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Communicate - In the bedroom or boardroom

06 June 2011

This month I had the pleasure of giving a keynote speech at the launch of the Inner West Region of She Business, an innovative networking idea created by Suzy Jacobs and the team at She Business.  My talk was entitled ‘How to be Heard – in the bedroom or the boardroom – and everywhere in between’.Here are some of my reflections on that topic of communicating.

Everything is about communication and we communicate in order to influence other people to act in a certain way.  This may be with a client whom we want to influence to buy our product or service; an employee we would like to commit to and reach a deadline; a partner to take a greater share of the childcare.  And in the bedroom, communicating has energy of its own and calls for quite sophisticated skills in communicating and hearing what is desired.  Whatever the purpose of communication, we are seeking to influence other people to act in a certain way, if only to acknowledge what we are saying. 

The reality is that what we intend to say is not always what is received  by the other person and frustration, disappointment and blame can result.   What is going wrong and what can we do to maximise what we say and intend being received and acted upon?

I have learnt something very important over the years – something that is often missed in communication skills training. It is THE ABILITY TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH OURSELVES – to read the intended message of our unconscious or the cycles and patterns that often sabotage the message we are trying to communicate.  The other person has this process going on inside of them too.  So now we not only have the actual words that are conveying and accompanying body language, we also have other ‘inner voices’ that evaluate, judge, pre-empt and distort what is being said – as well as influencing our capacity to speak out with confidence.  However, when a person is able to learn to have an on-going dialogue with themselves, to read the internal messages of the unconscious saboteur , and combine it with communication skills training, we maximise the probability of communicating effectively.  When people hone these skills, they become what I call Calm Communicators.

Learning to Listen and Understand Ourselves
The importance of learning to communicate with ourselves and listen to the inner influences which affect our thought and action cannot be underestimated.  An example I used in the talk was of an ex lawyer we will call Martin who started his own business.  Prior to setting up his business he did ample research, confirming the need for his service and together with evidence of his service successfully solving other clients’ needs, he set off on the road to success.  He did what many people do which is to concentrate on doing what he was good at.  He focused on strategic planning, product creation and refining his website.  Despite opportunities to sell his solution, every time he found himself in front of a client, he did everything he could to avoid selling.  What was going on?  If he was in a sales training session, he would be encouraged to overcome the fear of rejection, with advice that this happens to everyone.  However, for Martin and many people, overcoming one’s fears by logically and rationally creating a new habit, is not a long term solution to the problem. What is needed is to ascertain the button that was being pressed every time Martin anticipated selling his service. 

When someone like Martin finds themselves repeatedly in a situation where they are immobilised by anxiety and unable to act, or where they constantly distract themselves from doing what is necessary, there is usually some underlying tension that keeps them stuck.  For Martin, and many people this goes back to a specific experience or series of encounters that caused a lot of anxiety – often this happens in childhood but it can be later on.  Whilst Martin had never been in a direct selling situation before, he had unpleasant associations with projecting himself in this way and this was activated every time he tried to sell.  Removing himself from the initial pain, resolved the problem – the resultant lowering of anxiety served to negatively reinforce his behaviour.  The word negative in this context isn’t a judgment – it means that it reduces the probability of him repeating the behaviour i.e. doing ‘anything’ that would raise that anxiety.  That is why focusing on rational habit-forming techniques to change behaviour are not successful. The source of the discomfort must be identified and resolved before the person can combine their new way of experiencing things with communication skills training.

Likewise, communication difficulties in intimate relationships also arise as individuals are unable to listen to the messages from within themselves that influence the way they speak to their partner and the games and dances the couple end up playing.  It is only by learning the skills to read your hidden intentions as well as overt intentions that you can truly communicate and create successful relationships.

Crucial Conversations
We often only really become aware of our unconscious intentions in a difficult situation or crucial conversation.  A crucial conversation is when emotions are high, opinions differ and the stakes are high.  The potential for conflict and misunderstanding is so great that we often become very emotional because our hidden intentions and internal saboteur come to the fore.  It is only by learning the language of understanding ourselves on an ongoing basis that we can truly communicate with others and influence them whilst building relationship collateral. 
For many people, especially women, saying NO is difficult. It brings up internal reactions and fear of others’ reactions, conflict or consequences.  Often people avoid saying no but feel resentful and angry at themselves for not speaking out.

How to Say No
When you anticipate that saying no will bring a strong negative reaction, extend the sentence to indicate that you have given due consideration to their question/demand.  For example, say‘I know this thing is important to you and I have given it a lot of consideration but the answer is no’.  When ‘no’ is said with conviction by looking someone directly in the eye with confidence and the words express due consideration, you are more likely to be taken seriously.  Any resistance can be met with a repeat of the phrase with no raised voice or agitation (slightly modified to avoid sounding like a record).  When you start saying no to other people when it is right for you, you say yes to yourself and others will take you more seriously.