Wikipedia defines communication between human beings as:
- The imparting or exchanging of information or news.
- The successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings.
- A means of connection between people.
Communicating skillfully means it is done in a manner that connects people, gets the right information conveyed, and leads to greater insight and good decisions. So why is it so darn hard?
It is hard because communicating can only be done from the emotional developmental level of the communicator. An egotistical jerk will likely be an aggressive, compulsive communicator. Someone who is hasn’t dealt with childhood trauma may be submissive or passive-aggressive. Noticing poor communication skills in myself, and others have been a great source of insight into this study of emotional BOO. Poor communication always leads to more suffering. Developing an Unbeatable Mind means to commit to the hard work of becoming a skillful communicator. Your words, body expressions, and energy should convey integrity and uplift both you and whomever you are speaking with. In short, you will use your words to elevate and not denigrate, to relieve misunderstanding, not bring it on, and to connect with, not disconnect, from others.
Communication is done not just with words, but also the eyes, other body language, and one’s energy. I am sure you have noticed that there is often a time lag between experiencing a negative conversation, and the awareness that you were an unwitting participant. This can be after you hear the gossip “did you hear what Sally said about you?” Or, you are reminded of the conversation later and something just doesn’t feel right about it. Then you recapitulate it and see that you were manipulated.
My father’s anger and lack of emotional control led to aggressive communications within my family. His unresolved childhood trauma led to his own insecurity and an inability to tell his family that he loved them. I don’t think this was uncommon for his generation. He never tried to improve his communications because he never addressed his emotional shadow, so he and the family suffered. Poor communicators project their own broken inner nature through passive (or submissive), passive-aggressive, manipulative, or like my Dad, aggressive styles of speech.
The more aware we become through training communications skills, the better able we are to detect, and deflect, the subtle barbs of negative communicators. Developing skillful communication will create greater emotional awareness, and emotionally development will lead to more skillful communications. Skillful, heartfelt communication will cultivate a deeper connection with our teams and loved ones… and transmit our intentions and needs with clarity.
The Good, The Band and The Ugly Communication Styles
A good understanding of the six styles of communication will help you learn about your own patterns so you can ensure that your words are coming from a fifth plateau awareness. They will be assertive and heart-centric. You will speak truthfully, using positive and encouraging words, and only speak words that add value to a conversation. One outcome of this type of “Kokoro communication” is that you will speak less, and with carefully selected words, than in the past.
Studying the styles of communication will also help you to position yourself in conversation with others. You will quickly detect a dysfunctional communication pattern and know you are being manipulated, or that the passive aggressiveness you experience is coming from an emotional BOO of the other. You will orient yourself to respond skillfully and compassionately, or to bow out of the conversation. It will also help you recognize when you, personally, are not being assertive or behaving in the most effective way. With Kokoro communications, you will have a choice as to which communication style to use. Being assertive is the most effective, but the other styles may come in handy, when deployed with a fifth plateau awareness, in certain situations. One example would be to feign submissiveness when being physically threatened, so as to not escalate the situation. In a serious situation, your gut might say the best action is to give the man the wallet! Or, when dealing with a passive aggressive person, you may deem some manipulation on your part is the best way to disentangle from the individual. Just sayin!
As with all our work in this program, developing highly effective communication skills requires a high level of self-awareness, and that takes work. But, when you understand your own communication styles, you will know where you can improve. Just like emotional development, self-awareness of our communication skill precedes self-management and improvement of those skills.
Practicing Kokoro communications will help you diffuse anger, reduce guilt and build better personal and professional relationships. If you’re avoiding conflict, and not relying on assertive critical conversations, chances are that you’re avoiding, repressing or projecting a shadow of your own. And, you are in a dysfunctional relationship that needs to be skillfully evolved… if you choose to stay in that relationship. It’s important to have critical conversations as quickly and effectively as possible to clear the air and grow as a team. That way you free up the energy that was holding you back. If you don’t, conflict festers, negativity builds, and resentment poisons the unity. I will get into tools for having “critical conversations” in the next topic, once you have learned the communication styles.
