We often hear and tell others that communication is the glue that keeps us together whether that be among teams, businesses, organizations or couples. Just what is this glue we are talking about?
The process of communications has many dimensions. We learn about techniques for listening, talking, writing and understanding body language but, as important as these are, they don’t get to the shadow behind communications.
A shadow projects our image when a light shines upon it. Sometimes the shadow is distorted and other times it clearly outlines the shape of our body. A shadow follows us around and is often attached to us in some way. And, there are times when we can identify someone just by seeing his or her shadow.
How does all this relate to communication? When people communicate with each other they hear words, see body language, hear tone of voice but often don’t understand the shadow behind the expressions. The shadow is the profile of the person out of which communication is filtered. That shadow reflects the make-up of the person.
When we communicate, we communicate out of the context of who we are. Who we are is continually informed by our culture, family, positive and negative experiences, education, religion, relationships and so on. This is the backdrop or the shadow from which we communicate. In turn those who we communicate with also have their own shadow which continually informs them.
When we think about communication in this context - outside of the technical aspects of listening and speaking, as well as the sensory aspects of hearing, seeing, smelling and touching - we can begin to appreciate some of the difficulties we have when we communicate with others.
At times we express our frustrations, either directly or indirectly such as “I don’t know where you are coming from” or “I just don’t understand your point of view,” or “why don’t you understand.” One of the factors underlying why we don’t understand relates to the shadow. Particularly if that shadow is not similar to our own.
Perhaps our communications with others would improve if we took the time to understand “where the person is coming from” - to try and understand what is going on within the person's communication shadow? This means taking the time to learn and reflect upon the person's shadow and how it impacts the way we communicate with each other. This is the basis for empathetic communication - we begin to walk in the other’s shadow for a while, and in turn share our own shadow with them. At the root, we get to know others as individuals and they get to know us in the same way
Understanding an individual's communication shadow is extremely important given today's diverse workforce. Most businesses are populated with people who come from a variety of cultures. They are often expected to immediately fit into our businesses and organizations without us spending the necessary time to appreciate the milieu from which they gained most of their first experiences.
This unknowing complicates our communication. And, that complication may find its expression in several ways, such as: misunderstanding words, gestures, family practices, and religion, or, not accounting for awful experiences as a result of war, poverty, persecution or discrimination.
So how do we uncover the shadow of our colleagues, employees, bosses, friends and associates? Here are a few hints:
Find opportunities to explore each other's shadow such as when you are with other person:
Our communication shadow is with us daily and is behind every conversation we have with others. Shine a light on yourself so that you can understand it and don’t be afraid to share it with others. It just may be the opening you need to understand and appreciate your co-worker, employee, friend or partner.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie, MSW, FCMC