Downfall of interpersonal communication
In today's world, in various domains, instead of communicating and understanding each other, we fight for being right, closing ourselves to others. We live in emotional isolation, afraid of rejection, lack of acceptance and unfair judgment (which sometimes means acknowledging the bitter truth about ourselves). We don’t know how to talk about our feelings. Therefore, we either suppress them or spaz out, hurting the ones we love.
Why is it so? Because most of us can't communicate effectively. We lack the basic skill that affects every aspect of our lives. This skill is interpersonal communication.
No one has ever taught us how to communicate with empathy. Nobody showed us how to express our feelings and communicate in an atmosphere of openness and trust. This is what I mean by the downfall of interpersonal communication.
Some people, however, have that gift in their blood and we usually love being around such people.
Nevertheless, most of us engage in emotional games and unwittingly manipulate others to meet our own needs.
Everything that goes wrong in our relationships (i.e. quarrels, misunderstandings, distrust, toxic behaviors) is caused by the fact that we don’t know conscious and empathic interpersonal communication.
And that is exactly what enables us to convey the messages from our heads and our hearts to another person.
If we know how to express our thoughts and feelings in a clear, direct way, our lives become easier:
- We can understand others and we can feel understood
- We express our expectations towards our loved ones in a clear way
- We are eloquent during public speaking and can captivate our audience
- We get along with our boss and take cooperation with our colleagues to a whole new level
- We are able to convey, both verbally and non-verbally, exactly what we intend to.
Below I will elaborate on three aspects of interpersonal communication, which, in my opinion, are crucial to building conscious communication with other people. These aspects are rarely mentioned in the mainstream literature on interpersonal communication, which is why I go past all the clichéd tips and patencies and focus only on these three elements:
Many texts about interpersonal communication put forward the skill of the so-called "active listening". The authors of these publications suggest that in order to communicate effectively, we must stay engaged while we listen and show interest by nodding and asking questions. In my opinion, you can just as well put aside such advice, because it encourages us that we try very hard to be "active" during communication rather than be an attentive and present listener.
After all, communication is not about showing interest, but about BEING interested.
Once we enter a state of full openness and curiosity, the effort put in active listening is no longer needed. Our interlocutor will sense our interest, even if we don't nod during the whole conversation.
To this end, we need to be fully present in this conversation. We need to truly put aside our agendas and other matters and allow ourselves to create a kind of a bubble, where there is no one apart from us and our interlocutor. When the other person speaks, you turn off your internal dialogue. You are here and now to listen, with all your mind and heart, to what that person is saying, both verbally and non-verbally.
Being present plays another important role. When we maintain our internal peace during interpersonal communication, we are unlikely to use subtle forms of emotional violence, which are usually difficult to trace. In conflict situations, we can refrain from judging, insulting or criticizing in favor of seeking agreement.
What bothers us when communicating with others is, most of the time, an urgent desire to express our point of view. We want to be right, so every conversation is an opportunity for us to "mark our territory" and build our ego by proving our point.
This approach closes our minds to the perspective of others. We hear their words, but we don’t listen to them, we don’t make space for their way of perceiving the world.
"Putting aside" your model of reality is one of the most difficult elements of conscious interpersonal communication.
It is usually fear that makes it so difficult for us - fear of our standpoint being undermined or fear that we will have to agree on something that we don’t agree with.
That is why it is worth remembering that putting aside your point of view in a conversation does not necessarily mean that we will not be able to share it with our interlocutor at all. It only means that we let in different points of view - both ours and theirs - to be a part of the conversation. We let ourselves to enter the world of another person and look at things through their eyes. That’s what empathic interpersonal communication is all about.
Only in this way can we really understand their way of thinking. If we took our beliefs with us on this short trip to someone else’s world, we could not really experience the circumstances and conditions in which our interlocutor lives.
However, nothing stays in the way of coming back to our perspective after a moment of careful listening and sharing it with our interlocutor, inviting them to our world, too. What’s important is that we don’t express our point of view as the only right one, but only as one of many possible standpoints. In this way, we enrich each other’s perspectives instead of trying to prove we are right.
According to Fritz Perls, the creator of Gestalt therapy, when two open-minded people meet, they both undergo a change and adapt to each other. They have some impact on each other and can always stay flexible in their responses.
The exception is when one of these two people (or both) has a strong character, which means that they follow a set of predetermined reactions and fall into predictable behaviors. Such people are not flexible and always react in the same way in certain situations, regardless of who they interact with.
According to the creator of Gestalt therapy, the richest and most creative person is a person who has no character. Although this might seem quite controversial in a society where people with "character" are perceived as better than those with no character, I think there is a lot of truth in that statement.
Total honesty and authenticity in interpersonal communication are what I still need to learn every day. And it’s not because I am used to telling lies or hiding what’s deep in my heart. I noticed that I would quite often and quite automatically tell people what I wanted to be true about me. I would give up on the efforts to show them the real me because I was afraid of judgment or rejection.
Honest interpersonal communication starts with being honest with oneself. It is not easy to discover the truth about ourselves, because we often run away from what is difficult for us. And until we admit to ourselves what we really feel and think, we will not be able to communicate our truth.
For that reason, we can enrich our interpersonal communication also through our own self-work. Self-esteem is one of the issues that many of us struggle with. If you find this bit difficult for you, too, and would like to learn how to truly love yourself, take your life in your hands and start living in harmony with your true self, you will definitely want to check out the Self-esteem course. It comprises of a 10-step process through which Sandra Lasek, our psychologist and coach, will guide you step by step.
From what I experienced in recent months I have learned that telling the truth (even when it doesn’t come easy) is extremely liberating and elevating. Being in harmony with yourself and having no fear of saying what you really think is the foundation of your self-respect and deep inner peace. Of course, you can't be your true self completely with everyone.
When I talk to someone who is judgemental and critical, I don't always allow myself to be fully authentic, because I don't feel that I am given enough space for it. I don’t think I need to explore and share what’s inside me at all times and wherever I go.
But at the same time, I try to live in harmony with myself regardless of who my path crosses with. Anyone’s disrespect or disregard towards my truth is only a signal to me that it is not a relationship I would want to develop.
Being honest in interpersonal communication makes everything easier. Truth prevents us from getting lost in the meanders of guesses and projections and lets us come to an agreement much faster.
Therefore, whenever you communicate with someone, stop for a moment and think about what message will be most compatible with what you feel and think. First of all, be honest with yourself, then do everything to express yourself in a clear and understandable way.
Conscious interpersonal communication
It has been only recently that I started to understand how much effective and conscious interpersonal communication has to do with our pursuit of happiness.
After all, even the most beautiful things in life don’t matter unless we share them with others. Research clearly shows that people who have one or more close friends are happier than those who don’t. In addition, sharing your true feelings with someone you can trust relieves stress and sadness.
We are herd animals, no doubt about that. Belongingness is one of the major needs that motivate human behavior. And the best way to ensure that this need is fulfilled is to practice conscious and empathic interpersonal communication, full of openness, presence, and authenticity. Only then can we build deep and long-lasting relationships based on trust and intimacy.
Write in the comments to what extent you manage to apply the three key attributes of conscious communication I described in this article. If you see that you don’t use them in your communication, what stops you? What can you do to be more open, present and authentic in communicating with others?