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May052016

FOUR WAYS TO HUMANIZE YOUR COMMUNICATING: # 3

 

Depersonalization is a cultural cancer around the world.  It's nothing new.  The Nazi propaganda machine labeled Jews as "vermin" and "bacilli," Nazi troops herded Jews into cattle cars, gassed them hundreds at a time, and dumped their bodies into mass graves.  Today, radical jihadists chop off the heads of "infidels," white cops shoot unarmed Black "thugs," and politicians rail against immigrant "rapists" or "the 1%."  Unless you're a certified sociopath, you have to depersonalize people to treat them like this.

In less horrific but still abusive and crippling ways, depersonalization also surfaces at home, in schools, and at the workplace.  Spousal abuse, bullying, rigid glass ceilings, ridicule, and microaggressions all happen when people depersonalize those around them.

It's easy to see that the antidote for these crippling and toxic cultural practices is personalization, which means helping to make your communicating as personal as possible.  Educators, health care specialists, and businesspeople have been urged in this direction for years in books like What the Best College Teachers Do http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674013254, organizations like The International College of Person-Centered Medicine http://www.personcenteredmedicine.org/, and organizational development literature by business gurus like Steven J. Covey https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits.php, Ken Blanchard http://www.kenblanchard.com/, and Ben Waber http://www.humanyze.com/.

Notice that Waber's consulting firm is called "Humanyze."  Extensive empirical research leads Waber and his colleagues to be strong advocates for face-to-face communicating at work.  Productivity, retention, and work satisfaction all improve when colleagues regularly "breathe the same air" as they converse with each other, thereby humanizing their organization.

This third in a series of four blogposts continues to sketch how you can resist the cultural cancer of depersonalization by attending to what you "Take In" and "Give Out" as you communicate every day.  I've already talked about Taking In and Giving Out two of the characteristics that make each of us a person--our Choices and our ESP--Emotions-Spirit-Personality.

Two other personal qualities we all share are Reflections and Mindfulness.  Reflections are results of the uniquely (so far as we know) human capability to be aware of our awareness.  All animals are aware, for example, of what's around them, but only humans can be aware of our awareness--have second thoughts, notice toxic thinking patterns, engage in cognitive restructuring.  Reflections surface in comments like "I think this is the right time to do this, and I'm not sure," or "We're getting off-track again."  Other signs of reflecting are questions like, "I wonder where I'll be five years from now?" and "Have we touched all the bases?  Have we gotten everybody at the table?"

You can help personalize your communicating by using your Taking In and Giving Out to get reflections on the table between you and your conversation partner.  Give Out appropriate results of your own reflecting about the topic.  Take in aspects of the other person's reflections by asking about them.  Remember that reflections are part of what make each of us a person, and the more they're present in your listening and talking, the more personal your communicating can be.

Mindfulness is the opposite of living life on automatic pilot.  It means being-here-now, attending to what's happening in the present.  Buddhists have been teaching and practicing mindfulness for years, and now health researchers and health care workers are demonstrating the benefits of mindfulness for reducing stress, improving focus, and even strengthening your immune system functioning.  http://www.mindful.org  

Apply mindfulness to your communicating by working to be present-to your conversation partner(s).  Learn to postpone your own agendas so you can listen fully.  Pick a setting for an important conversation that will allow you to focus on each other.  Importantly, research shows that even the presence of a turned-off smartphone affects the breadth and depth of a conversation. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_smartphones_are_killing_conversation  So practice mindfulness by firmly separating yourself from your screens while you're conversing, and encourage the other person(s) to do the same.

There's much more to say about how to get all four of these personal qualities on the table in your conversations--Choices, ESP, Reflections, and Mindfulness.  I talk about them in both U&ME: Communicating in Moments that Matter, and in my new book (available next month), Personal Communicating and Racial Equity.  Over forty years of communication teaching and training have convinced me that people can significantly enhance the quality of their lives by working to help make their communicating as personal as possible.  And this is the direct way to do your part to reverse the deadly, crushing practices of depersonalization.

The fourth blog post in this series will explain how you can know when your communicating is as personal as possible:  by jointly noticing when uniquenesses meet.

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