Unmasked Communication

Every day people have conversations where they hide the truth of their feelings in exchange for what they believe is a safer approach. There are many levels to communication other than the words being spoken, and all influence the message that is received. When it comes to building a healthy relationship in which each person feels safe to speak their mind, the person’s words need to match what they truly believe. More importantly, the person with whom he or she is speaking must make it safe for them to be real. They must accept where the person is at without being judgmental or taking it personally and give them the space to change the way they interact. What occurs between people that results in one or the other being afraid to speak what they believe to be the truth? And what effect does it have on the relationship between the two of them? First, let’s look at the individuals to ascertain what might cause difficulties.

Each person comes into any relationship and in fact every conversation wearing what I refer to as their back pack. Inside is every life experience the people have had prior to that moment and it influences how they perceive the meaning of the interaction. This may be a prior relationship with another person whose approach is the same or the individual’s self-worth. For whatever reason, it influences the meaning they give the communication and the reaction they have to the interaction. If they have had a bad experience in the past they may choose to hide their true feelings. Perhaps somewhere in the life they had an experience that told them they would get hurt if they were honest. It may have been a parent, teacher or significant other in the person’s life. For whatever reason, they believe that it is in their best interest to wear a mask and say what will keep them safe. You have heard that people are doing the best they can in any situation? Well at church our minister said, “People are doing the only thing they know how to do.” When a person feels they cannot voice their true opinion, they put on a mask on to prevent the listener from understanding how they really feel. By a mask, I do not mean a literal mask, but a look that defies their true feeling. Only when they feel safe will they consider taking off the mask and allow themselves to be honest.

So how does a person learn to take of their mask? It all starts with awareness. You need to want to take your mask off to begin with and then you need to find someone you trust who will let you speak your truth. It is very freeing to become congruent when your insides match your outside and it is liberating.

Secondly, you need to find a person who will allow you to become real and support you in your transition. Next, you need to start small and take the chance to share something you would otherwise hide. In a safe setting let the person know how you are feeling. If the person with whom you are speaking makes a space for you to become real, then try something a little more challenging. Over time you will begin to become more comfortable speaking your mind and the trust between you will grow.

Copyright, Beth Sears, PhD. Workplace Communication, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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