preserves their dignity and self-respect.Kindness is essential to society generally as it fosters better communication and decreases misunderstandings thereby creating an environment with fewer conflicts.
“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” Yehuda Berg
Communication and assumptions:
The second agreement is ‘Don’t take anything personally’
All relationships, no matter their intensity, whether they are positive or negative, can affect multiple aspects of our lives. It is all too easy to allow assumptions or simple misunderstandings with family, friends or colleagues to influence those relationships, impede our ability to communicate effectively and shape our future responses to others which in turn affects our own happiness and mental health.
When we stop taking things personally, and find ways of communication that are non-confrontational, then we can’t be hurt and we will find it easier to keep the first agreement. This concept has links with Non-Violent Communication or NVC developed by Marshall Rosenberg. NVC suggests that if people can identify their own needs, the needs of others, and the feelings that surround these needs, then we can live more in harmony. NVC focuses on three aspects of communication:
· self-empathy (awareness of one's own experience)
· empathy (awareness of the other person)
· honest self-expression (expressing oneself authentically in a way that is likely to inspire compassion in others)
The Third Agreement: ‘Don't Make Assumptions’ is pivotal in any form of communication-in-relationships
“Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.”
Most of our suffering and the suffering we cause others stems from our tendency to make assumptions about everything that others are doing and thinking. Through lack of effort and communication, we make superficial judgments, and jump to conclusions or believe that we know what someone else is thinking without asking questions and making sure that we do clearly understand.
Communication and understanding:
“It’s easy to judge. It’s more difficult to understand. Understanding requires compassion, patience and a willingness to believe that good hearts sometimes choose poor methods. Through judging we separate. Through understanding we grow.” Doe Zantamata
Our subsequent actions or reactions can worsen a situation leading to misunderstanding instead of clarity, knowledge of intention and good communication. Underneath every action or word, there is a feeling or intention. Underneath this is an unmet need. When we meet that need rather than focus on behaviour or the words used, we can begin to deal with the cause, rather than the symptom and communicate more effectively.
This notion is similar to Cognitive Therapy, and the research of Aaron Beck who states that we have cognitive distortions, or thinking patterns, that interfere with how we perceive an event. Cognitive distortions can feed negative emotions and impair communication.
“The reality of the other person is not in what he reveals to you, but in what he cannot reveal to you. Therefore, if you would understand him, listen not to what he says but rather what he does not say”. Kahlil Gibran
We communicate to be understood and to understand. In the book, ‘Emotional Intelligence’, by Daniel Goleman, ‘understanding others’ is listed as the ‘first element of empathy’. Daniel Goleman suggests that understanding others is more than just being in tune with other people’s feelings and emotions, it also involves taking a genuine interest in someone and their concerns. Effort and active listening are also required. In order to be fully present and listen without judgement, making a connection on a deeper level, we need to make an active choice to engage personally to understand other’s strengths, and weaknesses, their hopes and their fears, their needs and their priorities, their goals, etc. and we need to put aside personal biases.
“If ego is the voice that tells us we’re better than we really are, we can say ego inhibits true success by preventing a direct and honest connection to the world around us… The ways this separation manifests itself negatively are immense: We can’t work with other people if we’ve put up walls. We can’t improve the world if we don’t understand it or ourselves. We can’t take or receive feedback if we are incapable of or uninterested in hearing from outside sources.” Ryan Holiday
Communication and WYSIWYG:
To communicate effectively we need to err towards being a WYSIWYG person. Someone who is transparent and speaks honestly and openly, preferring to say what they think and risk rejection than live a life of dissonance in contrast with their values. WYSIWYG people aim to be fair, don’t take things personally, are open to different perspectives; engaging and communicating with the others in an effective and respectful way so that all can access meaning, even if they do not necessarily agree. WYSIWYG people are consistent with everyone and therefore it brings a level of confidence and trust.
“Find the courage to be authentic. Not everyone will like you, but no one can if they don’t get a chance to know you.” Lori Deschene
Think how different the world would be if each and everyone of us were WYSIWYG people in all our communication with others rather than WYSIWIWYTS (What You See Is What I Want You To See). ?!
