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 My most recent blog entries introduced a new meaning for the word "depersonalization" that describes experiences just about everybody has every day.  It happens when we're part of a communication event where people are treated as stereotypes, role-fillers, pseudo-friends, or almost-faceless crowd-members--when what makes us PERSONS is overlooked or ignored.     

Depersonalization is an especially familiar experience for persons in a minority--Blacks in a White neighborhood or community, disabled people, women in an "old boy" network.  And each of us fairly commonly depersonalizes ourselves and others online, at work, in learning situations, during political exchanges, and even in our families and at church.

In this three-part series, I offer an alternative based on a simple communication model.  You can help make your communicating as personal as possible in all these life arenas by "taking in" and "giving out" relevant parts of what makes you and the other person(s) human, which means uniqueness, choices, unmeasurable parts (emotions-spirit-psyche), reflectiveness, and mindfulness.  This third installment discusses the last 3 of these. 

Emotions.  You don’t have to wear your heart on your sleeve to personalize your communicating.  You just need to notice, describe, and invite some talk about relevant emotions.   Studies have demonstrated that all human understanding involves both thoughts and feelings.  We never have one without the other.  So without launching into a gut-dump or being over-personal, listen for and talk about emotions.

Cultural forces can make this difficult.  “Real men don’t express emotions.”  “Scientists are completely objective.”  “Facts always trump feelings.”  But family counselors emphasize the crucial importance of feelings in communication with your spouse, children, and siblings.  Organizational gurus like Steven R. Covey and Warren Bennis insist that feelings are important parts of every business transaction.  Brain scientists track the emotional components of all information processing.

 As with each of the five qualities, you have to adapt what you say to the situation and the people you’re communicating with.  Responses and emotions are both parts of what makes you unique, so you develop this part of your communicating in some of the same ways.

 One useful step is to build your emotion vocabulary.  Some people struggle because they can only think of a few emotions—mad, afraid, happy, fine.  If this is a challenge for you, expand your knowledge of emotion words.  It can be fun to realize that you’re sometimes competitive, bitchy, envious, greedy, stunned, pissed, ambivalent, confused, overwhelmed, awed, calm, delighted, excited, tense, honored, pleased, and even valued.  At the appropriate time, each of these labels can help you express what you’re feeling and invite others to do the same.

 Whenever you want your communicating to be as personal as possible, take in and give out relevant unmeasurable parts of you, like your emotions.

 Reflectiveness.  Have you ever watched a house cat and wondered what it was thinking?  Sometimes they look as if they’re deep in thought, but we have no evidence that any living being other than a human wonders whether they left any food in their bowl from breakfast or what the person next door might be doing.  Humans naturally have the ability to be aware of our awareness, to reflect.  We regularly congratulate ourselves for doing a good job, second-guess a decision we’ve made, plan how we’ll spend our tax refund.  We’re the only species who build libraries, construct theories, and elaborately bury our dead.

 The need to protect your own ego that I already mentioned can crowd out reflectiveness when it pushes people to want to be certain, positive, and right.  “That’s all there is to it, period.”  “Stop asking questions and just do what I told you.”  “I know what I’m talking about, and I don’t want to discuss it.”  People are almost always more likely to listen and to take what you say seriously if they hear at least some tentativeness and humility in what you say.  This doesn’t mean being wishy-washy; it just means leaving room for others’ ideas, and even to be wrong.  “I’m convinced we ought to do this; what do you think?”  This is one way to "give out" reflectiveness.

 Today, another one of the biggest threats to being reflective is the pace of contemporary life.  We’re expected to quickly study, assess a situation in seconds or minutes, reach decisions “efficiently,” and to multi-task whenever we can.  It’s been shown, though, that, for example, when you multi-task, the quality of your work on each task suffers.  The strongest argument against multi-tasking that I have is the picture in my mind of the woman I know who died of a heart attack while working out with weights as she used the toilet.  Fatal multitasking.  I wonder what she was thinking?

 Electronic communication empowers us to speed up all our contacts, and some options encourage much more reflection than others.  Twitter’s good for concise sayings, slogans, and links to longer comments.  And it doesn’t permit much reflection.  Skype, blogs, and email offer many more opportunities for expressions that include open questions, reservations and important qualifications.  “I wonder if we’re really on the right track here.  What do you think?”  “Are we caught in the same pattern that we were in the last time this happened?”  “Other people have faced this same challenge.  What do we know about what they’ve done?”

 Whenever you want your communicating to be as personal as possible, take in and give out relevant parts of your reflectiveness, like your questions and reservations.

 MindfulnessFor centuries, Buddhists have been inviting people to live more mindful lives.   Today well-known medical researchers at Harvard and other prestigious institutions are demonstrating the values of “being here now.”  When you can focus on what you’re doing in-the-moment, without any evaluation, you can lower your stress level, improve your self-expression, increase your relationship satisfaction, enhance your immune functioning, and improve your overall well-being.

 The fast pace of everyday life is, again, the biggest obstacle to being mindful.  Parents and children have to get up, get ready, and get out of the house every morning in limited time.  Work groups get short deadlines that force fast, rather than thorough production.  Teaching and training sessions try to pack days of learning into hours, or months into weeks.  And while we’re trying to cope with everyday life, work deadlines, and learning pressures, we’re being bombarded by messages on our smart phones, tablets, computers, and TVs.  It’s easy to get overloaded and burned out.

 You can strengthen your ability to be mindful by practicing the traditional types of Yoga or some other form of meditation.  You can learn to focus on your breathing.  You can develop your own strategy for centering your attention on one thing at a time—one project, one screen, one relationship.  You can build time into your day for slowing down, noticing the details of what’s around you, figuratively and literally “smelling the roses.”  You’ll have to resist cultural pressures in order to pull this off.  And it can work if you do.

 When you want your communicating to be as personal as possible, “be here now.”  Take in what is immediately present to you.  Give out undivided attention.  Be present to the presentness of the other person.  Of course, you can’t do this all the time, or even, in some cases, for extended periods.  But if you even increase your mindful time by 10%, it’ll help.


There’s nothing more important to the quality of your life than your relationships, and nothing more important to your relationships than your communicating—how you listen and speak.  Today, one of the greatest threats to having a high-quality life is depersonalization—communication that treats the people involved as if they aren’t really persons.  What make us persons are the five qualities I’ve mentioned.  You can personalize your communicating—make it as personal as possible—by taking in and giving out relevant aspects of each of these.

 If you have questions about how this approach to communicating might work when you’re online, in courtship and dating, in families, on the job, in teaching-learning situations, political life, multicultural events, and spiritual and religious contexts, you might look at U&ME: Communicating in Moments That Matter.  It’s available in print, e-book, and audiobook from or

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