The Psychology of Authentic Communication
Our words are one of the most powerful tools that we as humans possess, and how we communicate is a good indication of who we are, what we believe, and how we want others to perceive us. Regardless of whether you are conducting a meeting in a room full of people, enjoying conversing with family and friends over dinner, or making small talk to the person sitting next to you, being authentic in how you converse will not only be appreciated by others, but will build strong relationships based on honesty and sincerity.
Authenticity requires a certain measure of vulnerability, transparency and integrity.— Janet Louise Stephenson
Having Authentic Conversations
The relationship we have with our family, partner, friends, work colleagues, and business associates will be shaped by our conversations with them. As a result, the quality of our relationships are defined by our conversations, which should be authentic and meaningful. However, if they lack authenticity and are superficial it will diminish the quality of those relationships, rendering them, in many cases, worthless.
The majority of people rarely engage in genuine conversations, mainly because it requires you to let down your guard. This barrier of socially-learned rules very often protects people who wish to be seen a certain way, often instructing people against appearing vulnerable, weak, ignorant, unhappy or assertive, and as a result precludes authentic conversation. Choosing to be authentic in our conversations requires deeper honesty and greater emotional engagement, which ultimately builds trust.
Of course, we don’t need to have deep conversations all the time and can still feel closely connected to others by bonding over mutual interests, joking or simply enjoying each other’s silence. However, when we want to say how we really feel, cultivate deeper conversations and open up about the important things that really matter to us, then we have to be our authentic self. In order to achieve this, consider the following.
Create the Right Setting
In order for real discussions to take their natural course, it’s important to feel comfortable in a place where each person will be most at ease. Personally, I enjoy walking in an area which is quiet and free from the constraints of everyday distractions. However, the local coffee shop, your living room or even preparing a meal together can feel just as inviting.
It’s also important to find the right time, especially if something is bothering you and you haven’t found that moment to discuss it. Finding a time when you are free of distractions, relaxed and calm is crucial if you want to have a meaningful conversation. If hectic lifestyles are getting in the way, consider scheduling a time to talk where you can devote your full attention to each other.
As a psychologist, I practice person-centred care and am well aware of the benefits of authentic listening. However, this is a skill which requires the person to be self aware and have the willingness to step outside their comfort zone. Becoming an authentic listener includes:
- Quiet the mind: In order to quiet the mind we have to get rid of the constant motion due to the many distractions which claim our attention. Spend 10 minutes in a quiet area breathing deeply and gently clearing the mind of all its mental clutter, which will free up the necessary space for deep attentiveness.
- Listen: In order to really hear what the person is saying we have to focus, let them finish and then respond. Very often we mentally form our response while the person is still talking and, as a result, miss the point completely.
- Patience: Authentic communication cannot be rushed and very often we have the tendency to move on too quickly instead of paying attention to what is most important. Being patient allows you to be in the moment, fully focused and aware.
- Being in the moment: Allow the conversation to lead you. Let it unfold at its own pace without trying to steer it a certain way or have a preconceived idea about where it is going.
- Embrace silence: The silence of someone who is not yet ready to communicate speaks louder than words. Simply being with the person in silence allows the heart to connect, builds trust, shows empathy, and leads to powerful communication.
- Non-judgmental: Very often we react to others and judge them based on our own experiences and personal triggers. Being aware of your own triggers will enable you to react without judgment, paving the way for open communication.
- Non-verbal: As well as listening, we need to observe those all important non-verbal messages which the person may be displaying. Body posture will show if someone is nervous, frightened, distressed, or calm. The tone of voice someone uses may not always be consistent with what they are saying, and facial expressions may not always match what they are trying to convey. Observing body language is a very useful tool in trying to get to the true meaning of a situation, which may not always be apparent in the spoken word.
Face to Face Communication
Today’s current technology has made communication easier and faster, allowing us to stay in touch wherever we are at any time. Influencing how we interact with each other, our phones and computers has made communicating so much easier and much less confronting. However, it also has the ability to disconnect us from what makes us human. Communicating face to face in real time conversation is absolutely necessary if we are to learn how to relate to each other and have meaningful relationships..
You cannot edit face to face interaction where you have to engage with others, really listen to what they are saying, pick up on their body language and, most importantly, understand how they are really feeling. This is not always easy and at times can be awkward but, quite frankly, that is what life is, and as you build your character through authentic connections you will also build quality relationships that last. Technology has its place and will continue to play an important role in all our lives; however, it can provide us with a false sense of connectivity if we expect more from technology and less from each other.
