Conscious Communication – It’s All About US

Underneath every communication is a feeling. This feeling drives your communication.  How conscious are you of the subtext of your communication and the impact it has on others?
Every time we do a seminar or facilitate a meeting, people say they want better communication in the workplace.  What most people are hungry for is communication that is real, honest, clear, concise and most important – respectful.
Communication is suffering in today’s lightening speed world, filled with distractions, time pressures and technologies that put people at a personal distance from each other. Maybe that’s why communication is getting sloppy.  Habituated thoughts and behaviors make up too much of what passes as communication these days.

Some communication “experts” believe that our reliance on technology has diminished our ability to communicate, and worse, de-valued it in the process.  So much of communication, especially in the workplace, is task or thing oriented. It’s about getting us from point A to point B or accomplishing a goal.  In the American high-tech, low-touch culture, we are seeing the effects of weaker communication skills – and more worrisome, a growing desire to by-pass human interaction altogether.   According to Sherry Turkle, MIT Professor and author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, “We make our technologies and they, in turn, shape us.”
Are we losing our ability to connect face to face?

Even more important – are we losing our desire to connect face to face? 

The Brain is a Social Organ

Communication is a collaborative experience. While it starts with our internal life, once the brain engages another brain, the entire process of social interaction begins. As Your Brain at Work author, David Rock says, “Few people work in isolation anymore. The capacity to collaborate well with others has become central to good performance in just about any endeavor. Yet the social world is also the source of tremendous conflict, and many people never master its seemingly chaotic rules.”  Louis Cozolino, Professor of Psychology at Pepperdine University has written extensively about the social interconnection of brains.  Cozolino’s work suggests that “my brain needs your brain” – that it is the power of being with others that shapes our brain. He asserts that just as neurons need each other to grow and thrive through neural communication, our brains themselves need other brains, as they influence the brains’ development and their capacity to learn, adapt and heal throughout life.

Communication is a Skill

Communication is a complex set of skills that takes time, patience and practice to develop.  Great communicators are rare. While some of us are born with natural “gifts” that make communication easier, most of us learn through modeling of our care-givers and peers. We learn “strategies” for getting our needs met through communication which are mostly “me” centered. These strategies are often superficial and never get to the root of our purpose for all communication – getting our deeper needs met.

We can’t get really good at communication unless we value it. It has to be important to us.  If the only value that drives our communication is getting things done – that will be reflected in the outcome. We enter into communication with our own set of needs, feelings, expectations and assumptions. And so does the other person. If we’re not conscious of what’s driving us at a deeper level, we’ll miss our “aim” as communicators. 

You have to care about something more important than your agenda to positively influence a communication, even with the most basic communication.

Daniel Goleman, author of “Working with Emotional Intelligence” captures the essence of the challenge, “Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy. The more attentive we are to others, the more keenly we will sense their inner state and pick up on subtle clues.”  Without empathy, most communication is simply an empty vessel – expedient at best.

Practicing Conscious Communication – 10 Basic Guidelines

Our focus here is on in-person face to face contact but these guidelines are the basic foundation of all communication.

1.    Be Intentional – This means – know and understand your motivation. This is basic 101 in acting school. The best actors know why they are standing where they are standing and why they are saying what they are saying. Otherwise, communication is on auto-pilot and you’ll find yourself in the midst of it without understanding where you are and want to be next. This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s much harder to muddle your way through sloppy communication than to enter it (at least) with clear intentions.
2.    CARE – You can’t mandate kindness, consideration and respect. Everyone wants it (when you ask) but somehow we think we can get by without it in most communication. Finding something to care about (besides your own agenda) elevates your communication.  Respect, honesty, fairness, cooperation, affiliation – these are the kinds of values that can charge your motivation to communicate with more care.
3.    Get Emotionally Literate – What you feel is what drives how you communicate. If you are exhausted and frustrated, your communication will reflect that. Is that what you intend? If you are anger or resentful, be sure that will come across in the communication unless you clean it up.
4.    Check Out Your Beliefs – If you think that the person at the other end of your communication is lazy, or a nudge or a slacker – then don’t be surprised if that gets communicated. Search your beliefs database to find something about the person or the situation that gives your communication more meaning.
5.    If You Can’t Be Honest – Don’t Expect Much – Workplace communication is a challenge for many of us, because we don’t think we can truly be honest. I don’t mean hurtful, but real. But lying (even the little ones) is real communication poison.
6.    Consult Your Trust Barometer – It’s really surprising to me, but many people I meet in the workplace don’t have a real handle on how and why they trust. They can tell you who they trust and don’t trust – but the motivation is often murky. Since the basis of most decisions and communication involve trust, it is important to gain a deeper understanding of the why and how of your trust levels.
7.    Respect Basic Courtesy – At our core, every human being has a basic need for respect.  Simple courtesies can be powerful – even more so because they are becoming (sadly) rare. On a practical level, a recent study found that when managers just increased their praise and recognition of one
employee once a day for 21 business days in a row, six months later, those teams as opposed to a control group, had a 31% higher level of productivity. While the reasons for this are complex, one reason is that on stress, the neocortex (the so-called “thinking” brain) shuts down, siphoning off precious neural reserves. Praise, on the other hand, tells that part of the brain it is safe – so performance is elevated as a result. Still wondering why telling only one employee affects the whole team?  We’ll give you a clue –  e
motional contagion!

8.    Listen! – Everyone can use better listening skills. Real listening – meaning I stop attending to ME and I focus on YOU – is uncommon.  Poor listening results in miscommunications, lost opportunities, and an erosion of trust. People we work with identify poor listening among the top three reasons they do not trust someone.
9.    Don’t Send People “You are not important” messages – Let’s face it – most people put people who can help them at the top of their priority list to contact.  Not following up, not returning calls and email messages has become epidemic. We claim we don’t have time. While this may be true, it sends a message to most people that they are not that important. Even when many people say they understand, they don’t. No one likes to feel used or ignored. Most people won’t mention it – but they won’t forget it either.
10. Jargon and Shorthand Communication
– Our language is overflowing with colloquialisms that substitute for clear articulation of our meaning. We just assume that the person at the other of the communication knows what we mean. Here are just a few examples:


  •  It’s complicated – this usually means I don’t want to talk about it now (or maybe ever)
  •  Bottom line it for me – a popular business phrase that usually is a euphemism for hurry up.
  •  The ball’s in your court – a sports metaphor that essentially communicates – it is your responsibility and not mine.
  • Anything that prefaces communication with the word Honestly – Though it’s common, the underlying message when you say, “honestly, when you made that statement in the meeting,”……implies some level of insincerity.
  • Jargon & Acronyms – Not everyone understands your abbreviations and references. This is especially problematic as texting is short-handing language (like LOL). People assume that everyone understands the meaning. Same is true for business professionals who have become used to using their own industry jargon with people outside of that culture. In response, people can feel annoyed and frustrated and tune out.

These are not simple habits to break. It takes time and commitment. Becoming a more effective communicator will make you a more conscious person. Not only do you need to become more self-aware in general – but you have to practice that mindfully in each interaction.  If you do, two things will happen. You will see people begin to respond to you in a very different, much more positive way – and you will feel GOOD about yourself in the process.
Now who doesn’t want that?

Thanks for reading. 
Louise Altman, Intentional Communication Consultants
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