The Artistry in Communication: Seeking to Understand and Be Understood

Communication is the center of all relationships, without communication we cannot create true relation and interconnective experiences. The beautiful thing to recognize is that we have the capacity through our physical and spiritual selves to communicate with actions, with physicality, with energy directly and involuntarily expressed.

But for human beings- communication centered in speech is valued above all else. Language is powerful. And often the keepers of word and understanding of their definition are those who yield more power. We are encouraged and often urged to “expand our vocabulary,” to “speak properly,” and when we are not knowledgable of a word by definition, we are questioned by those that do know, with boastfulness and ego- “You don’t know what that means?”

My reply to this is “no, but help me to understand what you are saying with words I do know,” or “help me learn the word so we can understand and communicate with full exchange.” Communication is about the way we listen and discern with clarity and also how we help others to listen and receive with clarity. Not necessarily to bring them fully agreeing of our viewpoint, but rather to exchange, with the intention to balance how you understand others, and how we seek to be understood.

It is so important for me that others can connect with my intention of words, I am guilty of “misusing” words and phrases and many times I lack the words to even fully describe my experience and so I replace this with repetition of words I often use, with shift in meaning or create new words completely. This is something that is flagged and corrected- why do we expend this energy outside of understanding? To prove a point? To maintain a structure of language that limits? When we do not seek understanding as the goal in communication we create power dynamics that restrict us from gaining in deeper connectivity and elevation in relation with one another.

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It takes so much patience and willingness to let go of the ego and power we are taught to hold in communication exchanges. This work toward understanding can also feel uncomfortable and put us in places of vulnerability that we resist because of the conditioning placed with the power dynamics of communication. We want to avoid embarrassment, or the feelings of inferiority and isolation that come with being misunderstood.

I feel it is important to be diligent in the way we communicate. And even though speech may take precedence in communication, awareness of body, energy is a part of creating strong communication as well. How we take care of the whole of our interactions in communicating our words and what we seek to be understood is artistry. How do you set the stage for your words to be received fully?

This is actually something I learned to take care of from my performance-the art of communicating profound messages, stories and the voices of others telling memories, experiences of importance. The mastery in this comes from not only thinking of how something is artfully written and spoken, but how you can support your audience to artfully listen. When I was in the “Aesthetics of You” class with Anna Deavere Smith during my Masters Studies at NYU one of the first things she made note of was who was the best audience member in the course- great performers know how to be great audience members and setting an audience up to be successful at engaging with your work is important. What do you do to create the atmosphere for an exchange that will move them, that will help them feel they can move past vulnerability and help them find understanding and connection to stay fully engaged throughout your communication? How do you work toward clarity and help guide someone in hearing you fully?


I have created for myself a number of practices that help me to create exchange rooted in understanding in every conversation I engage in whether connected to the stage or in life’s interactions:

1) Be patient- When you are communicating, do not be in a rush. Be willing to take your time, to communicate with awareness and ability to take pause to process when necessary, to really feel out and make sure the other you are exchanging with is following your communication, is with you. Take care of the communication and do not be afraid of silence, allow this to be moments to communicate without word, or to hold room for the best exchange in response to what has been spoken to be achieved on both ends.

2) Acknowledge emotions that arise in communication, but don’t let them deafen and paralyze you. Emotional reflexes and triggers have been built up in each of us from experiences in the past. Communication is a muscle, connecting thought to emotion- how this is released should be taken care of. We should always honor the instinct of our responses, but then take care to release them if they are not serving the exchange. Emotions can easily hinder the ability for someone to be heard or to hear others. In this it is especially important to release defensiveness. This again comes from ego and the want to be “right” in a situation and not to be understood, regardless of whether the other may agree with you.

3) Pay attention and take care of how your body and energy support your communication. Your physicality is important, this is something that is greatly connected to the way that you engage in a conversation, either receiving or speaking in the exchange. Your physicality feeds into how your emotions and your energies are held. In these moments, breath should be checked, a release of breath can relax the body in an instance and create openness physically and energetically. Let your consciousness of physicality support your communication exchange.

4) Be flexible and open minded in the way you listen and speak. We have to be willing to adjust in our conversation. If the other or your audience is not opening to you, or wanders from the communication how do you reengage? How do you take a moment to respond to the shifts in energy that may happen from the other? Be also willing in these moments to ask questions for clarity still holding the intention to understand and be understood.

5) Be honestly compassionate in the way we speak our truth and experience and honor the truth and experience of others. We all come from different very complex and layered experiences. It is important for us to understand this coming into any conversation first and for most. You have to know that your truth is not always going to be in line with another’s, but it does not make you or them wrong. This is the root of the importance in understanding. How do you consider how the other is entering the conversation? How do you engage their lived experiences that inform their ways of communicating and what they communicate, the ways they receive and listen and what they receive and hear in an exchange. These truths may not be in line, but understanding is not with intention to change someone’s mind, but rather gives them the opportunity to connect why your truth is informed by your living, different that yours.

6) Be willing to see when another individual does not seek mutual exchange in communication and be okay with letting the conversation go. We are all conditioned by societal constructs, and working to undo these things that do not allow us to hear one another takes so much time. You cannot reach everyone and the acceptance of this comes with breathing through the care that you take in all your conversations to understand and be understood to the best of your ability. We cannot control how someone hears you and whether they want to, we can only take care of the experience with all of the intention to make space for understanding, if this is not mutual on their end, then it is important to release. There are always going to be audiences that come into a conversation with experiences and beliefs they may not be willing to compromise at all. In these moments all you can do is breathe them out.

Take care of your communications, and create exchanges that will leave the other/ your audience with feeling they have moved toward deeper understanding and connectivity.

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