Updated: May 24
Every relationship in your life involves communication: from your family and friends, to your work and societal relationships, communication is the medium of connection. Even your relationship with yourself involves a constantly running inner dialog. The quality of your interpersonal communication greatly impacts how you experience life.
Unfortunately, our schools fail to provide formal training for this critical life skill. Consequently, our communication traits emerge from what was modeled for us by the people around us, leaving us under-skilled and often perpetuating ineffective patterns.
Some people do indeed have a natural ability to communicate well. They’re naturally empathic, cooperative, insightful, discerning, and articulate so it’s easier for them to understand and express what’s needed. For others, communication is quite challenging. However, most people find themselves with a mixed bag – effective in some areas and challenged in others. For example, someone may be a good listener but become overwhelmed by conflict. Another person may be great at logistical problem solving but struggle with empathy and compassion. Yet others may have an excellent intuitive ability to understand what’s needed but struggle to articulate their thoughts cohesively.
Does Training in Interpersonal Communication Work?
I spent over a decade teaching effective interpersonal communication skills in the corporate world. I had the privilege of being licensed to teach an excellent six-week program that showed people great skills. What I discovered is that while most people were able to change their behavior superficially, the new patterns did not maintain in the long term and across environments, such as at home or socially.
After much contemplation and learning, I realized why. Knowing what and how to use these skills was not enough to overcome the distortions inherent in our inner egoic emotional-perceptual world. That’s because biases prevent us from being able to truly listen without judgment when another is talking, and then express our thoughts and needs with discernment, neutrality, and an openness to a new way of perceiving things. The skills are merely tools that cannot generate the purpose they will serve. Clarifying the purpose of communication is the missing link that makes any tools useful.
Before engaging in communication, ask yourself these questions:
What is your purpose?
What do you want? To connect, persuade, complain, off-load, solve a problem, motivate, learn something, or some other purpose?
Do you think you know what the other person’s purpose is?
Considering these questions highlights how communication comes with an agenda. As a default, we’ve assigned a function to the conversation and the other person before we’ve even begun. Typically, we’re initiating the communication in the middle of our own internal story, with our unique opinions, conclusions, beliefs, and perceptual biases. Yet, the other person is also in the middle of their internal story, and it’s different than yours. Thus, the unspoken purpose before we even begin is to get the other person into agreement with our story. Things seem to go well when both storytellers agree what their shared story is. But not so well when they disagree. Now, both storytellers move into attack and defend – who will win?
This is the paradox of the ego. We want to be separate from everyone else. We want a separate identity with a mind that is independent from others, chock-full of our own thoughts, beliefs, wants, needs, and perceptions. And yet we long to connect! It’s innate within us, this call for union.
The way the ego tries to achieve connection is to do everything in its power to get other people to see things the way it does. The ego calls it love, friendship, and connection if the other person agrees with its perception of things. It feels attacked, unloved, isolated, and alone when the other person does not see things the same way. The ego is always alone in its own world. That is the purpose of the ego. It is a concept not a living being. It is a pseudo-self made up in the perceptual mind of a being that desires to feel separate from all else. Thus, the ego is set up to experience discord, disconnection, and instability. Even when there is a connection, it’s always temporary.
The first step in improving communication requires awareness that all perception is distorted. Therefore, your perception is no more or no less “valid” than anyone else’s. This is very hard for us to accept because we identify with our perception. It’s the mental-emotional manifestation of our personal belief system. With countless differing points of view on the planet, how can we possibly come together as one world? How can we get along? How can we solve problems? How can we feel safe, appreciated, and loved? This is an important point to ponder because until we look at this honestly, we’ll just continue to fight one another personally and globally. The bottom line is that the ego always participates in some form of attack and defense. It seeks to defend its point of view because that’s what substantiates its reality.
So, how do we put a stop to this madness? If we’re stuck with perception for now (because we’ve cut off direct experience of our spiritual awareness) how do we proceed? My experience has taught me that when we set the purpose of the communication at peace, we invite the inspiration of our higher intuitive mind into the conversation. For peace to enter, the ego must be put in time out. Now, our intention is to allow a new understanding to emerge in our mind.
The initial stages of the communication must have room for both people to freely express their current perception without judgment, problem-solving, or advising. The speaker will do better if they own their personal feelings and issues. And the listener will do better by remembering to hear and understand without criticism or needing to agree or disagree.
As both parties share and listen for understanding, rather than judge, assess, or advise, a new awareness and an expanded point of view are free to emerge. This expansion allows both parties to come into the present moment because it happens in the now. When even one person invites the thought-correcting guidance of Spirit into the moment, inspiration flows into the communication and something new unfolds.
Here’s an analogy: Imagine you are building a garden with another person. You contribute your seeds and they contribute theirs. Together, you see what grows. You pull your weeds and they pull theirs, and together you see your garden bear fruit. You couldn’t build this garden alone and neither could the other person. It’s a co-creation.
In conclusion, fruitful, interpersonal communication grows in a mind focused on providing the rich soil of unconditional love, forgiveness, and unity so it can manifest. In my experience, no communication skills available today can compensate for the delusory effect of the ego. Only the Spirit can lead us out of delusion. The skills assist us in doing a better job of tending to our relationship gardens so they are powerful assets. But we cannot use them well if there is no garden or if the soil is poor.
I’ve found that it’s really difficult to improve communication without some kind of help. I’ve benefited from counseling, skills training, spiritual study, and years of life experience. Because I want to pay it forward, I’m now offering a new Spiritually Centered Interpersonal Communication Skills class.
For more details on the class, please visit the class information page.