6 ways you block yourself from communicating your message

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If you have a message to share and an audience to engage, your website and documents and social media need to do that as well as possible, right? But we are humans with unruly brains, so it’s not that straightforward.

A lot of people have resistance around communication. This post is about shining a light on some of the internal blocks that might be holding you back. Do any of them seem familiar? If so, can you reduce their hold so you can do more for your message?

Of course there are lots of legitimate reasons why people might not want to work on their message right now. But I’ve found that most often people draw back from it without giving reasons, and I have to read between the lines. There are clearly internal stories going on like:

  • “I’m busy with more important things”
  • “That’s not for people like me”
  • “I already know all about that”
  • “I’m uncomfortable with that stuff so I’m fending it off.”

Here are a few things that I think are behind that. You might notice they’re interconnected.  

The word ‘communication’ itself

Something I’ve observed is that when I use the word ‘communication’ in talking about what I do, people switch off.

To me, it makes perfect sense to use it. I spend a lot of time thinking about messagey things, and ‘communication’ is a handy label.

But to most people it’s not part of their mental furniture. It sounds abstract and remote: something other people do. They’re too busy thinking about their website and social media to think about communication! That is, specific parts of it matter to them because those things appear on their horizon as problems to solve.

Maybe that’s you as well. What I’d say is: be aware that your subconscious may be making a decision for you and blocking you off from learning that could help you be more effective. Investing a little time in understanding overarching principles will carry through when you need to deal with specific tasks, and probably reduce the time and frustration involved.

Showing up is scary

We are social animals, and have deep programming about being a good member of the tribe and fitting in. Sticking our heads above the parapet and being different can trigger all sorts of fears about how we’ll be seen by others.

Will we be criticised and insulted? What if we get it wrong and are humiliated? What if it changes our relationships with those around us?

Let’s recognise that these things can really happen. There are people who are threatened by any departure from their view of the world, and who don’t have the filters to stop them behaving horribly. There are people with low self-esteem who try to draw power from the vulnerabilities and missteps of others. There are people close to us who get particular things from that connection and are comfortable with the situation as it is.

But – are you responsible for any of these people (even if you love them)?

What are you responsible for? Might it be your unique gifts, insights, energy?

By all means be sensitive and avoid hurting other people. But also avoid hurting yourself. Look for a way to express your full self authentically while nurturing connections with people who want the best for you, and turning the volume down on those who don’t.

The other part of it, of course, is that you deal with fears by chipping away at them with practice. For example, I’m very confident about writing, but when I wanted to try video blogs and webinars a whole bunch of resistance came up because it was a new channel using different skills. The way to get past that is to do more of them. (Which I haven’t done for a while!)

Resistance wants to keep you small and safe

There is a psychological force that acts against our attempts to be bold, creative, inspired and visible. Steven Pressfield called it ‘resistance’ in his book The War of Art, and people like Nick Williams have drawn on that. Other people have called it other things, like ‘the gremlin’. It’s the same uncomfortable idea: a part of us that appears to be our enemy.

Head gremlins imageResistance is basically an impulse to keep us safe that doesn’t have appropriate boundaries. It can be absolutely ruthless, feeding us all sorts of negative messages about ourselves in an attempt to make us retreat from ‘dangerous’ territory. But that’s where personal growth and innovation live.

So if you’re backing away from getting good at getting your message out, is it because of this sort of head-talk? “Nobody will be interested in what I say”, “I’m not good enough”, “Who am I to talk about this stuff?” That’s typical resistance fare. Do you really want to identify with statements like that? The alternative is to recognise you’re at a growing edge and just notice, “There I go again”, without investing in it.

Your brain’s non-processing directive

I have a theory that one of the most fundamental things about our brains is that they try to minimise their workload. It’s a coping mechanism for a world of complicated physical and social navigation.

Often that’s efficient. But it also has a lot of less desirable consequences. We resist thinking about things that might require us to change our worldview, even when that change is important. We resist acquiring new skills and knowledge. We resist focusing attention on things that we think we can do on autopilot.

The way to guard against this is to stop and really think, even for a few minutes, rather than running on assumptions and habits. Is what you’re doing really working well? Would it fit your goals and plans to allocate some time to sorting it out, repositioning yourself, investing effort now for an easier time in future? Would a bit of effort have good things on the other side?

Also, remember that doing a good job requires time and attention. Even if your brain tells you it doesn’t really matter that much, picture your audience looking at your work. If it’s badly put together and full of mistakes, will they notice and form a poor opinion of you? Of course they will. And you could have avoided it.

All this is harder if your poor old brain is feeling stressed and extra-defensive. Become more aware of when that’s happening, and find ways to give yourself breaks and self-care so you can be more open to possibilities.

The importance blindspot

I think there’s an unhelpful jump that happens in our heads, often glimpsed in website design. It goes like this.

You put time and effort into something. It becomes important in your worldview. And then your brain starts treating it as important in itself.  Which turns into an assumption that all right-thinking people must know about it without you having to tell them. So we don’t need to bother ourselves with that, hurray.

Repeat after me: there is no magic thought transference. What people know is what they’ve been told (plus what they’ve experienced and explored for themselves). You knew that, right?

So, that thing you’ve been beavering away on. If you want people to know about it, you have to tell them. And if you want them to know the right things about it, you have to know the right way to tell them.

Mistaken identity

One corner of our worldview is our personal identity: the way we think of ourselves. The mind defends that fiercely, throwing out all sorts of distractions and defences when anything seems to conflict with it.

Maybe you see yourself as someone who doesn’t ‘do’ communication. If that’s the case, you’ll become expert in dodging and fending off suggestions that you give attention and energy to it.

At the other end of the scale, maybe you see yourself as highly skilled in the communication arena. Then, perhaps, you’re too quick to deflect suggestions that others have more you can learn. It can read as a challenge to your status.

The question here is: what really serves you? And are there bigger parts of your identity now, like your values and purpose, that merit re-evaluating these hang-ups?

Can you be objective about your skills, learning ability, likes and dislikes? Maybe there are things you could learn that would help to move you forward – especially if you understand the approach that would work best for you and find someone offering it. Maybe there are useful things you don’t like, but you can manage a digestible way of bringing them in.

Wrapping up

If you’re trying to move ahead and make a difference, you’ll have a great opportunity to get to know yourself better – because you’ll run up against a load of brain stuff that was lurking quietly in corners and is now getting in your face.

We’ve all got our hang-ups and odd little bits of mental programming. We also all have genuine likes and dislikes, and things we’re good at and not good at. If you can get more and more clear about which is which, you’ll be in a strong position to build the inner resources and outward support structures that suit you.

If the territory is new, it’s not a sea you have to jump into and risk drowning. It’s a path, and you take steps on it.

Take some more steps. And bring that bad old brain along for some fresh air.


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