Home ContentAuthentic Dialogue - the art and practice of great communication

Authentic Dialogue - the art and practice of great communication

Published : June 08, 2015

Communication underpins everything; it is the key to effective relationships and it can make or break them.

by : Di Granger Facilitator and Coach of Lifelong Learning

We should not confuse communication with hearing and speaking. Although we can all probably do that quite well, actually communicating is ensuring the message we intend is the message received.

For the communication process to be truly effective it has to be a two-way process between a ‘message sender’ and ‘message receiver’. So what happens in the communication process that often sees the process turn pear-shaped?

  • It is not enough to merely deliver a message. The message must be received accurately for communication to be successful.

A number of factors can impact on the quality of our communication, including:

  • Self-concept
  • The filters that get in the way 
  • The ability to listen
  • The judgements we make
"You cannot NOT communicate! Everything you say or do or don't say and don't do, sends a message to others"
John Woods

1. Self-concept

Communication begins on the inside, with our thoughts, values and beliefs, about us and others.

We are what we think. Values are deeply and strongly held beliefs and principles about what is right and wrong; good and bad; important and unimportant, what should be and what shouldn’t be. Many of our values are buried so deeply in our subconscious we don’t even realise that we hold them. How we feel about ourselves and others, impacts on how we communicate with them, our ability to get our message across and how well we listen.

2. The filters that get in the way

Apart from having a sender and receiver, we are also sending and receiving messages inside a set of filters.

These filters are:

  • our own frame of reference
  • our experiences
  • our view of the situation
  • our view of ourself and others

To truly understand our frame of reference, it is essential to explore our true Self. Through this type of exploration and reflection we can begin to create the authentic part of the communication process.

Refer back to the earlier question...
‘So what happens in the communication process that often sees the process turn pear-shaped?’

It is quite simple. When you look around at the people you work with, play with, live with, sometimes interact with, they look... hmmmmmm like happy, healthy human beings? Well that’s it! We only see the outer version of the person, we have no idea what’s going on inside.

Let’s look at this a bit further...

We all have an inner self; that which is the true essence of each and every one of us. Around that inner self, we have an additional layer of learnt behaviours. This layer is often referred to as our psyche. These learnt behaviours are powerful things and totally attributable to our teachers in our formative years; parents, extended family, school teachers, authority figures etc.

“Give me the child to age seven, and I will give you back the man”
Ignatius Loyola

Our psyche is where we carry our beliefs. Our belief in ourself, our capability, our beliefs about others; race, gender, sex, religion, and our beliefs about the world in which we live. Some of these beliefs we will be aware of (conscious) and others we will not (unconscious).

“I know I am not seeing things as they are, I am seeing things as I am”
Laurel Lee

Then as we become grown-ups, well at least in physical appearance, we add yet another layer. This layer is called our persona, which is Latin for theatre mask!

So what does that tell you? Yes, we project ourselves as we want to be seen. We project ourselves in terms of our sense of who we are and we will protect that sense of who we are rigorously.

So what has this got to do with the communication process?

Everything! Until we are willing to learn more about all aspects of ourselves it is unlikely we will manage to communicate effectively. It is more likely that we will experience blocks to good communication.

For example, when we are communicating, we are communicating through our persona or mask (ie. the way we want to be perceived). However, what tends to happen is somewhere in the communication, the words used or our interpretation of the message pings our psyche (the unconscious part of ourselves), creating an uncomfortable feeling which sometimes makes us defensive. How we defend ourselves is dependent on what is buried deep within our psyche which we are yet to create consciousness around or resolve. Our reactions to this may be anger, defensiveness, denial, passiveness or a multitude of other emotions that lead to many and varied behaviours.

What might this look like in real life?

Kate is a relatively inexperienced dump truck operator on a mine site. She has been in training with this piece of equipment for the past three months, since her induction into the mining environment. The normal practice is for dump truck operators to be passed out (deemed competent to operate without supervision) within this period and be operating efficiently, meeting the work schedule of the site.

She has stated that she is still quite nervous backing up the truck to tip her load. Her supervisor basically dismissed her comments and said ‘she had been in training for three months and should be able by now to back up the truck and tip the load easily, just get on with it.’

Meanwhile Kate is feeling stressed as she doesn’t feel comfortable with this part of the operation and her supervisor is talking with his manager, suggesting that Kate is not going to cut it and how he will probably need to get rid of her!

So what is happening in this communication? Many things, including the judgements we make, but basically this: Kate’s persona is one of a capable person to do the job, however with this particular skill she is feeling uncomfortable and potentially needs nothing more than just more time and training. She approaches her supervisor (higher authority) and confides this aspect only to be dismissed and basically told to get over it and get on with it.

This comment may just ping Kate’s psyche as perhaps embedded within her is the notion ‘that she will never be any good at anything she tries.’ This brings up a whole range of emotions for Kate: feelings of inadequacy, failure, self-esteem issues etc, which could ultimately result in some sort of behavioural manifestation such as anger, withdrawal, sarcasm or physical issues such as stress and illness.

What is potentially happening with the supervisor? He is approached, for all intents and purposes with a ‘cry for help.’ This could ping his psyche in terms of ‘don’t let people see you are weak, always stand on your own two feet.’ He may perceive Kate’s honesty as weak, he makes a judgement about her (based on his own beliefs) and dismisses her concerns. He may see her as needy (again pinging his psyche) and reacts by ultimately deciding she won’t cut it in the job and will have to go!

