Real Talk, I: Are You Failing To Communicate

Have you ever gotten into an argument with someone? I’m sure you have. Because of my charming personality, I used to get in arguments with people all the time. More often than not,  I (and you, too) probably walked away from those arguments thinking, “If only they understood what I was saying, they’d agree with me!” I have some bad news for you- if someone doesn’t understand what you’re saying, it’s your fault. You’re failing to communicate.

Shut up already, I can hear you thinking, “BUT… BUT…”

No excuses, just roll with me while I drop some truth on you.

What is the purpose of talking? If you said, “to communicate,” great job! We’ll send your gold sticker in the mail. That one is too easy, though. If the purpose of talking is to communicate, how do we communicate effectively? I actually can’t guess what your answer to this one is- because it’s not so simple.

Most people, I would wager, do not spend too much time thinking about that question. In fact, if you’re not a salesman, marketer, politician, or some other kind of persuasion-oriented person, you probably don’t think about it at all. Talking is just something we do, and it’s something we learn how to do pretty much automatically. In the same way, you probably don’t think too much about how you move your fingers unless you play an instrument or do something artistic (or some other interesting finger-centric activities that I’ll leave to you to think of.)

There’s a model in psychology created by a guy named Noel Burch called “The Four Stages of Competence.” These are, in order-

Unconscious Incompetence-

“It’s not my fault that no one understands what I’m trying to tell them.”

Conscious Incompetence-

“I don’t know how to convince people when they don’t understand me.”

Conscious Competence-

“If I try really hard and take my time, I can explain what I’m talking about.”

Unconscious Competence-

“I don’t have any trouble getting my point across to others.”

Unconscious incompetence is where you and I are at in regards to anything we don’t know that we don’t know how to do. This is usually accompanied by denial- “I know how to talk, why should I learn to communicate? I talk to people all the time.” Until we accept that we have the room to improve and that improvement is valuable, we won’t move to the next step.

Conscious incompetence is admitting you have a problem- “I could be communicating better, but I don’t know how.” It may be hard at times to accept that we don’t know, but doing so is the only way to improve. A man who knows everything has nothing to learn- a man who knows nothing can learn anything. The difference is perspective, and an openness to improve.

Once you’ve accepted that you’re not as good at communicating as you’d like to be, the next thing to do is to accept that it’s your responsibility to communicate your ideas in a way that they can be understood. If the person you’re talking to doesn’t get it, blame yourself- because blaming the other person is neither productive nor completely accurate.

I’ve heard a number of people say things like, “watch what you say, words have power,” or “words are like magic,” and even though it seemed odd at first, I realized there was something to it. Yehuda Berg had this to say:

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”

Think about it: there is a perfect combination of words in a certain order that can persuade anyone to do anything, feel anything, think about anything. Really think about that- right now, you’re reading a combination of words that I have written down with the purpose of making you think about what I want you to think about- and if you’re reading this, it’s working. Words are how we transmit our thoughts between separate minds. If that’s not some kind of magic power, I don’t know what else could be.

So where does that leave you? You have to become conscious of your deficiencies in communication, and with that knowledge, conquer it. However, to master communication, you have to understand your audience- because you need to arrange your words in such a way that they’re perfectly tailored to the person you’re speaking to. You need to know yourself well enough to explain who you are and what you believe, and you need to know your audience well enough to know the way that they think.

It is not the easiest task in the world, but it’s certainly something that you can accomplish if you put your mind to it. It’s worth it.

If words are power, then communication becomes a force for revolution.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Gautama Buddha:

“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.”

Read Part II here.

Originally Published as: