How Do People See You
Take Control of Your Communication for Better Relationships
Have you ever been told that “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it?”
As maddening as this can be to hear (especially if it’s lobbed at you in the middle of a disagreement), it’s also true: The way we deliver a message impacts the way it’s received just as much as the message itself.
In fact, most of what we communicate to the people around us is not in the form of words. We are all constantly communicating through subtle cues that we give off unintentionally, running each other’s messages through the filter of our own experiences and beliefs, then forming judgments about each other that we rarely voice out loud.
This is what’s happening when someone gives you a “bad vibe” that you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s also why two people can walk away from the same conversation with completely different interpretations of what was said. To communicate effectively and avoid the kind of miscommunication that can damage relationships, you have to consider not only the words you’re using, but the spirit behind your message and the way you’re conveying that spirit.
The skills we’re discussing in this episode are components of emotional intelligence, and emotional intelligence coaching is one of the core services we offer at Growing Self. Emotional intelligence is the key to satisfying personal relationships, and emotional intelligence in the workplace is the foundation of professional success. We also cover many of these skills in therapy, life coaching, and especially couples counseling. They’re useful for anyone who wants to become a better communicator — which I’m convinced is just about everyone.
Joining me for this conversation is Maryanne O’Brien, a writer, speaker, communications specialist, and the author of “The Elevated Communicator: How to Master Your Style and Strengthen Your Wellbeing at Work.” Maryanne has helped countless people harness the power of unconscious communication to create better relationships in the workplace and beyond, and today she’s sharing her tips with you!
How Do People See You
Beyond the words we use, it’s very common for people to not give much thought to how they’re communicating. But communication determines the quality of our relationships, and the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives. Becoming more aware of how you’re communicating, both verbally and through non-verbal communication, will help you illuminate your blindspots, understand others, and feel heard and understood in turn.
Understanding Your Communication Style
There are four basic communication styles: expressive, harmonious, reserved, and direct. The more you understand your communication style, the more you will understand when you’re communicating at your best, and when you’re not.
- Expressive — People with an expressive style are open, lively communicators. They tell jokes, weave compelling narratives, and like to get a little personal, even in the workplace. At their best, they excel at bringing other people together. When they’re under stress, they may dominate conversations and fail to listen to others.
- Harmonious — Harmonious communicators value finding common ground. They’re agreeable and supportive, and very happy to let the conversation flow organically. At their best, people with a harmonious communication style excel at bringing people together and making everyone feel welcome. Under stress, they may withdraw or shut down.
- Reserved — People with a reserved style of communication are not comfortable getting too personal with anyone who’s not in their inner circle. They’re thoughtful and deliberate, always thinking before they speak. At their best, reserved communicators are a good mix of confidence and control. Under stress, they may become unresponsive or even transactional.
- Direct — Direct communicators are not focused on using communication to build connections with others. They are focused on exchanging information in a productive way. They value sticking to the point and moving conversations forward. When they’re under stress, they may lack patience for styles that prefer to communicate with greater expression.
When you’re communicating with someone who has a different style, it’s easy to misunderstand each other. What seems rude or irritating to you may seem normal to them, and vice versa. Try to avoid judging or blaming when miscommunications arise, and focus instead on respecting and appreciating differences.
How Emotional Intelligence Makes You a Better Communicator
Even if you have great communication skills, it takes conscious effort to exercise them when you’re stressed. That’s where emotional intelligence comes in. When we’re communicating under stress, it’s easy to slip into communication patterns that alienate others and damage trust (learn more about the worst patterns, AKA the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse). Having strong emotional intelligence allows you to recognize and feel your feelings, and make a choice about how you want to manage them and express them to others.
When someone else is speaking, we not only hear the words they’re using, we also sense the feelings underneath their words, and we have a reaction to those feelings. If your coworker said “Great job!” in a tone that feels sincere, you’d probably feel pretty good. But imagine the same sentence spoken in a flat, monotone voice, or in a voice that’s just a little too sweet and cloying. Wouldn’t feel so great, would it? You’d probably think they were being passive aggressive and wonder what you’d done to upset them.
Rather than being short with a coworker, a more emotionally intelligent person could explain that they’re rushing to meet a deadline and they’d like to continue the conversation later, for example. They’re able to communicate better under stress because they can recognize and manage their feelings rather than letting them leak out onto innocent bystanders. Emotional intelligence also helps you manage disappointment and setbacks, deal with stress and burnout, and trace anger back to its true source. Basically, it helps you not be a dick.
Communicating with Intention
In addition to picking up on your underlying feelings, other people can sense your intentions when you’re communicating. Approaching every conversation with integrity and goodwill is the best way to make sure your message is well received.
Before you begin a difficult conversation, ask yourself what your intentions are. Do you want to express your true feelings? Understand the other person’s point of view? Find solutions that benefit everyone? These are the intentions you want to bring to every conversation. When your intentions are positive, the other person will feel it.
Understanding Your Triggers
Often when people miscommunicate, it’s because one of them has an emotional trigger that they’re not fully aware of. Triggers are like hot buttons that can unleash a flood of fear, anger, or hurt feelings, often without us even realizing what’s going on. When we’re triggered, our bodies fill with stress hormones and we become narrowly focused on our own immediate needs, which makes it difficult to communicate with others.
For example, someone who was bullied as a kid might have a big internal reaction to being teased, even when it’s good natured. They might suddenly grow defensive when they sense someone’s making fun of them, and the other person may have no idea what they did wrong. The conversation could easily spin out into a nasty fight, if the person who’s emotionally flooded doesn’t realize they’re experiencing a trigger and that the way they feel isn’t about what’s happening in that moment.
We all have our triggers. If you don’t think you do, that’s a sign you’re not aware of what yours are yet. Exploring your emotional triggers will help you manage them, so you can continue to communicate at your best when they arise.
Mastering Your Unconscious Communication
While there are many things you can do on your own to improve your unconscious communication, it can be helpful to work with a therapist, life coach, or emotional intelligence coach with expertise in communication. If you’d like an outside expert to help you uncover your blind spots and improve your relationships, we invite you to schedule a free consultation with a coach or counselor on our team.
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Music in this episode is by Courtney Barnett with her song “Nobody Really Cares if You Don’t Go to the Party.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://courtneybarnett.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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