Often when we communicate verbally or in writing such as e-mail, we don’t pay attention to our intentions, forget our real purpose for communication or use words in a lazy manner. I have taken many communication classes and workshops in my life from interpersonal communications, to broadcast communications to non-violent communication. I have learned about reading between the lines, analyzing news stories critically, and using feeling statements. But there is another thing I have noticed that fouls up our attempts at communication and that is using pronouns ineffectively.
For instance, we use “you” to mean people in general or as communication to a specific person, but we’re not always clear about our intent or purpose of how we use this pronoun. Right now, I’m using the term to refer to anyone reading this post, but if I was speaking in generalizations in an e-mail, and I used the word “you”, the person receiver of the e-mail might think I’m referring directly to him or her. He or she could feel insulted if I use the pronoun, “you” and then mention a negative behavior or description after the pronoun. I see this error in a lot of e-mails I receive from correspondence and I tap into my intuition to see who the writer of the e-mail was addressing. Otherwise, I would feel insulted and defensive.
Another mistake we make when we communicate to others, is that we make assumptions. We assume that the person or group we address shares the same values, religious beliefs, or life experiences with us when they might in fact, not feel comfortable with our stance. We assume they are on board with us as we delve into a controversial topic, until they walk silently or not so silently walk out of the room.
I like how author and speaker Gregg Braden addresses an audience by first introducing his topic, then telling the audience his stance on the topic then politely asking the audience if its okay with the topic. This isn’t just a lesson in humility, but effective communication. Some famous speakers will tell the audience where they’re coming from, why they’re coming from that direction without making apologies, but also not assume that everyone in the room agrees with them, or else. The “my way or the highway” approach doesn’t appeal to people, especially people on the brink of opening up to new ways of thinking.
We all make these mistakes–using “you” collectively which is mistaken for personal or making assumptions about others because we didn’t take the time to check in with them first. Part of the reason for this is we mostly live in our own heads and our perceptions of others are based on our beliefs, which many just don’t share with us. Or we might belong to a group that acts like a click where everyone has agreed informally or formally on a certain set of beliefs. Remember clicks from high school where members were expected to wear certain brands, use certain language (slang mostly) and join in specific activities? Well, many adults haven’t grown past this mentality.
Communicating effectively and with clarity involves focusing on the other person or people in the conversation. We need to listen to them or read their words carefully, while using our intuition to hone in on their energy. If a person is coming from a place of fear he or she won’t be able to hear what you’re saying unless you also speak the language of fear. Likewise, if a person comes from a place of love, they won’t hear or understand the language of fear. They might hang around and express compassion, but they won’t understand or they might run for the hills because fear feels like sandpaper on their skin.
Ever tried to approach a wild or even a domestic animal when you’re feeling fearful? The animal will have one of three responses. The first response is they flee. The second response is they feel your fear and mirror it back to you through some sort of defensive behavior because they read your fear as threatening. Or the animal might try to comfort you especially if this is a domestic animal trained to work with a person suffering from a disease or condition as in a therapy animal.
So in developing conscious communication ask yourself three questions:
What is my purpose for this communication?
What is my intention for this communication? (What am I giving to the other person? What do I want from the other person?)
How can I communicate my needs clearly without making assumptions about the other person or projecting my own stuff on to them?
If you can answer in the positive to those questions, then you’re on the right track to communicating with compassion and clarity.
First photo by Patricia Herlevi
Big Bird photo from Wikipedia