3. The ability to listen

One of the biggest components of the communication process is the feedback loop. That is, listening to what the other person is saying and seeking shared meaning through asking questions for clarity or paraphrasing what the other person is saying.

If we truly listen to the words used in our communications, we will actually gain insights into what is happening in the process.

For example, have you ever heard yourself or the other person in your communication say something like...

‘That’s not what I meant’ or ‘no, you have completely misunderstood what it is I am trying to say’.

Or have you left a conversation thinking:

‘Wow, where the hell did that come from, or how the hell did that happen?’

So, right about now you may be thinking, ‘if this communication thing is so jolly hard, why bother?’

Bother, because the end result far outweighs the little bit of learning, perhaps a small dose of pain, self-analysis and reflection required.

Learning to communicate, to engage in authentic dialogue is liberating. It opens up all sorts of possibilities within relationships because we start to truly listen to the other person and learn to speak our truth.

So yes, listening is a major factor in the communication process, but we cannot explore listening until we first explore our inner or hidden workings within all of us.

Until this exploration occurs, we will never really be listening, just hearing ... words which are open to interpretation and misinterpretation!

When you can achieve this - you have a starting point for dialogue - then, coupled with sound listening and the ability to park your judgements, you have the makings for effective communication.

When we truly listen, we hear more than just the words. It is as if we are hearing music behind the words. The music is the emotion, passion, fear, anxiety, what matters most . . .


4. The judgements we make

So again, how come the communication process just doesn’t quite give us the outcome we are looking for? Simply because we (or the other party involved in the communication), have already decided what needs to happen, we have assessed what we think is being said and we are now simply waiting our turn to speak.

I call this the goldfish syndrome. Picture someone’s mouth opening and closing like a fish; that is the action that occurs when someone wants to speak and is just waiting for the moment when they can jump right in!

Have you experienced this or, more importantly, do you do it?

One of the best ways to determine if you are not listening, jumping to conclusions and making judgements is if you encounter the yebbuts!

The yebbuts are a great measure of the effectiveness of your communication, but you have to create awareness to be able to listen for them. The yebbuts occur when you are providing answers and telling the other person what you think they should do, because you have heard enough, made judgement and decided what they need is...

And they respond by saying ‘yes, but’ and you continue telling them what they need to do because that is what you would do and again they respond with ‘yes, but.’ This can go on forever but ultimately, the communication turns to dust, neither party has been heard, nothing is resolved and probably damage, such as resentment has occurred.

It is human nature to make judgements and we are all human! So now that we have identified judgement as being a major communication barrier, what can we do to improve our interactions?

The first step in any learning and ultimate behavioural change is to first simply understand that it is there. Or, as I like to say: just get it; get that we do make judgements and create consciousness around this in your interactions. Become aware of the goldfish syndrome and the yebbuts, this is the start to doing something different or better. Listen to the words we use and listen to our inner voice.

When we hear ourselves fall into the trap of judging -

1. recognise it,

2. stop, and

3. change your approach - and this will take practice!

Listening is the key... When we truly listen and learn to park our judgements we will create shared meaning, which leads us even closer to engaging in open and authentic dialogue!

“Seek first to understand, and then be understood”
Stephen Covey

When I first read this statement, I don’t really think I ‘understood’ what it meant. Yeah, yeah you say at the time but now, upon reflection, I so get it. You see, until we learn about communication and the power of authentic dialogue our first instinct is to fall into the pattern of ‘let me tell you what I think you should do’ and just keep talking until the other person gets it (from your perspective) or just plain gives up!

The key aspect to sound communication and the creation of dialogue (as opposed to monologue) is listening. True active listening is probably one of the most underrated facets of the whole communication process.

When we truly listen, we hear more than just the words. It is as if we are hearing music behind the words. The music is the emotion, passion, fear, anxiety, what matters most, excitement that creates the meaning of the words that lead us toward understanding.

By truly listening we create empathy.

Empathy is the ability to see the world from others’ point of view. The basic premise is that if we can understand others by sharing some of their emotional responses, we are more likely to be able to work with them in collaborative ways.

It should not be confused with sympathy, feeling sorry for others or apathy, lack of interest or concern for others and it should not necessarily be seen as agreement either. It is purely and simply understanding it from the other person’s perspective, without making judgement.

Start by:

  • stopping whatever else you may be doing
  • making sure your body language/posture
  • demonstrates your interest
  • keeping appropriate eye contact
  • parking your judgements
  • refraining from imposing your thoughts, feelings or ideas about the communication
  • trying to use open-ended questions like - who, what, why, when, where and how
  • checking you have heard the message by summarising back

Our communication process is initially an unconscious, automatic pattern that is difficult to change. It involves practise and not just learning, but unlearning of the old familiar ways.

Seek first to understand through:

  • good listening - the importance of just listening.
  • empathic responses - restating what was said without solutions, embellishment, or talking about ourselves. The focus stays on the other person.
Practise these skills, create awareness and enjoy the journey toward developing more collaborative relationships based on trust and mutual benefit through Authentic Dialogue.

Find out more at www.lifelonglearning.com.au

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