Written by Dr Caroline Marlow, a Chartered Psychologist specialising in wellbeing and performance psychology and Director of L&M Consulting Ltd.
Now, effective communication and the sharing of perspectives with our families and/or our work colleagues is crucial if we are to co-operatively and constructively rebuild and move forward. Over the last months, even amongst small groups, new experiences and knowledge have been gained, whilst new differences and inequalities have come into our life situations that contrast the previous order of things. Looking forward, how each of our personal, family and work-lives combine will continue to evolve in new ways and vary greatly across us.
This means that now, more than ever, communicating in a way that is sensitive to individuals’ situations and needs is key if we are to discover and gain from any lessons learnt, and to ensure that everyone is enabled and empowered to contribute to, be motivated by, and to gain, as we seek opportunities and move forward into the future. This article aims to help you achieve this at home and/or work.
Challenging Typical Communication Patterns.
Communication should encourage the exchange of both instrumental (factual) information of how a task is to be done and affective information, information that relays our thoughts, feelings and emotions, and often our values and beliefs. Typically, our communication is instrumental, with many of us finding talking to others about their feelings and emotions or expressing our own as inappropriate, difficult or alien. This is often particularly the case at work or if we have come to repress our own emotions. However, much advantage is to be gained by paying far greater attention to our own affective information, and by encouraging and reinforcing its sharing with our families and work colleagues.
The Benefits of Affective Communication
The appropriate sharing of both positive and negative affective information promotes the psychological safety that allows everyone to feel accepted. Further, it enables everyone to openly express their personal experiences and perspective without fear of harming others or of being shamed, belittled or dismissed. The cycle of openness, honesty and trust that this perpetuates enables individuals to understand and feel connected to each other. This, in turn, is a precondition of highly productive relationships as it ensures:
- A strong foundation for everyone to work together and to support and encourage each other through good and challenging times.
- The sharing of ideas, creativity, learning and co-operation.
- The confidence to be challenged and excitement for trying new initiatives.
- Psychological wellbeing and the reduction of personal, family and workplace stress.
- Decision-making that best ensures mutual benefit and the achievement of goals.
Think of another scenario, we’ve all experienced a time when someone’s desire and urgency to achieve an instrumental goal has led them to push your and/or other’s affective perspectives to one side. You will know first-hand how this can potentially lead to; a breakdown in communication, stress, reduced co-operation and motivation, and lingering concerns that can create relational and operational distance.
Now is not the time to leave anyone behind or for division and conflict. From a performance and wellbeing perspective, today’s circumstances provide an opportunity to learn, grow and achieve together. So…
How Do We Build A Psychologically-Safe Environment?
Whether it be at home or work, the following process applies. Consider each component within each situation, be it as a partner/parent, a manager/leader or with colleagues, and also how it can be used with individuals or across a whole organisation, team or family.
Know Yourself: There are many reasons why we too often unintentionally dismiss engaging with others’ affective experiences. Even with those we value most, we can; assume we know how they are experiencing, lie to prevent hurting them, prioritise our own perspective over theirs, judge them for not being like us, or just purely have a perception of insufficient time. Give honest consideration to how you engage with others:
- Notice what you do.
- Consider how others might perceive your interactions.
- Note the consequences, intended or otherwise, for that individual, yourself and others.
- Encourage honest feedback.
Align Yourself With Others: People will know if your words and actions are not genuine. Align yourself with others and attain empathy by: putting yourself in their situation; considering the beliefs, values and motives that you share; and reflecting on their strengths and why you value them..
Ask: As a matter of course, invite people to contribute their affective experiences, but particularly when emotion is evident. Hereafter, your aim is to do your best to understand their point of view. So…
Be Present: Eliminate distractions and pay complete attention to the person speaking. If emotions are high, sensitively comfort them as is acceptable within the relationship/situation.
- Attend to Non-Verbal Messages: Notice whether non-verbal cues, e.g., facial expressions and body language, fit with what the person is saying. Be gently curious if there is a discrepancy.
- Validate Their Experience: As you come to understand another’s experience, express acceptance. Remember that no affective experience is wrong or bad. This does not mean that you agree or approve, but conveys your support and that your relationship is important despite any differences.
- Accurately Reflect: Summarising what you believe you have heard further provides validation: Ensure they know they can correct you. If they are experiencing emotion, focus on clarifying what it is and what is at the heart of the concern. Relevant, but unclear, facts can be clarified later.
Normalise: If it is reasonable that anyone in their situation would think or feel as they do, let them know. This reduces their concerns of being stigmatised or judged.
Share Understanding: If, and only if, you have been in a position to genuinely understand the individual’s situation and his/her emotion, you can share and demonstrate common understanding. But it is vital to keep the focus on them, otherwise you risk dismissing their experience with yours and failing to learn the message in their experience.
Be Positive: Overall, the content of your communications should be positive, although there are obviously times when you will need to be sensitive to the current moment and person. The above focus on empathy, gratitude and co-operation will help eliminate any criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and misplaced sarcasm and teasing that breeds negativity within an environment.
Reflect: Reflect regularly on the balance of your instrumental and affective communications. Use your own affective feedback and others’ verbal and non-verbal cues to make associations between your communication and its short and long-term outcomes for yourself, others and the achievement of common goals. Feed this back into ‘Know Yourself’ at the start of this process, and continue to promote the cycle of psychological safety and its associated benefits.
Becoming Stronger Together: We all know that we can achieve more together, and that now more than ever, we need to achieve better and smarter. We all also know the importance of respect, consistence tolerance, humility and trust. There is no doubt that we communicate with the intention of encouraging positive outcomes, but we vary in our ability and confidence to engage in affective communication across different content and situations. I hope this article helps you, your family and/or colleagues to regroup and communicate more effectively and enables you to move forward together through the challenges ahead with greater confidence.
If this article was of interest, look out for my next FMPA blog ‘Coming Back Stronger 2: Solving Problems Effectively Together.’
Caroline writes for the FMPA magazine and is co-Director of L&M Consulting Limited. L&M specialise in performance and wellbeing psychology, and are experienced in supporting high performance sport and business organisations, teams and individuals to attain sustainable, optimal performance. L&M’s unique blend of high-level expertise enables them to combine the latest, evidence-based, best practice with vast practical experience of leading, supporting and gaining success within high-pressure, high-stakes environments. They prioritise working with their clients’ knowledge and experience to develop new and insightful solutions that work in their clients’ real-world.
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