The Main Obstacle to Authentic Speech
Oscar’s Wilde quote to “be oneself because everybody else is taken” invites us to show up authentically based on our individuality. The question that has haunted me for decades has been how to do this. Really, how do we communicate in a way that reflects who we truly are? I am writing this blog to address this question.
When we want to speak authentically, we first need to know how inauthentic our current communication is and what are the obstacles to our authenticity.
The essential step of knowing what we are working with and what stands in the way of what we desire comes from the practice of Alchemy. In Alchemy, in order to transform something, we first need to know the elements we have at hand and the obstacles or “impurities” -as alchemists call them- that can thwart the transformation we seek.
In my experience with my own communication and after working with hundreds of people, I see that the main obstacle to authentic speech is lack of self-connection in the present moment.
Presence is not just about physically being in front of someone with whom we are interacting.
Presence is the ability to have a sense of connection to what is happening in us, in the other, and in our interaction.
When we disconnected from ourselves, three main things happen that make our communication inauthentic:
1. Our interactions are based on our communication habits and patterns.
We forget that we have the ability to choose what to say and how to say it. So many of our interactions are repetitions of phrases or concepts we’ve heard and then uttered since we learned to communicate.
For example, let’s say you receive uncomfortable feedback and your habit is to shut down and engage in self-criticism. While you are busy criticizing yourself in your internal dialogue, you are disconnected from your capacity to take action related to that piece of feedback you received. If that feedback was about an error that needs correction, the error remains uncorrected because you are wasting your time with your habit of shutting down and self-criticism.
In the meantime, while you are lost in your mind, the person who provided the feedback, might be feeling frustrated, annoyed or confused to see that all of a sudden, you are no longer listening or engaging in dialogue. This lack of presence on your part might actually trigger their own reactive communication habits and patterns.
The outcome of forgetting that we have a conscious choice at any given moment unnecessarily causes disconnection, anxiety and conflicts.
2. Our attention is hijacked by our mental stories.
Our mental stories are usually based on past experiences or future fears and fantasies. When we let our attention be captured by stories of the past or ideations of the future, we lose our ability to be aware of what is happening in the present moment.
I clearly remember an instance when my husband was asking me to make sure food containers were completely sealed before putting them back in the refrigerator. If we look at this instance in isolation, you might wonder how I could lose myself in a mental story at that moment. Well, first of all, it was not the first time he was asking me to seal containers before putting them away. Secondly, his tone of voice indicated annoyance. Thirdly, at that moment, I was folding laundry.
You may say, and so what?
What happened was that in a nanosecond I was transported to my childhood. All of a sudden, I was no longer in my forties; I was four years old in the kitchen with my father scolding me for repeatedly doing something wrong and calling me inconsiderate.
My husband was not implying in the present moment that I was inconsiderate; in fact, he was telling me preserving food was important to him. Yet, in that moment, I completely abandoned myself and the dialogue with my husband because I was in my parent’s kitchen feeling scolded by my dad! It took me a moment to have awareness about what was happening for me. It took me another moment to vulnerably share with my husband that I left the moment.
Rest assured I double check containers now! Not because my husband told me so, but because I also value preserving food.
3. We have no space to listen.
Usually, when we are seized by our habits and mental stories we are no longer open to listen to the other person. When we lose our openness, we lose our curiosity, our ability to ask clarifying questions and our capacity to make appropriate changes. We actually stop listening and start reacting from the meaning we attribute to what we think we heard, but not to what was really said.
I clearly remember a few years back. I was having a communication coaching session with a couple who wanted to talk about creating more intimacy in their relationship. One of the partners said something like “I’m feeling lonely and I miss you.” I could see the face of the other partner turning red.
He immediately said, “I’m working hard to have the money for us to have a family.” I knew from his face, that he had stopped listening. He had closed down and was responding defensively rather than having the curiosity to know more about his wife’s experience.
When I asked him what he heard his wife said, he said something like “She said I don’t care about her, that I care more about work than anything else, and that I don’t want to spend time with her family.” He actually no longer heard what she said, and instead heard the projection from his internal dialogue.
So, if you want to communicate authentically, make sure you:
remember you have a choice when you communicate,
notice when you are lost in mental stories, and
remain open to yourself and the person with whom you are interacting.
I would love to hear which of these three ways of disconnecting from yourself lead you to communicate inauthentically.
If you would like support learning to bring yourself back to the moment and communicating with authenticity, power and compassion, I’m here to help.
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