Remember the first rule of effective communication: The success of the communication is the responsibility of the communicator. Take responsibility not only for the quality and clarity of the words you select but also for how they land with others. The five styles which encompass the good, bad and ugly of communication, in that order, including assertive, passive-submissive, passive-aggressive, manipulative and aggressive. Their names point to the characteristics of each style, but you can study the nuances so you can detect them in your own communications, and in others. Let’s review each now, starting with the only healthy one.
Assertive communication is born of high self-esteem. It is the healthiest and most effective style of communication. Assertiveness comes from a place of high self-esteem and confidence in our self-worth. In simple terms, we are not subjugating our needs to others (passive or submissive), nor lording over them (aggressive, passive-aggressive or manipulative). When assertive we are aware of the boundaries, and don’t stray beyond, or allow ourselves to be pushed beyond them. Other people will always attempt to get something from us, sell us something, try to get us to join their latest cause. They will use every trick they have learned from their own family and culture and will manipulate, distort the truth, and project their BOO. It can be really hard to be assertive with these types of people. I think assertiveness is uncommon, and very surprising or refreshing when we do see it. As an assertive person, you will…
- Achieve your goals without harm to others,
- Protect your own rights, and be respectful of the rights of others,
- Will be emotionally balanced, controlled and expressive,
- Ask directly for your needs to be met,
- Accept rejection and a “no” as gracefully as you receive a compliment and a “yes.”
Much of assertive language is non-verbal. You will use a medium pitch voice without rushing it. Your stand a respectful distance in a posture that is open, symmetrical, relaxed, and poised. Avoid fidgeting, dramatic arm or hand movements, and glancing down or around. You maintain eye contact with a steady gaze and use words such as: “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you with this worthy project, I am simply overcommitted at this time.” Or: “Please respect our communal space here and put your headphones on, so I and others can concentrate on our work.” And one more example: “Thank you so much for trusting me enough to make this offer, let me think about it for 24 hours and get back to you tomorrow, ok?”
The other individual should know where they stand with you and should feel respected and heard. The message is that you can take care of yourself, and won’t be manipulated or accept an offer that isn’t right for you. And they will respect and trust you more as the result of your assertiveness unless they are more flawed than you were aware.
Now, let’s look at the words, energy and body language of the dysfunctional communication strategies.
This style is about pleasing other people and avoiding conflict. A passive-submissive person behaves as if other peoples’ needs are more important, and other people have more rights and more to contribute. As a passive-submissive person, you will..
- Be apologetic, as if your request is imposing on the other,
- Avoid confrontation at all costs,
- Have difficulty taking responsibility for decisions and leading the way,
- Yield to the needs or preferences of others,
- Opt out, feel like the victim and blame others,
- Refuse or downplay compliments,
- Expect a “no” and not believe the “yes”
- Be generally inexpressive, emotionally unsure.
Clearly, this type of communication comes from low self-esteem and lack of confidence. The non-verbal cues are soft, submissive voice, almost inaudible at times. Posture will be closed off, head down, small. Eye contact is limited and not expressive, wary. Statements such as: “I wasn’t sure I wanted that anyway,” or: “It doesn’t’ matter,” or you choose, anything is ok with me,” are common. If on the receiving end this communication can be frustrating and draining. You will feel like the individual is confused and doesn’t know what they want, so may discount them. You. May even feel some guilt because you get to do what you want, probably in contradiction with what this other person really wants, but can’t express. If you have some of these tendencies, the practicing assertiveness is really important. Using the Unbeatable Mind toolkit get clear on who you are and what you want… and then practice stating those things. Go ahead and collect “no’s” along the way to build esteem and confidence.
I have been a party to passive aggressive behavior so much in my life that it seems to be the most common. That is probably my own confirmation bias at since I have doled it out too. This one was my fall back due to the co-dependent nature of my family of origin communication styles. Passive-aggressiveness is an “in between” style… not totally submissive, but not outwardly aggressive either. It can be downright confusing. How often have we had to dissect and process these conversation hours or days after they happened? Those who use this style have some clarity about what they want, but no deep confidence to ask assertively. At the same time, they will not be aggressive or outright manipulative. I think that the only reason that passive-aggressive behavior isn’t also classified as manipulative, is because the manipulation is subconscious and not a conscious attempt at outright fraud.
