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The "4R's": How to Incorporate Self-awareness in Your Communication

Information overload, a problem pre-pandemic, has been exacerbated due to COVID. Among the overwhelming increase of correspondence such as policies, procedures, chats, and emails, we’re allowing our emotions and ego to contribute to the ample number of miscommunications. This barrage of conflicting news, debate, concern, and uncertainty shows no sign of abating.

Andrew Solomon, in his seminal book, “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression,” has this to say, “I believe that words are strong, that they can overwhelm what we fear when fear seems more awful than life is good.”

Being deliberate and unbiased in our communication can be difficult. It takes a level of self-awareness to identify areas that may cause issues for the ones receiving our messages. Insight and clarity come out of us asking ourselves:

  • Am I being vague in my communication?

  • Am I letting my emotions drive me?

  • Am I stating my opinion as a fact?

  • Does my message carry an underlying tone that may be off-putting or offensive?

  • Am I providing too much or too little information?

Words wield enormous power. And my job, as a coach and facilitator, is to help others become better communicators and build strong relationships through teaching them to embrace the power of reflection and stillness—which counteracts our impulse to react and respond to emotion.

A few months ago, I was enlisted by an organization in Mumbai, India, to work with a middle management professional we’ll call Sam. Sam’s inability to communicate effectively was causing considerable amounts of frustration within the team. The team’s overall morale, engagement, and quality of work started to deteriorate as complaints to HR seemed to wield no resolution.

During my initial discussions with Sam, it emerged that he had a factually correct point of view in quite a few instances where he felt the need to step in and communicate in a forceful way. Following our discussion, he agreed it could have been handled more effectively.

When emotions are high, it’s easy for us to say and communicate things without taking the time to reflect before we speak. At the moment, our message and delivery may seem appropriate and rational. However, when we take time to observe and reflect, we can more easily identify the potentially problematic use of words, unclear expectations, or overload of filler words which leads to upset, confusion, or miscommunication.

One technique to foster or develop well-received communication is the ‘Repurposed Writing’ approach which has four key stages, known as the 4R’s.

Phase 1: Write Away

Let the words and emotions flow. Sometimes it is good to ‘get it all out’ of our head, system, and hearts. Writing down everything we want to say allows us to vent—also known as a data dump.

In Sam’s case, he needed to address important and sometimes challenging business issues. This step of ‘writing away’ allowed him to express his thoughts, ideas, and concerns without feeling the need to censor.

Phase 2: Reflect

Once you’ve “dumped your data,” you can now review your communications. The simple act of reflection is developing a deeper level of self-awareness.

For Sam, he noticed the emotions engulfing him when the first draft was scripted, which later helped him reframe the message to make it less about him and/or the person on the other end and more about the issues at hand and how to resolve them.

Phase 3: Reassure

Check and double-check. With any form of communication, it is important that after we review, we revise and review yet again. It’s important to ensure that your final message has the right tone, information (not too much or too little) at a level the receiver can comprehend what you’re saying. Ask yourself what is your objective.

For Sam, he wanted to ensure that his tone and message conveyed reassurance and that he was available to support, guide, mentor, and coach his team.

Phase 4: Release

The simple act of sending a message.

Surprisingly, this phase can be the most challenging. Like Sam, you might ask yourself, how will this new way of presenting myself be received? Will I be labeled as too soft?

This is a common concern shared by many in the corporate setting who’ve been told that they need to be ‘tough’ to earn the respect of others and that being compassionate in business is a ‘weakness.’ Both of which are untruths.

The 4R’s are an easy way to utilize the skills of emotional intelligence and allow time for reflection and introspection.

After three months of diligent work and embodying a more mindful communication style, Sam is now seen as a leader who is caring, empathetic, and motivating. The team still has issues to manage and deadlines to meet but they are handled well because they are tackled together.

Last I spoke to Sam, he had a startling fact to share. He was sending out fewer emails as he had graduated to applying the 4R framework while speaking to his team members.

Communication is an essential element of success in our professional and personal lives, and learning to manage our emotions helps us to communicate more effectively. If we lack self-awareness, our emotional reactions seem to manifest at a subconscious level. However, with deliberate practice it is possible to control and leverage our emotions, thereby raising our emotional intelligence and allowing us to communicate with poise and purpose.


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