When you think of being “self-aware,” you may have flashbacks to self-help books and guided meditations. But would you even consider how self-awareness can affect communication with the people in your life? Would it dawn on you that your ability — and willingness — to know yourself can improve your ability to know others?
If you’re stuck in the perception that communication is all about what you say, you’ll miss out on how self-awareness can affect communication.
It rarely occurs to most people that listening is the most important part of communication. If you’re all ears and no talk, what kind of communication is really going on?
A lot, actually — especially if the listening starts with yourself.
And this is what self-awareness is all about. It’s not a chapter in New Age spiritualism or a state of mind achieved only under hypnosis (although hypnosis can help).
Awareness is the ability to be conscious of the experiences and stimuli that ultimately determine how you take in and process information. What you think, believe, and sense is a reflection of what is already dwelling and stirring within you.
Self-awareness, in a nutshell, is looking at your internal filters and making sense of them. Your life experiences, beliefs, values, assumptions, biases, fears, and expectations all influence how you listen. And how you listen is the key to how self-awareness can affect communication.
There are three parts to this internal experience: your thoughts, your emotions, and your bodily sensations.
Thinking, as you would imagine, is connected to the mind, while sensing is connected to the body. Intersecting the two is feeling — the emotional component that can be affected by your thoughts, but isn’t always logical.
Self-awareness is your ability to recognize and separate these different experiences so you can address each for what it is.
Think about the last heated argument you had with someone — the kind of argument that left you feeling out of control, flushed, confused, exhausted. Can you remember what you thought, felt, sensed? Or did it all run together and intensify an already intense situation?
Did you find yourself saying things without thinking first? Tossing around accusations and assumptions as if they were facts? Perhaps not being able to distinguish what was coming from within yourself from what was coming from the other person?
Most importantly, did you find it difficult to listen — deeply listen — to the other person? If you were asked to repeat what the other person said and to express understanding of it, would your mirroring be accurate? Or would it reflect your personal experiences, biases, feelings, disappointments?
Self-awareness is the antidote to this internal flooding. Especially in situations of conflict, it isolates and identifies your internal filters. It helps you to know what is actually happening inside of you. Am I projecting my own thoughts onto this person? Am I feeling a specific emotion like anger or sadness? Is my body giving me signals like numbness or flushing?
Knowing how self-awareness can affect communication can improve every relationship in your life. It’s a powerful tool that can facilitate problem-solving and resolution of deep-seated issues.
Go back to that heated argument and try to remember things that were said and reactions to them.
Phrases like “I feel like you” and “you never/always/don’t” are land mines when it comes to effective communication. They muddle the internal experiences of thoughts, feelings, and sensations, leaving the speaker confused, the listener defensive, and the situation more intense.
Imagine now how that argument would have sounded if you were able to separate the components of your interior experience.
What if you had been able to recognize your sadness as a feeling and your assumption of lack of love as a thought? And what if, instead of saying, “I feel like you don’t care about or love me,” you spoke with clarity out of your self-awareness? “I feel very sad, and what I am making up in my mind is that you don’t love me anymore. Is that true?”
By recognizing the components of your own inner life, you’re far more likely to take ownership of it.
“I feel like you” is really a side-door introduction of a thought — an assumption, an accusation. But feelings are feelings — they aren’t always logical and they don’t need to be justified or defended. They simply ‘are.’
Thoughts, however, are the seat of our judgments, assumptions, and biases. They are closely connected to our beliefs, which form a frame of reference for how we see the world.
If you want to understand how self-awareness can affect communication, you need to understand the distinctions and interrelations between these interior players.
And, just as importantly, you need to accept responsibility for that inner experience that only you have. It’s up to you to identify it for what it is and then express it clearly, authentically, honestly, and compassionately.
The deep yearning within any relationship is to feel heard — deeply, soulfully heard — and understood. At its purest level, all communication is an outreach for this satisfaction.
But we are not mind-readers, no matter how close we may be in our relationships. So it’s incumbent upon each of us to listen — deeply listen — to what accumulates and stirs within ourselves.
Then and only then can we hope to communicate accurately what we long to have safely, lovingly reflected back to us.
And in that reflection lies the hope of resolution, healing, and moving forward.
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