The human struggle with communication continues to amaze me – the learning never stops and the complexity only deepens. Words are only one of many factors and they are only as good as the meaning that they relate to everyone involved. Much of my passion is connected to our struggle for conscious communication.
Communication is the pursuit of relational connection. It is the wireless connection that transfers information and meaning in the context of the energy of our inner reality. Interpersonal awareness is a prerequisite for conscious communication, and conscious communication is a prerequisite for effective collaboration.
Conscious communication is the result of awareness. Without awareness, our default mode is most likely rooted in our need for control. Information is processed through the filters of our life experience. The meaning of words and body language is interpreted through previous understanding and experience. Brain science indicates that our emotional memory, based on positive and negative experience, is the first receptor of information – new information produces subconscious emotional triggers that effect our reaction.
By cultivating a holistic approach to interpersonal awareness, we can learn to also listen in a holistic way. By learning to listen as an observer, we can go beyond evaluation based on our personal experience and inner world. We can not only listen to the words, but we can explore meaning based on the others experience and inner world. We can listen for the emotion behind the words and the needs behind the emotion. We can listen for understanding, practice empathy, and create intimacy.
Cultivating Conscious Communication
One if my favorite model for communication is the simple process developed by the Center for Nonviolent Communication. Also referred to as compassionate communication, the process is based on an understanding that emotion is the “energy of need”, and the goal is to give and receive empathy. Our feelings are based on needs being met or unmet – we have positive feelings when needs are met and negative feelings when needs they are unmet.
By practicing compassionate communication, interpersonal awareness is increased and relational connection is enhanced. We learn to listen without judgment, and to respond with authenticity and understanding. We learn to take responsibility for our needs and reactions, to give and receive empathy, and to make clear requests (without expectation) for what we want. The four steps of compassionate communication are an experiment in vulnerability:
- Observation – starting communication with “what is” rather than evaluation or judgment
- Feelings – exploring the emotion (energy) that is present in everyone involved
- Needs – exploring the met or unmet need that fuels the energy
- Requests – making clear requests that address the needs of everyone