Communicating Authentically When Angry
Trying to communicate authentically when frustrated or angry can be extremely challenging due to the negative emotions which very often arise, preventing any form of logical communication. It is worth remembering, if you are upset by what someone has said, that how you communicate your feelings can either bring about calm or make the situation worse.
- Avoid outbursts: It is a human failing to hurt others because we are hurt; however, once the intensity of that moment has gone, then we have to deal with the negative energy which compounds our own upset and lingers long after the outburst. The negativity it creates will never add valuable weight to your words and will only provoke the other person. Try taking a deep breath and standing back from the situation. During this time, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and question why they are behaving in this way. Being empathetic does not mean you justify their behaviour but rather you want to understand it. Getting to the heart of the issue, where you focus on resolution regardless of the outcome, should always be the desired result.
- Body language: Before your words are heard, people will perceive your body language, energy, facial expression, and tone of your voice. Communicating in anger will either cause the person to completely shut down or go into self-defence mode, which ultimately stops them from hearing the words you are saying. Try to remain calm and communicate to the person by saying the words and explaining the feeling. By not enacting that feeling you will have more control over what you say, creating clarity which enables you to get your message across.
- Focus on key points: Staying focused in the heat of the moment is not always easy, especially when strong feelings come into play, making it easy to lose sight of what you really want to say. Even though you may have many things you want to bring up, try and focus only on those points which are crucial. As the conversation unfolds, you will find that these key points will help you to stay on track, which sets the tone for effective communication at a time when it is so important to do so.
Authentic Communication in the Workplace
The work environment is where many of us spend most of our time, and if a company is to grow and succeed then it is critical to have an authentic environment to facilitate this. People need to be able to voice their opinions and ideas – including their concerns – in a work environment where they feel comfortable and are encouraged to do so. Being transparent and authentic builds trust, and within this trusting relationship people will not only thrive but become more committed and motivated. The fabric of any work environment should be based on:
- Mutual respect between employer and employee
- Trust and goodwill
- Consistent communication
- Includes everyone in the process of defining company values
- Encourage everyone to think like an equal owner
- Take full responsibility for your actions
- Encourage team events in order to forge strong relationships
Creating an authentic and transparent work environment reaps its own rewards as not only is the workforce loyal to the company, they are also loyal to each other. However, good leadership is responsible for setting the right example in order to sustain this type of workplace. This is not always easy as team dynamics and various personalities can be a challenge; however, from the outset leaders can be good role models through their interactions with employees at all levels. It is important that employees feel that their voices are being heard and that they have a personal responsibility in the decision-making within the company, ultimately helping it to succeed and grow.
Becoming a More Authentic Person
People who are authentic hold themselves accountable and are connected to those values which make them genuine and real. They are accepting of their strengths and weaknesses and, by being true to themselves, create the space for others to do the same.
Social media has many advantages, however, it has also allowed us to become the prey of our image perfect society where a ‘selfie’ has become who we really are; rather than being authentic, we are more concerned about staying relevant. There is an expectation that in order to be accepted we should hide our true self behind a mask. However, authenticity begins when you take off that mask and decide to be genuine. This includes:
- Being vulnerable: The sad reality is that we lose our ability to be vulnerable as we leave childhood behind and merge into adulthood. Vulnerability is often associated with weakness, fear or hurt, and as a result we retreat behind the walls we have erected to protect ourselves. However, these very walls we construct can prevent our true nature from being known. Embracing vulnerability means we have to accept our flaws, mistakes, losses, and pain, in the knowledge that this is what makes us human and ultimately is our greatest strength.
- Kindness: Always be self-aware and mindful of your thoughts and actions which may influence others. Treat everyone with kindness and respect regardless of who they are, and always act with good intentions and motives.
- Keep an open mind: Challenge yourself to experience the world from every perspective in a non-judgmental way. When we are open-minded and receptive, we attract those people into our lives who will give it value and meaning.
- Trust your inner voice: Pay attention to those times when you feel you are not being sincere, and explore the fears or beliefs that may have created those barriers to your authenticity.
- Values: Very often the values we grow up with are those we want to hold on to, however, they may not feel right to us now. Redefine your values and come to an understanding on what matters to you now in order to behave authentically.
In a world where it has become easier to judge and be judged, it takes courage to really look inside yourself and discover that mental attribute which enables you to be your authentic self. Personally, I think of it as a collection of choices made daily, where you align yourself with those values which allow you to be authentic in the face of conformity and mediocrity.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Lorna Lamon