The Most Important Thing to Focus On When Communicating
(Time to read: ~ 6 minutes)
What do you think of when you hear the word “communication”?
For many of us, the answer is “What do I say when…?” – for example, when someone says or does something that we don’t enjoy.
Other people say that when they hear the word “communication” they think “listen to the other person”, or, in Stephen Covey’s words, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Both of these are very valuable elements of communication, but I’d discovered that they aren’t the most important thing.
The Most Important Thing
What I’ve found is the most important thing to focus on when communicating is my “energy”. [If this sounds vague and “woo-woo”, please read on – I make it very concrete and practical.]
According to A. Barbour, author of “Louder Than Words: Nonverbal Communication”, less than 10% of the total impact of a message is conveyed in words. The remaining 90% of what we communicate comes through non-verbally – in our tone, our facial expression, and our body language.
And if there is a mismatch between our words and our non-verbal communication, people trust our non-verbals.
That is why the first thing I teach about communication is how to shift your “energy”. Because that is the foundation of our non-verbal communication. If it is “negative”, then all the nice words in the world won’t make up for it.
What is “energy”? And where does it come from?
For me, “energy” is the emotional tone that we convey. Is it positive, warm, and connecting? Or is it “negative” – irritated, frustrated, guilty, or hopeless?
Positive, warm, and connecting energy is both a gift and a birth-right. I believe it is like the sun, always there behind the clouds of any negative emotion we may be experiencing in the moment.
I believe “negative” energy of the kinds I’ve mentioned (irritated, frustrated, guilty, depressed, or hopeless) is the result of two things:
- Our awareness that we don’t know how to meet our needs in this situation,
- Combined with certain kinds of thinking that we’ve learned.
For example, thinking that someone “should” have done something. (The “someone” may have been me, or someone else.) Or labeling people or behaviour in critical ways.
The intention of this kind of thinking has been to help us meet our needs. But it is not an effective strategy in our complex, interdependent modern world. It actually makes it more difficult to get our needs met.
What can we do about it?
The first and most important thing we can do about our energy is to notice what it is.
There are two kinds of clues we can use:
- How we feel – both emotionally and physically. We’ve talked about emotions above. Physically, if my muscles are feeling tense, it is a good indication that I’m in a “negative” state.
- What we’re thinking – Critical or judgmental thoughts, or “negative” labeling of behaviour, are two kinds of thoughts that are really good indicators that, if I try to communicate right now, the other person is going to experience “negative” communication from me, regardless of the words that I use.
Once we realize what our energy is, we can choose what to do next.
With negative energy, there is often a huge drive to “do something right now!” Having tried this a few thousand times over my lifetime, I can report that this is, almost 100% of the time, a bad move (ineffective strategy).
I end up spreading my “negative” energy to the other person, so that together we have even less capacity to address the situation than before I took action based on my negative energy.
So generally the most effective thing (and the hardest!) is, for the moment, to do nothing – at least, no communicating.
I may excuse myself from the situation and walk around the block, or do some deep breathing – something to give the stress chemicals flooding through my system an opportunity to disperse.
Should I distract myself? Put my focus somewhere else?
This can be an effective short-term strategy. And I don’t find it is helpful in the long run.
From NVC, we know that each of those negative thoughts is highlighting something that is important to us – something that we don’t know how to satisfy in this situation.
So our “negative” energy is bringing our attention to a learning opportunity – an opportunity to learn how to meet our needs more effectively in a situation we’ve encountered.
Maybe this situation will never occur again. And my experience is that usually they do – in some form.
So it is usually in my best interest, as soon as I can, to delve into the situation, shift my energy around it and figure out how to better meet my needs.
But I Don’t Want To!
Whenever I find myself in a “negative” energy state, I almost never want to do the work to shift my energy – despite the fact that I have done this dozens, if not hundreds of times. Why is this?
I think there are two reasons I (we?) resist doing this:
- I’m feeling scared and uncertain – maybe I won’t be able to shift things this time.
Sure, maybe I’ve been able to do that every other time I’ve tried – but maybe this time will be different.
And if you haven’t been able to do this consistently in the past, there’s even more reason to feel uncertain and concerned.
- I’m aware that I don’t have access to all the inner resources that I usually do. This is a time that I really want the support of someone else – to support me with their energy.
That is why one of my main goals is to create a community of people who can support one another at times like these.
And I’ve learned that, for this to work, each of these people needs to know how to, and have the capacity to:
- Be aware of their own inner energy,
- Shift their own energy with support, and
- Make effective choices when they are in a “negative” energy state.
Which is why I request that people work with me to learn and practice these skills, before coming together in community.
Would you like to learn these skills and participate in a community like this?
Then I invite you to sign up for a Master Level 1 Session – taught in a private one-on-one format, so we can customize the session to your precise needs. If we determine that you already have these skills, and so don’t learn anything new in this session, there will be no fee.