Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Process-awareness Skill

Notice Eight Things in
Important Communications

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/skills/aware.htm

Updated  01-04-2015

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      This brief YouTube video explains several things you can do with process awareness

      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 2 - learn communication basics and seven powerful skills to get more daily needs met more often. Progress with this Lesson depends on concurrent progress on Lesson 1 - empower your resident true Self to guide your personality in calm and conflictual times.

      The unique guidebook Satisfactions (Xlibris.com, 2nd ed., 2010) integrates the key Lesson-2 Web articles in this nonprofit Web site and provides many practical resources.     

      This article overviews the essential communication skill of process awareness. It is the basis for all six companion skills. The article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it.   

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2, including...

  • awareness basics

      Premise - awareness is learnable, and is required for six other effective-communication skills. Most busy adults and all kids are unaware of their unawareness and its effect on their relationships, health, and serenity. Is that true of you?

Status Check - see how you feel about these premises - A = "I agree,"  D = " I disagree," and ? = "I'm not sure, or it depends on (what?)"

  • Adults, kids, and infants have three levels of awareness; conscious, semi-conscious, and unconscious. All three combine to cause current thoughts, perceptions, and emotions. (A  D  ?)

  • Anyone (like you) can intentionally expand their conscious awareness by deciding to become still, meditating, and journaling regularly. (A  D  ?)

  • Part of general awareness is communication-process awareness. As people learn to be objectively aware of the moment-by-moment dynamics...

    • within themselves, and...

    • between them and any partner, and...

    • in their partner, and...

    • in their environment,...

    they can intentionally improve their thinking and communication effectiveness. (A  D  ?)

  • Teaching kids to be aware and to want to expand and use it is a priceless life-long gift. (A  D  ?) Do you do this? Did your childhood caregivers?

  • Effective communication occurs when each person feels...

    • their current needs were satisfied well enough,...

    • in a mutually-respectful way. (A  D  ?)

  • Typical survivors of low-nurturance childhoods are often unaware of their unawareness; and their well-meaning false selves limit and distort local and chronic personal awareness. These promote many personal and social problems.

Implication: intentionally freeing your true Self to guide you (i.e. working patiently at Lesson 1) will clarify and expand your awareness levels. That will help you to fill more current needs (solve problems) effectively more often

      Pause and reflect on what you just read. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings.

  What is Communication (Process) Awareness?

      This learnable skill helps in all interpersonal situations, including interactions among your dynamic  subselves. "Communication (process) awareness" is intentionally noticing at least eight of over 50 factors in and between you and a communication partner.

Are our true Selves in charge now?

What R(espect) messages are we each receiving?

Do our communication needs match or clash now?

Where are we each focused?

Are we problem-solving, or doing something else?

Where are our respective E(motion)-levels?;

What communication skill/s are called for here? and...

Was our communication effective? If not, why not?

      The way people try to resolve relationship problems often becomes another problem. Habitual process awareness raises the odds that the way you problem-solve will not amplify your needs.


       For perspective, invest a few moments in this simple exercise. Then experiment with achieving basic (vs. full) awareness by asking yourself - and optionally any partner - eight or more questions about any important interpersonal situation:

AWARENESS 1)  Who's guiding each of us now - our true Selves or a false self?

      To answer this, you need to complete Lesson 1 in this nonprofit Web site and then use this and this. If any communication partner is ruled by a false self, effective communication is unlikely. See this example for more perspective when you finish here.

AWARENESS 2)  What R(espect)-messages are we each receiving from our partner now?

"You're 1-up: you (seem to) rank your current needs as more important than mine"; or...

"You're 1-down: you (seem to) rank your current needs as less important than mine"; or...

"We're equal: you (seem to) rank your needs and dignity and mine as equally valid and important now."

      Premise - communications are effective only if all subselves and people consistently get "we're equal" R-messages (feel mutually respected) as their process unfolds. Do you agree? If any person doesn't respect themselves at the moment, effective communication is unlikely.

AWARENESS 3)  Do our respective communication needs match now?

      Humans behave in order to reduce discomfort (needs) and gain pleasure. five needs adults and kids try to fill by communicating are to...

  • gain or keep respect (a constant); plus the needs to...

  • give or get information; and/or to...

  • vent  (be empathically heard and accepted); and/or to...

  • cause action (change) in your partner(s), including shifting the emotional distance between you. This can also be the need to feel locally powerful, vs. powerless.

      And/or people need...

  • stimulation - i.e. to cause excitement (reduce apathy and boredom); and/or we communicate...

  • to avoid discomforts like silence, conflict, loss, overwhelm, guilt, or anxiety. 

      In any verbal or nonverbal exchange, you and each partner seek self and mutual respect and one or more of these other five needs. If your communication needs don't match mine now (e.g. you need to vent, and I need to cause action) - we have a communication- needs conflict.

      In important situations, we need to stay aware of our respective communication needs, and use our other six skills to align our needs well enough (e.g. you need to vent, and I need to get information and to strengthen our relationship). 

      Can you think of a recent time when you or a partner tried to force your communication needs to match ["I insist that you (want to) listen to me now!"] without awareness of what you were doing?

AWARENESS 4)  "Where are we each focused now?"

      Four "focus zones" are ...

Who - are we focusing on me, on you, on us, or none of these? Important communications work best if each person is mainly focused on us (a "2-person awareness bubble")

Time - are we focusing on the past, the present, or the future? Primary needs always exist now;

Topic - are we both focusing on (a) the same topic, (b) different topics, or (c) do we have no clear topic? Communications degrade if anyone changes the topic without being sure everyone feels "done" with the current topic. When you finish this article, see this research summary for perspective.

