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
Joke's On Us
Nobody's Reading Your Mind
So much miscommunication and subsequent conflict can be traced back to a
common root: we need to make our implicit communications explicit. This
may sound familiar, and if so, it’s because this is just so fundamental.
There are many reasons we don’t take the extra time or conscious effort
to make our communications explicit on a consistent basis, but if we
don’t want to be misunderstood, we need to take the inside joke outside.
There’s an old communication joke around the concept of “If you loved
me, you’d read my mind.” We don’t just do this to people we’re in
romantic relationships with by any means. We assume a great deal of
mindreading on a regular basis. We omit chunks of relevant information,
use pronouns without antecedents, (“he told them they could do that
then”) and change subjects without segues. Each of these examples of
assumed mindreading is an opportunity for major misunderstandings.
I’ve talked about the Three Strikes of Communication for years, and the
implicit/explicit subject is driven by these strikes, so with a nod to
fundamentals, let’s do a quick review. Virtually every verbal
misunderstanding can be linked to assumptions, projections, and
avoidance. Each of these missteps have numerous origins, yet they work
together as a system to prevent us from communicating effectively. Each
part could use some clarification.
Assumptions take the place of real and important information. When we
don’t have information, we tend to fill in the blanks with assumptions
that we make up in our heads. This precludes finding out the
information, because we already have an “answer” in place, regardless of
how wrong it may be. This is very different from a hunch, because with a
hunch or a hypothesis we investigate to see if we’re right.
Assumptions drive implicit versus explicit communication in that we
assume the other person has the information inside our head. This shows
up as the aforementioned omissions, pronouns, or subject changes; any
place you hear yourself saying, “huh?”
We make projections when we don’t know or understand another person’s
experience. We put our own experience in the blank space rather than
finding out theirs. We take our internal “story,” project it on the
other person, internally saying “if it were me saying or doing that,
then ___” and pretending this is an accurate statement. The truth is we
do similar things for different reasons as often as we do different
things for the same reasons.
The way we see the world, or the lens through which we take in and sort
information, determines our motivations. It’s highly unlikely another
person sees through the same lens that you see through, or experiences
what you do in the same circumstances. We miss out on finding out what
their experience was, because we filled up the blank space with our own
experience. This is different from empathy or compassion where we try to
understand where someone is coming from by “putting ourselves in their
place.” That’s actually a good starting point showing how they “might”
be feeling, but we still don’t know. When we take it to the realm of
“knowing” their motivation without asking them about it, this is pure
You can overcome this stumbling block by being a little introspective.
If you feel as though you know why someone is doing what they’re doing,
and you haven’t asked them about it, you’re probably projecting. When
someone pauses after being asked out to dinner, do you know why they
paused or do you project your own feelings and think “they obviously
don’t want to go!” Rather than telling someone what their motivation is
(a clear projection on your part), share your own experience with them,
and ask what theirs is. This way, you both share each other’s
experience, and nobody feels unheard.
Avoidance is the collection of ways in which we don’t pursue that
missing information from the other person. The reasons we use avoidance
follow directly with the different lenses through which we view the
You could avoid checking in because:
1. you feel that it’s prying or being too personal.
2. you don’t want to hear something negative making you feel separated.
3. you’re too busy to worry about details like that.
4. you figure that you already know.
5. it feels like breaching boundaries to bother the other person.
6. it might get the other person mad at you.
7. you might get criticized, and feel bad.
8. you didn’t really care.
9. you didn’t want to cause conflict.
Overcoming avoidance requires a tiny shift in your thinking. First,
remember that in Conscious Communication you’re always solving a
problem, and that problem is truly hearing and being heard. No problem
is solved by avoiding it. Indeed almost all problems are made worse when
they're avoided. Regardless of the reason for avoidance, you can see
that none of the issues we make up in our heads compare to the problems
caused by not communicating clearly and explicitly.
On the other side of the interaction, you don’t want to put the other
person in the position of assuming they know what’s in your head, or
projecting, or not checking in with you. This means you have to be
explicit in your part of the conversation. Don’t leave ambiguous holes
When a contract is exceptionally explicit, both parties feel more at
ease, because they know exactly what’s expected of them, and they know
there won’t be a misunderstanding down the line. You don’t have to learn
how to talk like a lawyer (and in fact, some lawyers use not being
explicit to be ambiguous on purpose as a strategy) but if you don’t want
ambiguity, being explicit is the key. As usual, a little extra effort in
the beginning saves tons of time and energy in the end. Don’t assume,
project, or avoid checking in, and you won’t strike out. With some
awareness and attention on your communication, you can be more in charge
of it, and enjoy richer, more productive relationships at home and at
Quick Communication Tip
By keeping the Three Strikes in mind, along with your genuine desire for
clear, accurate interactions, you can make your communication more
explicit, while requesting the same from others. Stay in a questioning
state, rather than jump for the answers. You can question your own
statements (would I understand this if someone else was wording it this
way?) as well as the other person (do I really understand what they’re
saying, or jumping to conclusions?)
Knowing beats guessing, especially when we tend to assume the worst.
Rather than assume someone is too busy to take your call, dial the phone
and find out. Rather than project your own discomfort about the sales
meeting on the client, ask them how they’re doing. Rather than ensuring
feeling badly by avoiding the possibility that you might, check in.
You’ll be glad you did.
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
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Communication Excellence (full interview)
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