Communication might be the single most important skill we can develop to improve our relationships.
However, most of us struggle to communicate in a way that helps us be understood by others.
This happens for any number of reasons.
It helps if we know why we’re communicating.
Are we talking without any point or saying whatever comes to our minds without considering how it might land for our audience?
Are we seeking a dialogue, or really wanting a monologue? Are we just informing? Do we want someone to listen to us?
Or maybe we’re hinting around at something because we’re afraid to say it outright instead of directly verbalizing what we want. Are we indirectly trying to manipulate the situation?
The bottom line is, when communication isn’t conscious, misunderstandings and conflicts are much more likely to arise.
How to communicate consciously
I’ve written about this topic before.
The first step in the practice of consciousness is observing ourselves. Notice without judgment how you are communicating. Just notice.
You may want to ask yourself what you want. Are you trying to inform? Open a dialogue? Manipulate? Connect? Argue?
Let’s look at two examples of unconscious communication that may lead to conflict or misunderstandings.
Wanting to inform, not discuss
Communicating to inform is a legitimate form of communicating.
When you want to tell someone something, and you’re not looking for a dialogue, it’s helpful if you know that you’re not asking for permission or an opinion.
For example, you might want to inform a co-worker that you’re going to the bank to make a deposit. You’re not asking for input or suggestions; you’re just letting them know. You’re basically giving them a memo.
But if you’re not clear why you’re telling your co-worker, then the co-worker won’t be clear either. You may get frustrated if your co-worker responds in a way that doesn’t correspond with what you were intending.
Simply being clear and concise helps minimize misunderstandings. “In case anyone is looking for me, I’m going to the bank to make a deposit. I expect to be back in fifteen minutes.”
When we know why we’re initiating communication, we bring greater clarity to our communication.
Manipulation is trying to get someone to say or do something without asking directly them.
Have you ever been too afraid to ask for what you want, so you tried to manipulate the situation to suit your agenda?
We all have.
One way we unconsciously manipulate is asking questions with an answer in mind.
We’ve all seen sitcoms when one character asks another “Does this outfit make me look fat?”
We laugh, because we all know it’s a set-up. Why is it a set-up? Because the person asking isn’t really soliciting an honest opinion.
“How do you think I look?” “Do you like my cooking?” “Do you love me?”
Asking these kinds of questions is often an indirect attempt to seek a compliment or to reassure ourselves of our status or worthiness. When there is only one correct answer in your mind, you aren’t legitimately asking a question.
When we’re unconscious, we don’t recognize our role in misunderstandings. We are likely to blame the other person for being clueless or unkind.
The question itself isn’t the concern. Our intention is the concern. When we consciously ask, “Do you like this on me?” and we are prepared to accept any response there is no manipulation. We are soliciting and wanting honest feedback.
But if we ask the same question, “Do you like this on me?” and in our mind the only acceptable response is in the affirmative, then we are consciously or unconsciously attempting to manipulate.
When we fish for compliments or approval, we step out of our power and integrity. We essentially are hoping the other person validates us. We want them to be insincere, if need be, to stroke our egos.
Before you start a conversation or when you find yourself feeling upset or uncomfortable in a conversation, think:
“What am I truly trying to communicate?” “Why am I engaging in this conversation?” “Am I trying to get them to do what I want them to do?” “Am I being honest with myself and/or them?”
When we are unconscious, our unhealthy patterns of communicating are more likely to take front and center.
If we notice when we feel uncomfortable or out of sorts, we can recognize that this may be sign that we’ve gone “unconscious”. If we notice the discomfort, we can wake up and return to consciously choosing.
When we wake up, we become more aware of our hidden motives and unhealthy patterns of communicating. By noticing whether we’re being honest and sincere, we give ourselves the opportunity to correct course if we don’t like where we’re headed.
“Is this what I truly want to communicate?” “Is this for my highest and greatest good?” “Is this for the other person’s highest and greatest good?” “Am I being kind?” “Am I being loving?” “Am I trying to connect or control?”
As we pause, observe, and become aware of what we’re doing, we may find that we spend more time in silence.
In any case, noticing without judgment is the first step!