Communication is always evolving. With the newest technologies available to us, we are modifying how we talk and understand communication. (Do we all remember the #hashtag phase? If not Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake did a comedy skit that sums it up perfectly!) One thing is true, we love to communicate with each other. If we are striving to be authentic and impeccable during this communication, we can continue to create a more caring and positive world.
Everyone has a slightly different way of thinking, and thus a different way of interpreting what is being said. If we break down the process of communication we have two parts of the brain that are performing tasks simultaneously. First we have listening and then talking. In his TedTalk neuroscientist Uri Hasson goes through a research study he helped perform. During this study, people were placed in an MRI machine to record which areas of the brain light up while being told/telling a story. What was observed was the areas of the brain that light up during these tasks and the wave patterns that are another depiction of the brains activity. At first the people that were in the MRI machines had irractive results (a.k.a. their minds were thinking about all different things). But when the story began, all of the brains synced up to display almost the same results. These results are an example of neural entrainment. “…we believe that these responses … become similar across listeners because of the meaning conveyed by the speaker, and not by words or sound. ” (Uri Hasson) Uri might be onto something when he comments that this alignment that we are seeing is vital for communication. This communication is stronger when the speaker and the listener are communicating in the same/familiar language. For example, if you have a strong grasp on English, a story told to you in English will be better comprehended verses a story told in an unfamiliar language. It is important to note that retelling a story or memory results in the same activities in the brains of the speaker and listener.Think about the warm fuzzy feeling that you get when telling someone your favorite memory.
Ok, when we both listen and talk our brains have the same activity. But what about truly understanding and the different perspectives people have? Misunderstandings happen all the time in our lives because we often understand the same occurrence in different ways. Uri had another phase in this experiment. He recounts the results on how a story is interpreted by two groups of listeners, where each group had a different framing as a preface to the story. “This one sentence before the story started was enough to make the brain responses of all the people …be very similar [within each group] in these high-order areas and different than the other group. And if one sentence is enough to make your brain similar to people that think like you and very different than people that think differently than you, think how this effect is going to be amplified in real life… that give us very different perspectives on reality.”
Click Here if you would like to watch the full TedTalk by Uri Hasson.
Be Thoughtful and Deliberate- Reaction vs Interaction
Now that we understand a bit more about the science side of talking and listening, how can we use this knowledge to be authentic with our communication? A lot of this deals with being present, thoughtful and deliberate with our words when communicating with others and yourself. (Remember, self talk is super important too!) When reading a Harvard Business Review article by Tony Schwartz and Emily Pines titled Great Leaders Are Thoughtful and Deliberate, Not Impulsive and Reactive, we come to the two-fold idea once again. The part of us that is what we are most familiar with and use day-to-day for scheduling, working, etc. This part is “…run by our pre-frontal [sic.] cortex and mediated through our parasympathetic nervous system. This is the self we prefer to present to the world. It’s calm, measured, rational, and capable of making deliberate choices.” The second part is operated by a small cluster of nuclei in the midbrain called the amygdala. The amygdala “…is mediated by our sympathetic nervous system. Our second self seizes control any time we begin to perceive threat or danger. It’s reactive, impulsive, and operates largely outside our conscious control.”
(A.K.A. the lizard brain, great for surviving an attack by a t-rex or bear, less great for current day issues like when to do the laundry or talk with our partner about an issue.) Most conflicts from triggering the ‘lizard brain’ today are a result of our self value and worth being threatened. You can feel your face get hot, muscles get tense, and breathing can become irregular at these moments. “…but the danger we experience isn’t truly life-threatening. Responding to them as if they are only make things worse.” (Tony Schwartz and Emily Pines) We can do a number of things to remain conscious of these dueling ‘selfs’ as Tony Schwartz and Emily Pines dub them. Some examples that help us check in with our brains and what they are doing/deciding are meditation, journaling, taking a breather, etc.
