Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Secret of Successful Communicating: Emotional Awareness.

I keep noticing that the success of my daily interactions depends on my own clarity and inner honesty. If I'm upset or scared, this will come through in my nonverbals, no matter how hard I try to avoid this.

Here are two recent examples. A new roommate moved into my office space. Some of her coworkers started to visit and talk loudly in our tiny shared office as I tried to work. What to do? At home, I rehearsed carefully worded “I” statements. It was my problem; I was the one who found it difficult to work with nearby conversations. Still, I worried that my coworkers would be angry if I made any requests regarding sound.

As I sat with the issue, I realized that the context of this interaction was also key. I had barely given my roommate a chance to settle in and I was ready to ask for more quiet. As I explored my feelings, I realized that my intuition (that the conversation could be unproductive) was warning me.

No matter how perfectly I communicated with my coworkers, I doubt it would have gone well because of the fear and anger hidden in my own psyche. After examining my feelings, I began to see that it was my inner-pessimist that was afraid and upset (“My quiet workplace-ruined forever!”). Once I admitted these deeper feelings, I recognized that my desire to jump in quickly with “assertive” communication was really an unconscious desire to control the new situation. If I tried to talk with my coworkers without understanding these feelings, they would come through. My colleagues would probably sense my fears and anger.

Emotional awareness is vital in these everyday dilemmas. If I am conscious enough of my feelings, I can admit them (“I'm feeling afraid that my quiet workplace…”). This “I” statement is more likely to work, since I'm “owning” my feelings and not unconsciously “throwing” them at my colleagues. Without emotional awareness, I'd be unable to do this. My coworkers would be right to be offended: I would have acted on my feelings without even knowing if they were justified.

After discovering my deeper reactions, I immediately felt better. I also knew that any conversation would now be much more successful. My willingness to handle the uncertainty of the situation took the pressure off myself (and my co-workers).

Postscript: within a short time, I adjusted to my terrific, new officemate. If my work required extra quiet, I used a pair of earplugs.

Another example:
My husband and I enjoy traveling and spending time with my parents. But when they recently talked about joining us on a cruise together, I felt strangely uncomfortable. Why? As I quizzed myself, I realized I was worried about my father's fragile health. Was he really able to handle a cruise? What if something happened to him while in my care? I was worried about my Dad but also forced to admit my more selfish concerns. Would our dream vacation become mired in taking care of a sick parent?

I didn't like seeing my own selfishness, but it was important to acknowledge. I could then make a choice. I wanted a carefree vacation but I also love my parents. I knew I'd be happy to support their choice in joining us on a cruise.

Unlike my earlier example, in this case I concluded that I needed to share my concerns with my mother. Was this really a good trip for Dad? My new clarity meant that our conversation wouldn't be confused by my own inner contradictions. Before my awareness, my concerns may have merged with my more selfish fears. Now I knew my own inner truth: I was concerned and also ready to support their voyage, if they chose to go.

The only way for me to act with integrity is if I know the deepest dimensions of my reactions. Armed with this knowledge, I have the best chance of not sending a mixed message to others. Mixed messages cause stress for the receiving party. This is why a mixed message (I am trying hard not to be angry with you but am actually very angry with you) often results in conflict.

I first must communicate with myself before I can communicate with another.

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

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