Despite what you may have heard, communication is not a skill. It’s actually many skills layered one upon another. Listening effectively, expressing yourself, focus, reflection, clarity… and the list can go on and on.
Among the most important is our ability to filter the information we receive and reflect on this. Our internal filters decide what we pay attention to and what we ignore when communicating with others. What we pay attention to can fuel our understanding of more than just the message we are getting. It also affects our understanding of the relationship.
Our skill at filtering information can change depending on what is going on around us or our distractions. These can come in many forms such as:
- emotional state
- outward distractions such as noise, kids, phone calls
- being tired
- previous negative or positive experience with the person
- nerves (ie with boss or a crush)
- bad mood or a really good mood
- your beliefs
- expectations of the person or the situation
- difference in personal style (some are bold, shy, withdrawn or in your face)
- self-protection mode (fear, rejection)
- situational (at work, late at night)
- message medium (email, phone, letters)
And it goes on and on. You can see how we can so easily get our messages distorted when communicating with someone.
The point is there is no way to eliminate these distractions or filters - the key is to be aware of them. Introspection is often ignored when people talk about what matters in communication but, trust me, at the most basic level introspection really matters. Communication is tough enough without allowing our filters to take us unawares and add to the difficulty level. Know yourself, where you are at and reflect on what messages you are receiving. Be aware of your filters and stand in the truth of them. If you are feeling in a bad mood and just not in a place to focus; ask the person trying to talk to you to give you a couple of minutes and tell them why. You own your filter; it doesn’t own you. Pay attention to it.