      And a vital focus zone is...

Need level : are we focused on filling surface needs, primary needs, or something in between? Unaware people usually focus on resolving surface discomforts, not the underlying needs that cause them. Dig-down skill helps reveal current primary needs.

      Communications usually work best if all people involved are steadily focused on (a) the present, and on (b) a subject of common interest. If people aren't aware of their communication focus in key situations, they risk not filling their respective needs and feeling frustrated. Do you agree?

      Recall - we're reviewing eight key awarenesses for effective communication between people. The same awarenesses apply to conversations among your dynamic personality subselves.

AWARENESS 5)  Are we problem-solving, or doing something else?

      Personal and social "problems" are unmet needs (discomforts). "Problem solving" is intentionally...

  • identifying each person's current primary needs;

  • valuing them equally, except in emergencies; and...

  • trying to fill each person's needs "well enough" as mutually-respecting teammates, regardless of age, rank, social role, color, or gender.

      Instead of problem-solving, unaware people controlled by false selves often put their energy into...
















clamming up


numbing out



changing the subject







focusing on the past or future





bringing up old issues

doing black/white thinking

      None of these fill everyone's needs!

      Do you do any of these? Once aware of your inner and outer  communication processes, you can help each other avoid these unproductive dynamics and stay focused on win-win problem-solving - starting with any internal conflicts in either of you.

AWARENESS 6)  Where are our respective E(motion)-levels?

      "Emotions" (feelings) are automatic neurochemical responses to our perceptions and bodily sensations. They affect our heartbeat, respiration, muscle tone, and blood flow. As communication occurs, subselves activate and bring us each a dynamic mix of emotions. They vary moment by moment, and range between mild to intense. It's common to feel several emotions at once.

      When the intensity of someone's current emotion-mix is high enough. it can be said they're "above the ears" because they block the person from hearing other people clearly. Remember the last time you experienced that? Infants, kids, and adults learn to automatically assess other peoples' E(motion)-levels by judging their voice dynamics, skin color, facial expression, and body language. This assessment becomes instinctive and is often unconscious.

      Anyone can learn to identify their own E-level and that of any communication partner. If they (you) observe someone's level to be "above the ears, that's a signal to give or ask for a hearing check. When we feel well-heard, our E-level usually drops "below our ears" and we can hear our partner/s again. Mutual hearing is essential for effective communication.

      Reality check: think of the last face-to-face argument you had, and imagine you were a neutral observer. Where would you say each person's E-level was - above or below their ears?  Do you think either person was aware of this important dynamic?

AWARENESS 7)  What communication skill should I use now?

      Ask this in important or conflictual social situations. Use the six  awarenesses above + clear thinking + digging down. Use the other four skills depending on your mix of E-levels and needs:

Which Communication Skill To Use - When?

If My E-level is ...

and your E-level is...

then I should use...

down arrow"Below my ears" (i.e. I'm calm enough to really hear you) up arrow "Above your ears" (you're very emotional and can't hear me well or at all now - you need to vent; empathic listening skill until your E-level drops below your ears and you can hear me.
up arrow Above my ears - I'm "upset" with something and I can't hear you down arrow Below your ears, so you are (probably) able to hear me now; metatalk (perhaps), assertion, and empathic listening until my E-level drops "below my ears"
up arrow Above my ears... up arrow Above your ears ... Cycle empathic listening and assertion; then use digging down, metatalk, and problem solving when our E-levels drop and we can hear each other.
down arrow Below my ears ... down arrow Below your ears ... Use normal conversation

The more you practice these awarenesses and skills, the more automatic selecting the right communication skills will become.

       The final awareness to cultivate is...

AWARENESS  8) "Is or was this effective communication?"

Did we each get our communication needs met well enough...

in a way that left each of us feeling good-enough about each other and our current communication process?

Only one of 16 possible outcomes to any conversation is fully effective (win-win). Without your respective true Selves in charge and mutual awareness of these factors in important conversations, your odds are just 6%!

      A variation of this awareness is "What's the pattern of our communication outcomes over time?" - e.g. "In the last (x) months, what has our general conflict-outcome pattern been: lose/win, lose/lose, win/lose, or win/win?" (or ineffective > effective enough)

+ + +

      Pause and reflect: were you aware of these eight factors that affect the outcome of important communications with other people? Do you know anyone who is aware of them? Do your kids know when to pay attention to these vital communication factors yet?

Premise: You can significantly improve your communication effectiveness (get more needs met) by using these eight awarenesses with your own subselves and key adults and kids. Professional communicators develop awareness of up to 50 process-awareness factors! Master as many of them as you wish, but teach your kids at least these eight!

      Status check: on a scale from one (I have no interest in raising my communication awareness now) to ten (Becoming more aware is among my top five life priorities now), I'd rate my current motivation to use the information in this article as a ___.

Learn something about yourself with this anonymous 1-question poll.


      This article examines the key communication skill of process awareness - noticing objectively "What's happening in us, between us, and around us, moment by moment?" The article hilights eight of over 50 communication-process variables anyone can learn to be aware of in important interactions among their dynamic personality subselves and with other people.

      Intentionally developing process awareness allows identifying and reducing  communication blocks and problems. It provides input for the communication skills of metatalk and problem solving.

       Pause, breathe, and recall why you read this article. Did you get what you needed? If so - what do you want to do now? If not - what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your resident true Self or "someone else"?

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  Option - try this two-person awareness practice to improve your skill


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