Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

 Process Awareness Practice Exercise

Learn to notice
 what's happening!

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Expert's Council


The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/cx/skills/aware_practice.htm

Updated 01-04-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This YouTube video explains several things you can do with the keystone  communication skill of 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 wise 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.     

      Our warp-speed, hyper-stimulating culture discourages developing personal awareness of the vital worlds within and around us. Once aware of this unawareness and motivated to reduce it, people (like you) can intentionally grow more aware.

      Part of this growth is intentionally becoming more aware of the communication dynamics and outcomes within and around you. This foundation ability underlies all six related communication skills. The alternative is unawareness - one of five relationship hazards.

      This article assumes you're familiar with:

  • The intro to this nonprofit Web site and the premises underlying it   

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2

  • An overview of communication awareness skill

  • Ideas on giving effective personal feedback,

  • This useful awareness exercise. 

Communication Awareness Practice

      Tailor and use this exercise periodically to expand your communication awarenesses. Read this whole practice outline first, to get the "big picture." Then pick a partner who shares your interest in growing communication effectiveness. Minimize distractions, and set aside 20” - 30” or so. Adopt the open mind of a student, and let go of any need to criticize or blame anyone – starting with you. Reading about communication awareness will do little for you. Trying it can do a lot!

  • Option - from one (I'm usually unaware of what's going on in and around me) to ten (I'm consistently very aware) rank yourself in calm ___ and stressful ___ situations.

  • Option - try this dig-down practice before or after this exercise, and discuss it with your partner.


      Find an undistracting space together with enough privacy. Sit facing each other comfortably. Bring a copy of this exercise and some writing materials.

      Each of you recall a recent important conversation with someone else - at home, work, or other - that you're willing to share with your exercise partner. Pick a conversation between you and one other where you feel that the energy and/or outcome was "significant."

      Decide who will talk first. The speaker's job is to be themselves, and describe their communication incident naturally, in about 5". The listener's job is to observe the speaker nonjudgmentally, like a reporter, using a copy of this worksheet to record impressions about their partner's communication process. Minimize or avoid questions and comments. Each of you notice nonjudgmentally how you feel as the practice unfolds.

      After ~ 5", wrap up. Listener, go back over the incident with the speaker, and help them clearly answer the eight awareness questions below. Aim to be a researcher and facilitator, not a healer. You don't need to be right here. The goal here is to help each other notice the processes in and between you – i.e. to grow your communication awarenesses.

      When you both feel done enough, reverse roles and repeat these steps. Take about 15 minutes or more for each half.

      If you have time, assess these eight focus areas in the debriefing process you've just shared together. Again: this is not about right-wrong (blaming) or competition - It's about getting main communication needs met in a way that feels good enough to both of you. Note and discuss special learnings you want to remember from this experience.

Eight Basic Awarenesses

1) Key - who was guiding ach person - their true Self or a false self?

2) What did each of you need in this situation, and did your communication needs mesh or clash?

3) What main R(espect)-messages did each person get from their partner during this exchange?

4) Was each person's E(motion)-level "above or below their ears" during the exchange?

5) Did either person in the situation seem to send or receive double messages?

6) Was either communication partner in this situation significantly distracted?

7) Were both people able to maintain a two-person "awareness bubble" during the exchange?

8) Did both people feel they got their main needs met "well enough" in a way that felt "good enough"?

      More detail on each of these...

Awareness 1) - Who was probably guiding each person – their true Self (capital "S") or ''someone else''?  (a false self)? When your other subselves steadily trust your resident Self  to guide them, you'll usually feel some mix of clear, sure, serene, calm, alive, awake, aware, focused, resilient, grounded, light, "up," strong, confident, purposeful, balanced, alert, centered, and compassionate.

      If distrustful subselves (a false self) are in charge, you feel some mix of the reverse of those – anxious, unclear, upset, unsure, “heavy,” cloudy, hesitant, defensive, unfocused, distracted, frustrated, impatient, wary, tense, numb, confused, sarcastic, "down," apathetic, and so on.