The passive-aggressive person appears passive and nice on the surface, but they are acting out their anger and emotional BOO in indirect ways. When someone feels powerless or resentful, they will often act in this way to undermine others. Often, they will sabotage their own interests with their passive aggressiveness because trust is lost quickly. The passive aggressive person will be
- Sarcastic, devious and unreliable,
- A two-faced gossiper, showing a pleasant face in person, then saying or doing something damaging behind their backs,
- Sabotage the relationship, the team or even a project,
Non-verbal cues include a sweet, innocent look and tone of voice. They will be touchy-feely or standing with hands on hips when being sarcastic or patronizing. Language sounds like: “You know best, so why don’t you go ahead and do it your way.” Or, “You don’t need to worry about me, I will figure it out like I always do anyhow.” Or, this one from my brother toasting my wife: “Sandy, why don’t you come out to visit the family without Mark, it would be fun.” Ouch. Being on the receiving end of passive aggressive communication is not fun. You can feel confused, angry, hurt and resentful. I would prefer to have someone be outright aggressive or manipulative toward me because the subterfuge is easier to spot. You have to be seriously on your guard when dealing with this style. Most family dynamics in the third and fourth plateaus are ripe with passive, passive-submissive and passive-aggressive styles, while first and second plateaus will see more manipulative and aggressive styles. That is a serious generalization of course, as all styles will be present where emotional awareness is lacking.
This style is scheming, calculating and shrewd. Manipulative communicators are skilled at influencing or controlling others to their own advantage. Their spoken words hide an underlying message, of which the other person may be totally unaware. Those with this style will be…
- Cunning and controlling others, such as by sulking or fake crying,
- Indirect in getting their needs met. Such as lying about whey they need to borrow money, or disinviting you from a party by saying it was canceled then holding it without you,
- Making you feel sorry for them as if somehow you hurt them. There are many more obvious manipulative behaviors that you have certainly been the victim of.
Non-verbal cues can include ingratiating voice, high pitch or overly agitated voice, acting envious or sulky, or devious. Language examples include things like this from a friend: “How bad does this dress look?” Of course, they would be mortified if you told them the truth that it was terrible… so you feel manipulated to say it is great. Or, this from an employee who resents your success and thinks they can do it better: “I never heard back from that client,” Later, they leave and you find out that they stole the client. Being on the receiving end of manipulation sucks, you just want to punch them in the face (I guess that is my BOO!). But it is common so you must be on guard, and assertive when this comes up. The problem is that often we don’t find out we are manipulated until later. Dealing with this style requires great awareness and watching for the cue of the non-verbal behavior, as well as tuning into your internal awareness intuition during a conversation with those you suspect may be manipulating you.
That final style is aggressive. This type of communicator is scorched earth, win at all costs. This person will puts their needs over all others, and believes they are right no matter what. Ironically this is the easiest to spot because it is the most blatant, and often loudest and crudest form of communication. But one can be aggressive without raising their fists and voice, and that requires more finesse to deal with.
It is challenging, to say the least, to have a meaningful conversation with an aggressive type. You are just too busy guarding and deflecting to think clearly. You need Aikido master level skills to deflect, re-direct and merge with the energy of the other person to get to any suitable outcome. Aggressive behavior will be…
Non-verbal cues will obviously include frowning or glaring menacingly. They will invade your space and talk in a loud voice. They will use sarcastic, bullying language and leave you feeling defensive, humiliated, defeated, resentful, scared or lost. Respect is impossible to have for an aggressive individual, and an environment with one is going to be toxic. These types of people are best to avoid altogether, and if one exists on your team then get rid of them.
Thanks to the work of Edmund J Bourne, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. 2nd edition. New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 1995 to help me get a firmer grip on this important information. In the next topic, we will look at how to deal with negative people more generally, and learn some steps for having assertive critical conversations.