The Greatest Barrier and Passageway to Effective Communication at Work: “You”!

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Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim ...Read More

In the Absence of “You” & “Me” in Past and Future Time, Workable Communication Arises in Presence

I know that you believe you understand what you think I said,
but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.
—Robert McCloskey


If we try to listen we find it extraordinarily difficult, because we are always projecting
our opinions and ideas, our prejudices, our background, our inclinations, our impulses;
when they dominate, we hardly listen at all to what is being said….
One listens and therefore learns, only in a state of silence,
in which this whole background is in abeyance, is quiet;
then, it seems to me, it is possible to communicate.
—Jiddu Krishnamurti

Instead of droning on for the umpteenth time about effective communication at work being tied to using “I-messages”, eliminating lectures / blaming, / shoulding / sarcasm / signing up others to take responsibility, and not using ultimatums, threats and punishment, this blog will simply offer what can be considered both the greatest barrier and passageway to effective communication at work: “you.” The premise of this writing is this: in the absence of “you” and “me” in past and future time, workable communication can arise in presence. “Yourself”—your fictive or imaginary ego-mind-self, or what you think of you and what others think of you—may be the most widespread addiction (just ahead of suffering, thinking and work) and greatest barrier to effective work communication. Paradoxically, this hocus-pocus dreamed up self is equally our greatest growth opportunity to grow beyond and gladly shed.

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Our egos wonderfully serve us in the functions of a reference point for the duality of subjects and objects in the world, a normal healthy developmental stage at age two and offering a plethora of skills, abilities, intelligences and tools to survive and thrive. It is purely the fourth function of the ego or mind as who we think we are, the one most discussed when the word “ego” is brought up, that is the most problematic. Without blaming, demonizing or villainizing the ego, consider that this developmental stage contributed by recognizing our being social animals with interdependent needs and helped develop empathy in mutually beneficial relationships. It also overstayed its usefulness in running our lives.

When we are not awake and unconsciously hand our lives over to our ego-minds in being swept away by past memories and future expectations, our ability to communicate at work becomes all about meeting ego desires and employing ego defenses to get them. Eight ego desires are suggested: security, money, sex, power, pleasure, expediency, fame and pride. Take a look. Are not the most prominent ego desires at work—security, money, power, and expediency—most evident in the phrase “my way or the highway”, that is, being right and another is wrong? What is beyond the mind’s ‘right-wrong game’? What can be done to catch and release the ego-mind, that is, ourselves, and open room for mindfulness?

Since what we all receive in communication is filtered through the screens of our ego-mind’s past conditioning with all its biases, survival decisions and core beliefs, it is crucial to begin to see each. Once the lenses and filters are fully seen as not who we truly are and acknowledged without reactivity, then they have no power or charge over us since it is not who we actually are at all. Once honestly recognized for just what it is, each tends to quickly fade in a deeper understanding of just what it was in the first place. In this moment the ego-mind is seen as purely a concept that doesn’t actually exist in reality at all. Free the ego, and who you truly are is free to be, and responsively communicate at work.

Since the ego-mind is the repository of past conditioning and only appears to function in the dead past, it has no defense against presence (along with humor, irony, paradox, compassion and love). The ego-mind knows nothing of being present since it is endlessly preoccupied with the past and projecting it into an unknown future. Have a direct experience of presence by watching, following and feeling your breath, without feeding any thoughts or any sense of time, and notice the absence of any “me” or “you”, your ego-mind. This experience of relaxed silent sanity is quite rare and sweet for human beings. It is in this space of presence, the ego-mind’s blind spot, that allows us to stand back in witnessing it, much like a fish out of water can notice the water it unconsciously swims in. Witnessing all the shenanigans, fears, attachments and idiocies of the mind, one cannot be it. We’re now free to listen and respond well.

It is here in the space of presence and witnessing that inner silence can arise to effectively communicate, all outside the ego-mind’s chattering, desires and defenses. Without the need to be right or take any positions, you can simply hear another’s needs and be responsive in moving things forward. Here are three crucial “take-aways” that can immediately be engaged to significantly improve matters:

  • The function of the ego as an imaginary sense of self can block effective communication.
  • Access presence with the breath; witness mind, its past distorted filters, to be free of it.
  • From the sanity of presence, without being driven by ego desires, positions and defenses in past or future lands, simply listen to needs and be responsive to move things forward.
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