      Another way of judging is by using this comparison of behaviors.

      Notice what it feels like to mull who led your respective teams of subselves. This is a vital awareness to attain in all important solo and social situations. Have you ever heard of it before? Do your kids and key others know about it? When false selves dominate, thinking and communicating effectiveness plummet.

Awareness 2) - People communicate to reduce current discomforts (needs). Which of these did you each need  in this practice situation?

_ To keep or build respect (usually always present), plus one or more of these…

_ To give or get information (vs. emotions); and/or…

_ To cause action (what?________________), and/or to feel potent or powerful; and/or...

_ To vent (be heard, understood, and accepted); and/or…

_ To cause excitement (end boredom), or distract from something; and/or…

_ To avoid discomfort. like awkward silence, or a painful awareness, conflict, and/or confrontation.

      Did your communication needs match well enough? By whose standards? If not, what did each person do about this mismatch - e.g. deny it, ignore it, joke, intellectualize, argue, manipulate, whine, discuss, act,...?

      Option: if you practice-partners are both aware of the difference between surface and primary needs, note and discuss whether the people in the speaker’s situation (a) could have benefited from "digging down" to identify their primary needs; and if so, whether they (b) identified them, and (c) acted to fill them or not.

Awareness 3) - What was the main R(espect)-message  each partner received from the other person during this exchange:

  • “I’m 1-up (superior),"

  • “I’m 1-down (inferior)," or...

  • “I see our needs and dignity as co-equal here (mutual respect)?”

Were the R-messages received the same ones that were sent? Were these partners aware of their R-messages?

Awareness 4) - E(motion)-levels and the communication skills used: How would you judge the E-levels of each partner over the span of your exchange:

  • “Above the ears” (so they can't hear the other person well),

  • “Below the ears” (they probably can hear them), or…

  • Variable?

      With their combination of E-levels, which of the seven communication skills do you think each partner should have used to get their main communication needs met? What skills did they use?



      Did anyone's E-level rise or fall during the exchange? If so, How did the other person react – i.e. did they shift to empathic listening, or do something else?



      Were these communication partners aware of their E-levels and how to use them?


Awareness 5) - Did either of the people in the situation seem to send or receive double messages - e.g. did their words say "Yes," while tone, face, hands, body, or other non-verbals said "Maybe" or "No"? If so, who said what? Frequent and/or major double messages usually indicate a false self is in control.



Awareness 6) - Distractions and focusing: How likely is it that either communication partner in this situation was significantly distracted...

_ internally (by physical discomfort, inner conflicts and/or worry; and/or... 

_ externally (by noise, lights, motion, temperature, ... )? 

      If so, how did the partners seem to handle these distractions? (e.g. denied or ignored them, reduced them, talked about them, argued about them…)



      If either person had an agenda (topic / focus), do you feel both partners focused well enough on them, or did they lose their focuses? If so, did either of them notice that?



Awareness 7) - were both people able to maintain a two-person awareness bubble during their  exchange? In all communications, each person's dominant subselves unconsciously maintain one or more awareness zones, or "bubbles" enclosing...

  • me or you now (a one-person bubble),

  • me and you now (a two-person bubble), or...

  • neither of these (a 'no-person') bubble.

Only paired two-person bubbles allow exchanging genuine empathy and full mutual awarenesses, which are essential for effective communication. In the target situation, which of these options did each partner seem to maintain?

Person "A" -

Person "B" -

Do you think each of them were aware of their respective bubbles? _ yes  _ no  _ I don't know

Awareness 8) - Communication outcomes: Was this effective (vs. "open and honest") communication?

  • Did both people get their respective communication needs met enough (in their opinion)?  If not, why?



  • Did they both feel OK enough about (a) themselves, (b) their partner, and (c) the communication process they co-created? If not, why?




Notes / thoughts / learnings




      This is one of a series of articles and communication-skill practices in Lesson 2. The article describes a two-person practice exercise to raise your awareness of eight important dynamics that affect communication effectiveness.

       Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or someone else?

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