As human beings, we possess a rather unique capability. We are not just passive creatures living within limited confines, surviving at the very whim of the environment. Rather, we are able to examine the activities which change our world, and through an acquired understanding, influence how these changes will affect us.
The greatest challenge to this capability, however, comes in our connections with other human beings.
Communication is necessary, not only to have an expanded perception of our immediate environment, but also to understand how another person will affect that environment even as we attempt to influence how the environment will affect us.
Consider that the same quality which enables a person to study the activities of the environment is also an activity on its own. We think. We process information. Hence, we are continually adjusting and amending our own intents and perceptions (feelings). Consequently, the thoughts, intents and perceptions of another person are also activities which can affect us as much as those which are constantly changing our environment.
The great difference, however, is that not only are a person`s thoughts more immediately effective but they are more highly inaccessible than those activities experienced in the mechanical environment. The tiny movement of a molecule of air, for instance, may never progress to the point where it becomes a noticeable breeze but a small perception in another person`s mind can initiate an action without further development. Yet, this action can be disproportionate to the relevance of the perception. So, as each person attempts to address the common environment to his/her own perceptions, that person becomes an additional source of activity that can effect another person.
And this activity is both inaccessible and volatile.
Nowhere is it more necessary and urgent to learn to communicate than with the people who regularly share our environment and affect our wellbeing. In the workplace, it is the boss as well as the client, the colleague as well as the subordinate who can initiate actions that can hurt us, intentionally or unintentionally.
These people can also pose a constant threat that being hurt may be imminent. At home, it can be the spouse or partner, the parent or sibling as well as the child, and especially the adolescent. Actions of people to whom we are emotionally connected can have a more devastating effect on our well being than are those of more casual relationships.
As one person feels threatened by the actions of the other, it becomes necessary for that person to initiate defensive actions to protect their well being or establish their opinion. A defensive activity may not reveal an intent but it just as surely affects the environment of the other person. As each person attempts to defend themselves, their personally justified actions can usher the encounter into a state of progressive defensive behaviour (including defending ourselves against something that previously offended us). Our defensive manoeuvres can very well lead to expressions of personal defeat. Defensively, we may accommodate (for the sake of peace), manipulate (to reduce the threat), or evade (to dismiss the threat).
- over-accommodating can lead to physical stress, injury and burnout.
- manipulating can initiate conflict, rejection and inefficiency.
- evading can display irresponsibility, dismissiveness, or neurotic over-indulgence as we explore various means of escape.
This progressively destructive cycle can only be broken by the more mature person. A mature person is able to retract their defences and therefore explore the activities which are influencing the other person without challenging or adding to that person`s dilemma. This more mature person is the manager. In order to understand how people will affect his/her environment, the manager first needs to understand how those people will be affected by it.
Examining the Challenge
When a person is confronted with unusual activity that disturbs his/her world, that person can exercise the option to explore or research the activity. Exploration allows the person to gather new information about the activities that are disturbing the environment. They can now approach it from a more composed position, one of greater understanding. Research achieves similar results by utilizing the expressed experiences of another person. With a better understanding of the activities affecting his/her world, a person is, then, more able to effect how it will affect them.
Observing a gathering storm, for example, allows us to close a window; it does not stop the wind. This action merely influences how the storm will affect the immediate environment of the person.
But applying the same logic to another person who is sharing our environment can leave us frustrated in our attempts to understand them. We discover that, regardless of how we try to associate another person`s visible activities with their hidden thoughts and intents our conclusions are often inaccurate.
We can, for example, associate a dark cloud with an impending storm even though we cannot feel the breeze. Yet, we will easily discover that a person`s appearance, race, color, culture, or religion cannot give us a predictable insight into their behavior. Nor can today`s behavior be determined from yesterday`s attitude in the same person.
It is easy to find, then, that when we are required to relate to a person whose intent appears erratic or is purposefully inaccessible, we may feel threatened. We may lose our ability to manage in a composed manner, becoming defensive even to the point of being self-destructive.
It is important, then, for the manager – the person who desires to take charge – to learn to explore the other person, not only when that person is composed, but also when that person is defensive.
To be able to communicate effectively with another person, it is important for us to realize that we are exploring an activity that is, by nature, volatile. It is volatile as a result of our unique ability to explore and understand our environment. It is volatile due to our very own unique perceptions. And finally, it is volatile because of our need to be defensive against that which is unknown.
There is nothing to learn, however, from another person`s defenses. We learn only from their perceptions.
Since we may ourselves threaten another person by our defensive expressions, it is imperative that we begin by retracting our own defenses in order to gain from their perceptions. We must realize that in doing so, we are forced to expose our own sensitivities and therefore, we must first immunize ourselves so that we can remain open to criticism, rejection and the threat of being hurt.
We must also recognize that we are exploring an activity that is inaccessible to us. No instrument will let us observe it so we must invite the other person to reveal it, or at least allow us entry to observe it. If we reject or dismiss a person`s expressed opinions, that person will not lower their defenses. Similarly, we must not strongly disagree or show that we are disturbed by their revealed intents. Instead we should encourage them by softening our own temperament.
By realizing that our intents are as hidden from them as theirs are from us, we can accept their perceptions with a greater knowledge of their limitations than they have of ours.
We can influence accurately only with the power of greater information. Those of us who will be the first to explore the other with honest interest and concern will be the better informed. Information gleaned from exploring what we accept as unique will give us the power to influence how the activities of another person will affect us or how these activities can be directed to achieve a mutually beneficial effect.
Communication, then, is not just the art of being more polished or more accurately assertive. It is not simply the art of listening. Communication is the art of effective management – the ability to accept the unique differences of another person and invite the revelation of that uniqueness with honesty and candour. It is the ability to accept change in the immediate environment no matter how populated it becomes with the volatile activities of others.
Exploring the uniqueness and individuality of another person without threatening them or being threatened by them and using that information to relate with confidence can fuel the creativity to expand our own insight.
Managing and communicating effectively initiates growth, understanding and productivity by abandoning the need for defensive protection. It requires technique; a learning process that embraces constructive criticism, opinions and differing behaviors using the very aspects we find fearful and troublesome to make us strong, capable performers. Using this technique the mature person is not only able to manage competently, but will have the ability to progress with, rather than be hindered by the stress of change, and to relate comfortably to others who are defensive in the stress of change and uncertainty.