You Cannot NOT Communicate (or the “mic” is always live)

In my previous posts, I have focussed on understanding emotions and the emotions process.

In this post, I want to revisit the topic of communication and how words can effect us.

The goal, here, is to refocus your attention on the words you use in “talking” to yourself and others because these words will elicit emotions which will impact your life as I addressed in my previous posts.

The reference to the “mic” refers to situations in which celebrities have made comments in front of a microphone which they thought was turned off, or  dead, only to have those comments show up in the next day’s news  because the mic was live.  

When you attempt to communicate, someone is always receiving the message. You just may not know what message is being received!

The title of this blog post may look like I added an extra word.

The extra “NOT” is intentional.

The point I am making  is that we are always communicating something whether we intend to or not.

Indeed, most people believe that communication is a fairly simple process.

This is an unfortunate myth.

The process of communication (while simplified in these examples) can be illustrated as follows:

Example #1: Think back to the days of the telegraph.  If you wanted to send a message, you had to write out the message, the telegraph operator had to convert it to Morse Code, the wires had to be in place between you and the place to which you were sending the message, the receiving  operator had to get the signal, decode the message, and write it down so that your target person could receive your message.

This first example illustrates the verbal communication process.

Factual or “basic” information. 

Most of us can easily encode an idea into words, deliver the words, and expect the receiver to accurately decode the message and understand what we mean and intended to say.  And, in most cases, when it is factual information we are communicating, this process works.

There are some underlying assumptions here.

  • Both of the participants speak the same language and can understand the words being used.  Words can be thought of as one “filter” through which ideas are processed. (One way to understand the idea of a filter is to think about what happens when you take a black and white picture with your camera or smart phone. The filter takes out the color.) Words can have a multitude of meanings and, therefore, can be thought of as a filter in that you choose the words you eventually use based on what you want to convey.
  • The message is clear, does not involve emotional issues in either party, and is not easily misinterpreted. (Emotions are another “filter” through which ideas are processed.)
  • Both participants are paying attention to each other, are not distracted by “noise” in the environment (think about having a conversation in a loud lounge), and are “actively” listening with the goal of receiving and understanding the message.  They are not  “passively” listening while engaged in some other activity such as texting or planning tomorrow’s schedule.

Emotions or “complex” issues.

However, if we are dealing with issues involving emotions (or complex issues), the process becomes more complicated.

Example #2: Think about the last time you sent a text or an email thinking that you were being very clear only to have the person to whom you sent this electronic message get upset because they misinterpreted the message they received.

The second example illustrates a situation in which the message has several different “layers” but the only layer of information that is “available” is what is “written” down.

There are several possible complications here:

  • The message may contain implied emotional overtones. For example, you are upset with the person and have not directly expressed your feeling.
  • You may have directly expressed your feelings but the meaning of the emotional words you have used were misinterpreted when “decoded” by the recipient of the text.
  • You tried to use humor in your text or an emoji.
  • And so forth.

By the way, the above process is why we are frequently advised, and warn our kids, to be very careful about what they send in an email or a text.

There is a quote from the Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) literature that says: “The meaning of a communication (to the receiver) is the response that you (the sender) get regardless of what you intended to say.”

The receiver’s (upset) response clearly suggests that he (or she) viewed the message as “threatening”. This is the “real” meaning of the message to him.

If the communication process is to be successful, you will need to determine where the “disconnect” is. Perhaps, the misunderstanding occurred because the message contained implied emotional overtones that were included in the message (either intentionally or unintentionally) or the receiver read emotional overtones into the message that were not there.

When you are involved in a face to face conversation, there are additional complications that can take place because of the nature of non-verbal signals.

  • Non-verbal signals comprise a significant (perhaps, major) portion of the communication process and involve your tone of voice, the expression on your face, the way you are standing and so forth.
  • An important part of the emotional process is the constant scanning of our surroundings that our senses engage in, our Amygdala monitors, and our bodies unconsciously react to if there is a threat.
  • Our primitive brain is programmed to “read” non-verbal signals because they are often a more accurate (though not always so) indicator of possible threat. This is because humans are not very good at modifying their non-verbal signals (unless they are trained to do so).

