by Anna Velychko
How important is communication for people? Is it necessary for everyone?
I do think that communication is essential. But the most central part is the language we use to communicate with others and ourselves. Doctor Russ Harris in his book on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) talks about the use of language: he says that communication is a double-edged sword. It’s beneficial for all sorts of purposes, but if we don’t learn how to handle it effectively, it will hurt us. On the bright side, communication helps us make maps and models of the world; predict and plan for the future; share knowledge; learn from the past; imagine things that have never existed and go on to create them.
The dark side of communication is that we use it to lie, manipulate, and deceive; to spread slander and ignorance; to incite hatred, prejudice, and violence; to dwell on and “relive” painful events from the past; to scare ourselves by imagining unpleasant futures; to compare, judge, criticize, and condemn both ourselves and others; and to create rules for ourselves that can often be life constricting or destructive. Harris states, “Your mind is not your friend—and it’s not your enemy either.” Thus unhealthy communication and struggles of self-expression could lead to ruminating, silencing, withdrawal, or aggression. Instead, sharing tools on effective and respectful communication is key to use communication for self-empowerment, creativity, information exchange, and emotional support.
Communicating can be tricky. Effective and healthy communication even trickier. Why?
The tricky part of communication I think is the emotional aspect attached to a communication process. It is also our desire to control the reactions of others participating in a conversation. Our ego could come in the front line, without our conscious awareness, and rule the whole communication spectacle. On the contrary, people whose power is diminished may be swept away by the sturdiness of others – not being able to find a space for self-expression.
We need to remind ourselves that conversation is about a dialogue, not monologue – and it is easy to forget about it, while we are preoccupied in our thinking process. To learn how to settle for being heard without the need to fix others or control their reactions is tricky; it requires practice, energy, and self-awareness. Asking for things we need directly, assertively, learning how to say “no” to a particular request that doesn’t serve us is a sign or responsible communication, which can allow us to facilitate closer and healthy connections with others and ourselves.
How does one create a space for self-awareness to become more present and effective communicator?
This is when mindfulness practice becomes very helpful. Mindfulness is a practice of self-awareness, which assists us in reflecting on our own thoughts, our reactions to these thoughts, and what we want to take from this experience. One of the most valuable exercises I have ever done was during my yoga teacher training. In this exercise, my partner and I were sitting back to back and taking turns to speak. The teacher would ring the bell to indicate the shift from listening to talking and vice versa. We talked about anything that came to mind, which lessened the burden to worry about what to say next. This exercise reminded me what it really feels like just be present for a person who is talking. Through such mindfulness practices we can develop a capacity to calm our mind, think about reasons that make us want to interject or interrupt someone, also think a bit more about things we want to say before we say it.
What would be some of the DO NOT’s in communication?
- Do not rush as we speak and do not interrupt as we listen. Interrupting comes in, I think, not only because we get too excited to share some information with others. We also interrupt because listening requires a lot of concentration and it could be tiring, which ties up to the use of digital media. Digital devices are not too helpful in concentration.
- Do not treat technology as something very foreign or different from face-to-face communication. Imagine that technology, in semi-professional or personal settings, is just a portal. This portal allows us to talk to another person similarly as we would do face-to-face. Thus, imagining someone right in front of us, looking into our eyes might help to reframe the message or think a bit differently about the timing to have a conversation.
As someone who works in social services, I have strong feelings that after hours, non-life-threatening communication should be through email, not the phone. These settings (like any other full-time job) are already challenging enough during the 8-hour long day and downtime should be used for fun and relaxation.