If this sounds familiar, you would be correct. Taking the time to self-reflect on your thoughts before speaking is a part of self-care, understanding who you are, and how you would like to conduct yourself. This takes a lot to recognise your internal experience. “You can’t change what you don’t notice, but noticing can be a powerful tool for shifting from defending our value to creating value.” Self observe or a stoic stance helps to recognise the emotions and thoughts. Then we are able to interact with the situation/problem/feeling to promote a positive outcome. One way to improve your capacity to self-observe is to begin with a strong emotion such as impatience, frustration, or anger. When you feel it arising, it’s a flashing red light that you’re sliding into the “second self”. If all you can do is just name the emotion, you have made a huge first step to being able to transform them to a positive.
Unified Caring Association has a tool that we love to use and share to help with this. We have a deck of cards and accompanying book called Moonbeam Feeling Pack. With these we can pull a card that has an emotion depicted, read the description, and then decide on what to do with that emotion. If it is a heavy or depleting emotion, we can choose the opposite lighter and renewing emotion Moonbeam identifies which we might just prefer.
What are other red flags for us? “…watch out for times when you feel you’re digging in your heels. The absolute conviction that you’re right and the compulsion to take action are both strong indicators that you‘re feeling a sense of threat and danger.” (Tony Schwartz and Emily Pines) At these times it can be helpful to ask yourself questions like, ‘Is there a different perspective here?’ or ‘What part of this is my responsibility?’ These regular inquiries on your thoughts and feelings help to offset “… your confirmation bias — the instinct to look for evidence that supports what you already believe. By always looking for your own responsibility, you’re resisting the instinct to blame others and play victim and focusing instead on what you have the greatest ability to influence — your own behavior.” (Tony Schwartz and Emily Pines) With practice these new skills will allow us to better interact with others while communication, not just react to the other person’s words. This interaction often promotes more creativity, productivity, and overall satisfaction. Know thyself can become a lasting mantra. Knowing our truth/authentic self/who we are is a core foundation to being impeccable with our words. Without our self-awareness and inner confidence we often struggle with actually knowing what to say.
What we say matters as much as how we say it.
“It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice…being kind, being compassionate, being inclusive and straight up and just being good to people is what matters.” [Dwayne Johnson]
Yes this is a quote from ‘The Rock’ and it holds a ton of truth to it. Being nice goes a long way. We are now having a better grasp on what to do, now we need to practice how to interact. There is a bit of an art to this interaction while stating your new found, productive truth. We want to stand up for ourselves while maintaining a nice and positive attitude. This is not always easy to do, especially during an argument or giving bad news to another person. Joyce E. A. Russell talks about this a bit in her article on Forbes.com titled Being Honest And Nice At Work Actually Works: “…you do have to stand up for yourself and you have to give honest feedback to people who are not doing what they should be doing, but you can still do this in a kind, compassionate, nice and firm way.” This returns us to the original idea that we should be impeccable with our words. Have you ever received a bad review at work is such a nice way that you really heard the feedback? It not only leaves you feeling motivated, but you then have a better comprehension of what you should improve.
Our brains love stories. We see through studies like Uri Hasson’s where we can map and measure how active and where the activity occurs. But the stories and words we hear often are not exactly what the speaker/teller means. It is important to be thoughtful and deliberate when speaking and listening. This helps us ensure we are fully communicating and comprehending what is being said. This takes a bit of work, but being authentic, thoughtful, and deliberate helps with our caring communication. This all builds to the belief that what we say and how we say it matters. We all want to help make the world a more caring and thriving place to live. We can do this by being impeccable with your caring words.
- Hasson, U. (2016, February). This is your brain on communication. Retrieved August 21, 2019, from https://www.ted.com/talks/uri_hasson_this_is_your_brain_on_communication
- Pines, T. S. (2019, April 18). Great Leaders Are Thoughtful and Deliberate, Not Impulsive and Reactive. Retrieved August 21, 2019, from https://hbr.org/2019/04/great-leaders-are-thoughtful-and-deliberate-not-impulsive-and-reactive
- Russell, J. E. (2019, June 25). Being Honest And Nice At Work Actually Works. Retrieved August 21, 2019, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/joyceearussell/2019/06/24/being-honest-and-nice-at-work-actually-works/#2cf744106d46