Consequently, you are always communicating non-verbally and your listener is always tuned into your non-verbals.  Hence, the title of this blog: You cannot NOT communicate.

An example of this potential conflict is  the saying “Your actions speak so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.”

Communication problems can arise for at least two reasons:

  1. The meaning of non-verbal signals is not always clear and can easily be misunderstood.
  2. The non-verbal signals you are communicating with your tone of voice or body language are not consistent with the verbal message.

You master your emotions (and the emotions of others) when you are aware of and utilize the nature of non-verbal (and verbal) signals.

  • In your own communications, take extra care to insure that the message you are conveying non-verbally is consistent with the words you are using.
  • Be aware of the non-verbal signals your receiver sends to you, the emotions indicated by those signals, and the message those emotions tell you about how he or she has interpreted your communication. Using this information, you can seek clarification if what you see in their response is different from what you expected and you can clear up any misunderstanding.

I will continue this discussion in the next two posts.


How to be your own “expert” advisor.

In my last two posts, I covered the “3M Approach to Feelings”.

The 3 M’s were…

  1. Management
  2.  Mindfulness
  3.  Mastery

The last step, mastery, involves understanding and strategically deploying your emotions.

In this post, I want to give you a 6-step technique which will help you move closer to emotional mastery.

Let me explain.

In the past when you wanted to pursue a new skill or gain some knowledge you wanted to learn, you may have consulted an “expert”, a counselor, or, as I often do, my neighbor, who has forgotten  more about construction than I ever knew.

Well, when it comes to mastering emotions, you have immediate access to an “expert” you probably didn’t give much thought to.

Indeed, as a reader of this blog, you know more about emotions than most of the population.

Based on this knowledge, you are an “expert”.

No, I am not pulling your chain.  As I am defining “expert”, when you know more about the subject than they do, you qualify as a knowledgeable source of information.  Or, to put it another way… an expert within the limits of your knowledge.

So, I am willing to bet that if someone asked you to give some advise on how to master emotions, you could give some very credible suggestions.

And, maybe, in a moment of self-reflection, you realized how good the advice was and felt a little rush of well-deserved pride. I hope so.

Good for you!

But, and this is the kicker, have you ever found yourself in a situation similar to the one you helped your friend navigate through and you didn’t use your own advice?

The answer for most of us, including me, is “yes”.

And, yes, when it happens to me (a certified expert in these matters), I feel kind of silly, have to laugh at myself, forgive myself, and reevaluate the choices I have made.

When I taught a Personal Growth class at the University where I teach, I would often answer questions from the students noting that I was much better at helping them solve their issues than I was solving my own. The reason for this is that I was objective and unburdened by emotions when I responded to their issues so I could easily and quickly access my experiences and knowledge to formulate an answer to their question.

In my own case, however, I was often very subjective  and emotional.

This subjectivity clouded my judgement and left me less effective as a problem solver.

I had the necessary knowledge but I was too close to the situation and the knowledge I had didn’t kick in.

In other words, I was not able to completely access my own knowledge.

I had difficulty being my own expert.

6 steps to help you become your own expert.

So, in order for you to be your own expert when you are facing an issue that is problematic, troublesome, and emotional for you, follow these six steps:

  1. take a piece of paper and write out the issue as you understand it to be. Note: the “facts” of the situation are not critical here as it is your interpretation that is critical.
  2. imagine that a friend of yours has approached you with this exact issue and requested your help
  3. write out your suggestions to your friend’s request.
  4. put the suggestions you’ve written away for a day or two
  5. pull out the suggestions you wrote down
  6. commit to follow the advice that is written down in front of you.

While this technique may not work in every situation and you may have to seek some outside input, it will be effective in many situations because:

  • you are a good advice giver (expert) when you are objective
  • this process helps you be objective
  • the 1-2 day cooling off period gives you some distance from the issue
  • you’ve committed to following your own advice.

I hope this helps.