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Communicating Intentionally

December 16, 2009

The driving force that shapes an Intentional Workplace is the way the people in it communicate.

Let’s face it, most of the communication that takes place in and around work is far from being intentional.  Much of it is off the cuff, abbreviated, lazy, habituated and based on unexamined personal expectations and assumptions.

A great deal of the communication that happens around work is ineffective. And most people would agree that we need effective communication to work optimally.

So – why don’t we experience more effective or intentional communication in the workplace? 

First, let’s get back to exploring what makes communication intentional.  In the last post – I define intentional as something done with intention or on purpose. 

I call that conscious communication.

It implies that we are speaking with awareness of our purpose AND it’s effects on others.  (Some of you are probably thinking – well that is obvious, isn’t it?)   We’ll step out on a limb and say – while it may be obvious – conscious communication is pretty rare – especially in the pressure laden environment of work.

Imagine you are at work (juggling thoughts, feelings and actions, which most of us are not consciously aware of in the moment) the phone rings and it is (Tom).  You have been expecting some information from him that you need to finish a report.

We’ll add to this scenario that you are not particularly fond of Tom.  You pick up the phone only to learn he still does not have the info you want and is calling to explain why.

Boom – if you are like most of us, you are triggered emotionally.

Given a situation like this – how do you communicate?

 What starts running through your mind at this point?   

“I can’t believe this is happening.”

 “This really is going to screw up my schedule.”

“I’ll never finish in time now.”

“How could he wait till the last minute and be so inconsiderate.

If this is an example of your internal dialogue, these thoughts, unchecked, will determine how you will respond.

Without an immediate internal adjustment, it is likely that you will say something you will regret later on.   And if your words don’t betray you, your body language will tell some truth about what is really on your mind.

After all, we cannot NOT communicate.  Everything we say, do and don’t do – communicates.

The plain fact is that internal scripts are always going through our minds.

They drive our feelings and consequently, our communication. Problem is they run on auto-pilot.  Often we let our internal dialogues masquerade as our spontaneous thoughts.  Too bad we can’t hit the delete button for the old unwanted files in our heads!

Unless we bring our awareness to those thoughts we run the risk of sloppy, unintended communication.  Another consequence is that we really can’t be fully present in any communication if our minds are running old software and the next to-do list.

We can come across to others as poor listeners, uninterested and inauthentic.

We may not believe that our lack of real presence is registering with others (after all aren’t they running their own internal narratives?) but people will often have a surprising list of the great, good and lousy communicators they deal with when asked.

Which list are you on with your colleagues? More important, which list do you WANT to be on?

Caring is a big part of your communication dynamic.  If you don’t care about how you communicate and how you are perceived as a communicator, you won’t have the motivation to elevate your skills.

If you want to change the way you communicate but don’t seem to be able to – it’s time to ask:

What in me is allowing this to continue? 

It’s a great question (one that you can apply to many other situations where you may feel at an impasse).

It implies, of course, that the responsibility for your end of the communication is up to you – and only you.

The “Basics” of Intentional Communication:

  • Think before you speak.  In other words, practice developing mindfulness about what you say, when you say it and why.
  • Develop skill around your body language habits, especially tone of voice. This is a biggie – and the “wrong” tone of voice (as perceived by the recipient in your communication) can send a message south instantaneously.
  • Watch your words.   In the big scheme of things in body language land, words are the less important players, but they still matter.
  • Notice what you are feeling in all of your communications. How do they feel? Are your emotional responses appropriate to the context of the communication you are having in the moment, or are you dragging some historic emotional baggage into the moment?

In many ways, skillful communicating is simple, but far from easy.

It takes a lot of conscious control to break crusty old habits. Often our emotions (which have been habituated as well) don’t easily bend to our new intentions.  It is often much more comfortable to slide back into the old behaviors.

Most of us were not given the tools of good communication.  We learned through the conditioning of our role models. How good were they?  Intentional communication is an art form.  It starts with thought and is grown to habit through practice. That’s the hard part.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this article. It’s appreciated.

Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2009 7:58 pm

    thanks so much for this thoughtful piece and for the tools
    on how to shift to more conscious communicating

    perhaps you should send a piece like this to the US Senate or House, no less global meetings,

    Lynda Klau

    • December 19, 2009 9:38 am

      Lynda, thanks for the compliments on the post. Communication is a vast topic and we will be exploring it at length over time. We have often wondered (and others have suggested) that these ideas and skills should be applied to political forums. Obviously these are “workplaces” too. One of the basic prerequisites for conscious communication, however, is intent. If the communicator (regardless of political party) is unaware of their intentions and unconscious of the feelings that truly drive them, we can’t expect much in the way of positive outcomes. Fortunately there are some excellent groups, especially on the global stage, that are beginning to influence the way in which dialogues take shape. Maybe we can mandate one for DC?

  2. Robert Montgomery permalink
    March 11, 2013 9:00 am

    Thank you Louise and George! This topic is essential for organizations and has been a core subject for me for many years. I work in Health and Safety with Canadian Oil and Gas and Construction companies and spend many hours showing clients the benefits of intentional and deliberate communication. There is much work to do…

    • March 11, 2013 10:26 am

      Hi Robert,

      Thanks for your comment. Very pleased you appreciated the article. Thanks also for your kind email. Will respond shortly.


  3. January 5, 2014 11:25 am

    I desire to communicate intentionally. Great practical help for all of us.

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