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Entries from September 2007

4 Psychological Obstacles to Communicating Effectively

Ever have a conversation not work out? You think you're communicating, but something else takes over and the communication misses. Sometimes it's obvious like a full eruption and other times it's so hidden that you're left with an uneasy feeling wondering "what just happened?" Looking at the basic communications model, the breakdown occurred with the messenger, the message or with the receiver. (Come to think about it, I was always taught that any breakdown in communication was the messenger's responsibility...which does contradict the old "Don't blame the messenger" adage, doesn't it? Another both/and, truth is in the middle situation.) To expound, one of family therapy's legendary founders, Virginia Satir, offers a psychological explanation.

Satir believed all behavior is communication. She asserted that any breakdown in communication was the result of some discrepancy in the message. Have a look at her list of psychological discrepancies and see if you can relate to the scenarios:

1.) Inhibition-you have a feeling but couldn't express it (maybe you're angry, but afraid to show the anger so you don't say much...or you're hiding feelings of love while painfully hoping that your loved one will notice your true intentions).
In this scenario the receiver picks up on the missing part of the message and feels uncomfortable while the messenger also feels the discomfort of not being honest. Net sum=lose, lose

2.) Repression & Projection-these are psychological terms that express a similar dynamic to the first discrepancy, but in this case the messenger isn't aware of their feelings (yup, it's SUBconscious...and guess what? It happens a lot! After all, how often is hindsight 20-20??) In addition, the messenger projects their repressed feeling onto the other person. (Uhh, this means the messenger sees the subconscious feeling in the other person. So, you might feel angry but view the other person as angry with you. Amazingly enough, this is SO common. Some say all of life is a projection)
Net sum=lose, confused

3.) Suppression-okay, another psychological term for describing the same resulting dynamic, but in this instance the messenger feels the message is not allowed. For instance, a son or daughter feels they can't disrepect their parent so they hold back what they feel. Another scenario is that an "unspoken rule" exists that says we don't allow conflict so everyone has to act happy. Unspoken rules are at the heart of many problems.
Net sum=lose, lose, lose

4.) Denial-Who hasn't heard of this term? It's when you have a feeling but you're not sharing it because you deny its importance or relevance. (basically same dynamic with slight difference in messenger)
Net sum=lose, lose

Of course all of these discrepancies can occur simultaneously for the messenger and the receiver. Consequently, A LOT of communicating is going on in a simple look, a sigh--and in the silence. What can you do to decrease the discrepancies and foster better communicating? Get in touch with those feelings! Figure out where you are and then be honest about it. Maybe the other person will follow your lead. You'd be surprised at how smooth a conversation can go when you open yourself up and are genuine with another person.

Good luck!


Tips for Communicating with Technology

Mobile phones, Voicemails, Emails, Instant messaging, and Short Message Service (SMS or text messaging) provide easy access to people. The downside is that there is an expectation of immediate feedback. The communicator is forced to wait for a response. When no feedback is reciprocated, psychologically some people begin to feel ignored or rejected. They may respond in a number of ways—demanding, sulking, angry, withdrawn and distant—that, in reality, are motivated by the underlying fear of being ignored and rejected (or angry if the lack of response is sabotaging something important).

This is a normal dynamic that unfolds in any communication. Communicator sends a message (i.e., speaks) and receiver provides feedback to communicator (i.e. speaks back or nods) within an appropriate time frame (which happens in seconds face to face). But the problem with technology-aided communication is that there is no generally accepted rule for appropriate response time. We simply haven’t developed agreed-upon etiquette for this new form of communication.

In the older days, before answering machines, people were informed to let the phone ring 10 times before hanging up. Any more or less would be rude. There were also strict rules about not calling people during dinner hours. These rules of etiquette and others were promoted in schools, neighborhoods, communities, businesses, etc. and everyone seemed to grasp these social mores. The rapid development of technology hasn’t provided time to develop new norms, so miscommunication and misunderstandings have increased alongside the technological advancements.

What can you do? Develop norms in your communication sphere. Let the people you communicate with know how you communicate. Lay some ground rules, like informing them when you check emails and how late they can expect a response. Let them know what’s on your plate. For instance, are you a student that will not be available during finals week? Are you in a business that requires you to submit shareholder reports every quarter and tend to be unreachable during those times? Perhaps you’re an attorney and inaccessible when going to court. Or you’re a new parent with a different sleep schedule because you’re taking care of an infant. We all experience time periods that require uninterrupted attention and it impacts our ability to be responsive. Letting people know about your personal “time zone” will help them to be less intrusive and more supportive during those times.

Some methods for announcing how your personal time zone works can be personal communication, email notices and automated replies, voice mail greetings, and announcements through social networking sites like MySpace or micro-blogging services like Twitter. However you do it, communicating about your preferred communication method, availability and general response time will alleviate a lot of frustration for you and your social sphere. The flip side is remembering that the person you’re waiting to hear back from is probably experiencing some demands in their own time zone, so relax and be patient because it’s probably not personal.