Communication and perspectives:
It is important to understand the perspective of others because it helps us to understand different beliefs, feelings, experiences and intention and gives us a broader understanding of the world. When we can empathize and think about things from another point of view it allows us to move flexibly between our own perspective and that of another and we develop a greater psychological flexibility. By embracing these differences it also enables us to understand other aspects of ourselves that we might not discover unchallenged on our own. Being ready to see other perspectives is important in keeping our minds open, flexible and adaptable.
In order to build a better society, open-mindedness and diversity are needed. The world would be a better place if people understood that a perspective on life can be moulded, changed, or explained through better communication – both listening and speaking. A lot of arguments, problems and even wars might have been avoided if people had been able to see things from another perspective.
Communication and relationships:
“Communication is the fuel that keeps the fire of your relationship burning, without it your relationship goes cold” William Paisley
In any relationship, whether family or friends, quality time is important to allow for uninterrupted communication and expression. It is an opportunity to talk at a deeper level, explore and build shared interests and create memories. When you deliberately make the time to spend with someone you are also affirming their importance in your life.
EGO is just a three-letter word, which can destroy two thirteen-letter words by itself: COMMUNICATION and RELATIONSHIPS
It is very easy for days and weeks to go past without really talking to people and sharing what is going on in your head and in your life. As time increases a sense of distance can creep in and it is easy to ‘interpret’ this distance as a ‘lack of interest’ and not only for those who have a tendency to depression, but anyone can very quickly withdraw and descend into a spiral of negative self-talk. Prioritizing quality time with others can help prevent this. Spending quality time is more about intention and focusing on another person in a concentrated way i.e. the emphasis is on quality not necessarily quantity (though obviously both is ideal).
“Relationships are built on small, consistent deposits of time. You can't cram for what's most important. If you want to connect with your kids, you've got to be available consistently, not randomly.” Andy Stanley
Connections work best when your ‘best self’ is communicating effectively with another’s ‘best self’. However much you like it or not though, the only aspect of any relationship you have any real control over is what you give to it. You have no control over how another person responds or not. All you can do is continue to speaking consistently, calmly and with confidence rather than resorting to crying, threatening or being generally emotionally manipulative or venting spleen.
“Before you speak, think: Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?” Sai Baba
Communication and kairos:
Finally, the concept of kairos is also a useful tool of reflection when communicating. Kairos is concerned about doing or saying the right thing, in the right place at the right time and most importantly when interacting with others doing so in the right manner. It can also help us reflect as to whether we actually need to say or do something. When one insists on having to have the last word or to be right etc it simply adds another block to the barrier to listening.
As Aristotle said, “Anybody can become angry—that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.”
There is a time and place for everything and everyone. We shouldn’t attempt to force any issue . Kairos effectively asks you to consider the context and atmosphere of the ‘argument’ you’re making (or activity you are planning) with respect to time and space i.e. should you wait, or is time of the essence? What may be appropriate one moment may be irrelevant later
When we use kairos effectively, kairos strengthens our ability to persuade others (or motivate ourselves) by considering how people are already feeling based on context. It works in conjunction with the other modes of persuasion (pathos and logos) to strengthen our argument (motivation).
Kairos is also important in respect to your audience when you communicate with others. It is important to think about their circumstances, what they bring to the table, how they think about the issue, and how they're likely to respond to your message.
Good communication (expression and listening*) requires a genuine interest and the ability to set aside assumptions and personal biases in order to gain mutual understanding, empathy and compassion
When there is good communication, compromise and agreements become possible and a way ahead can be found. Good communication allows us to feel connected, understood, appreciated and more loved and makes others feel the same. Good communication* can be thought of as water and nutrients to a plant; essential to help meaningful connections to blossom and grow.
“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It's like riding a bicycle or typing. If you're willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” Brian Tracy
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
What skills can you improve when communicating with others?
How does your body language reflect your feelings?
Are you conscious about the tone of voice you use?
“Two monologues do not make a dialogue.” Jeff Daly
If you are interested in some more reading on the subject, here are a few links to get you started: