There is so much happening in every interaction that is beneath the surface. So often communication goes awry, because we are not consciously aware of what is truly being communicated in a conversation.
Have you ever stopped to think about the many layers that exist in a conversation?
Have you ever had an argument with someone and you just weren’t really sure exactly where or why it turned ugly?
Or maybe you walked away with a strange feeling after a conversation that you didn’t feel during the conversation (like maybe you felt good during the conversation, but afterwards you’re not quite sure it went as well as you thought it did?)
If you want to be a better communicator, it is really important to be aware of the conversation you are having beneath the conversation. There is so much more being said than just words, and often the true statement a person is making is not even in the words.
The three layers taking place in every conversation are:
2) Body language
The words spoken are the top layer, like consciousness itself. Words can be chosen consciously and carefully and are often not reflective of what is being conveyed. Body language and the meaning behind words, however, is much more about the subconscious.
This means that you can make a statement and completely contradict it with your body language.
An example of someone contradicting herself with body language is a girl who says, “I’m really enjoying talking with you right now,” but her foot is pointed toward the door, and she keeps looking in that direction. She is experiencing conflict between what she is feeling, and what she feels she should say. A perceptive individual might notice this and realize that what she is really communicating is that she wants to leave. A less perceptive person might keep talking on and on, not picking up on the girl’s cues as she becomes more and more anxious from the internal conflict and expresses this physically with more glances toward the door.
I believe an even more subtle level of communication is the intention behind the words. The girl in the example above has the intention of trying to make the person she is talking to feel good. That’s a simple enough and obvious intention. But sometimes we speak and are not completely aware of what our intentions are.
For example, the simple statement, “I’m afraid to do this” or “I can’t do this” can mean, “Please help me.”
The statement, “Why do you always have to do that?” said angrily may really mean, “I’m feeling really hurt that you did that.”
The Energy Exchange in Communication
Even beyond these layers, another important consideration is the energy exchange that is taking place. In any conversation, there is usually one person leaning towards and one person leaning away. You can even see this with body language. The best position to be in varies with the situation, but it is easy to see how internal conflict can create a mismatch in the communication that goes with the energy exchange.
For instance, consider a girl who knows intellectually that she will be more attractive to a guy if she doesn’t pursue him. Even though she knows this to be true, she feels insecure inside, and ends up projecting this subconsciously on the outside. She might not come right out and say to the guy, “Oh you are so gorgeous! I really want you to be my boyfriend!” But she might physically lean forward and reach out to him. Or even more insidious and less obvious, she might talk constantly about her strengths, as if trying to convince him why he should date her.
So you can see how important it is to have complete congruence in what you are trying to communicate, and also to be able to observe congruence in others.
In the very next conversation you have, pay attention to the body language you are using and that of the other person. Try to sum up the intention behind each statement or series of statements made. You may find that you are discussing a topic with someone without actually saying the words out loud (pink elephant syndromeâ€”you know, where everyone is aware of what’s going on without actually saying it?)
How to Communicate With All 3 Layers in Harmony
Here are some specific pointers for increasing awareness of “the conversation beneath the conversation”:
1) Be very clear about your intentions
If you are clear about your intentions, your body language will come into alignment with your intentions, and your words will be more true to what you are trying to convey.Â This is really about being authentic in the moment.Â For the clearest and best communication, it is best to resolve any internal conflict before saying what you have to say, or at least making peace with it.
2) Sum up what you hear and see from the other person as an intention
Even if you try to communicate as clearly and authentically as possible, others may have more conflicting and convoluting messages to convey. To understand most clearly what someone is saying, take the sum of what they are saying, their body language and â€œvibeâ€ and consolidate that into what you interpret their overall intention to be in a simple statement. This can be extremely helpful if someone who loves you says something that feels like an attack, but you know that in reality itâ€™s coming from a place of love. Connecting to the intention can help you to separate from your Ego and need to go on the offensive.
3) Practice observing body language and the intentions of others
This is a really fun and fascinating thing to do!
As you are going about your day, notice people talking in coffee shops, restaurants, parks, etc., and try to understand the underlying gist of their exchange just by looking at their body language.
Who is in what role of the energy exchange?
Who is leaning forward? Who is leaning back? Is one person trying to convince the other of something?
If you are able to listen for awhile, practice summing up a clear succinct intention that each person is trying to convey based on all the information you have.
If you’ve had a recent conversation where something was definitely hidden beneath the surface and you were able to see it clearly, please share!