Conscious Communication: bringing communication
up from "auto-pilot" and reactive, to thoughtful, responsive, and above
in the background while you file, exercise, ride to work, etc.
Quick Communication Tip
While being strongly inspired to address this subject, I
suddenly felt a sense of déjà vu. Indeed I had been down this road
before. In fact, Chapter 37 of my book, “Kind Ambition” is called, “Say
What You Mean – one thing leads to another,” and rings as true today as
it did then. So if I may be so bold as to quote myself, let’s look at an
easily implemented improvement to our communication. All it requires is
a little extra consciousness.
Words are wonderful double-edged swords. Their specific meanings and
their ambiguity are both the joy and bane of our conversations. Wordplay
depends on words having shades of meaning or multiple meanings, that we
can take in one direction, and then suddenly whip in another. This is
the basis of some of my favorite comedy, and unfortunately, it’s also a
potential fork in the road when we’re trying to communicate. With every
split, we find ourselves knee deep in conflict before we know what
I’ve seen so many interactions that went far too deeply into this kind
of conflict, far too quickly. The problem isn’t the conflict itself
(when it’s real conflict, and you can process it, the learning far
outweighs the discomfort). The problem is when the conflict is
unnecessary and doesn’t offer any growth. These conflicts are between
entities who aren’t really even in the room, and the issues aren’t
directly related to what is actually going on in the here and now.
We all have issues that are often highlighted in language as “hot
buttons” or “triggers.” These are the words or phrases that hit the PLAY
button on your internal tape recorder, and your tape just starts going.
You’re no longer really part of the process: you’re in auto-pilot.
Inevitably, your defensive salvo will hit the other person’s trigger,
and their tape recorder will go into auto-pilot play as well. Now
neither of you are present, neither of you are in dialogue, and you’re
reduced to “dueling reactions.”
Imagine that you’re challenged to communicate with someone in a darkened
room, not allowed to speak, and the only tool you have is a stick. Most
likely outcome? You are each going to be poking each other, not
communicating, and probably getting a bit miffed as well.
It’s almost a miracle that we communicate as well as we do most of the
time, considering how diverse our definitions of words can be. As an
exercise, I’ve asked workshop/seminar attendees and even Boards of
Directors to think about a dog in their heads. Then we go around the
room and describe the dog each of us imagined. Of course we thought of
everything from a snarling Rottweiler to a happy Cocker Spaniel. We’re
only talking about a three-letter noun. Imagine when we get into
abstracts, such as integrity or success. Awareness around this
inevitably improves the communication that follows.
Let’s say I want you to be more open with me about your needs, and say,
“you need to be more honest with me.” The word honesty is a hot button
for you, and you hear, “you’ve been lying to me.” Now you go off into
defending that you haven’t been lying, and “how dare I accuse you of
something like that!” Now I go into damage control mode because I never
meant to call you a liar. We’re off and running on an argument that has
nothing to do with the original intent. If I had been more precise with
my words about you being “open about your needs” rather than the subtle
language shift of absent-mindedly using the word “honesty,” we could
have actually had a conversation.
Let’s say a customer complains about an order not being what he asked
for. The written work order shows that you didn’t make an error, but he
definitely didn’t get what he actually needs. If you say you can
“correct” the order, you’ve just told the customer that you made a
mistake. That will set a precedent which can become a recurring
nightmare. You’ll likely get accused of making mistakes for the rest of
this relationship. If you say you can “adjust” the order so that it
better meets his needs, you’ve just saved face for everyone, and made
service points for your flexibility and responsiveness. Do you see how
subtle the word choice is, and how enormous the reaction can be?
your most recent verbal conflict with someone. When did you feel your
button(s) being pushed? Was it the words? Was it the tone? Can you
remember exactly where the train went off the track?
Think about the earliest instance you can remember having this same kind
of conflict. Who was it with? Can you remember the words? Can you see
how this set up a “trap” for similar exchanges in other situations? Can
you identify and recognize your own “hot buttons” or triggers? Once
identified, these triggers will begin to lose their potency, as you see
them for what they are in a larger context.
Check in with the person with whom you’re having the conflict. Let them
know that you are reacting to the word or phrase they used, (not them)
and you need to get more clarification. Did they mean “honest” or
“open?” Did they mean “manipulative” or “persuasive?” Did they mean
“it’s terrible,” or “I personally didn’t care for it?”
The more you check in and clarify what people really mean, the more
you’ll understand where the landmines are buried, and the easier it will
be to traverse the conversational landscape without the explosions.
Quick Communication Tip
One of the things we skip when we are racing through our lives, is
taking the time to define terms because we think it will slow down our
conversations. After all, isn’t the point of a common language to save
Well yes and no. Thankfully we are not standing at the base of the
Tower of Babel, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have plenty of variety in
our interpretations of words and statements. Responsibility, integrity,
friendship, even words like “late” or “early” have drastically different
meanings to different people. Define terms in the beginning, and save
the hassle of straightening things out later.
Want to learn more about how your communication can hold you back or
catapult you forward? Come visit the
or better yet,
contact me and see how we can design a program to fit your needs and desired outcomes.
- the podcast series
KG Stiles: "Conversations that Enlighten and Heal"
Ian Blei on Kind Ambition and the
Personal Life Media -
"Coaching the Life Coach:"
Communication Excellence (full interview)
for Evolutionary Radio w/ J. McClain
2nd Edition now available
visit the Blog.
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