By: Dina Zahran
As humans, are we completely conscious of the way we communicate? Let’s take a closer look at conscious and unconscious communication to gain more information.
The message that we send when we talk is not only about what we say. On the contrary, it’s mostly about what we don’t say. Our body language, words and tone all play an important role in how others perceive us. Interestingly enough, the one that speaks the loudest is body language, as it forms the majority of how we are understood and conveys with pretty good accuracy our emotional intent. In fact, brain research shows that whatever we’re feeling first shows up in our body, and only later (nanoseconds later) in our conscious minds. The second most important is the tone of the words and surprisingly the words themselves are the least important!
The message that our subconscious receives is the one that really counts. Let’s think of the subconscious mind as an elephant and the conscious mind as an ant. The ant is the one driving the elephant, but the elephant is far more powerful and it follows orders without processing them logically. A good example is to ask someone a question while nodding; to encourage them to say yes. Another example is telling someone: “Don’t think of a green lion”, and then asking: “What’s the first thing you thought of? ” and it’s most likely a green lion! Even though logically we all know that there are no green lions, the first instinct of the subconscious is to picture a green lion because it is so good at following instructions.
There are many different factors that influence communication; and for sure culture is one of them. The cultural background of the speaker and the listener can affect understanding. Take, for example, two Egyptians arranging to meet after ‘Friday prayer’. If you ask a German person the same thing, they would need to have specific details and would not understand the element of flexible timing involved. Cultural differences can cause misunderstandings, and without a focus on cross-cultural awareness, communication can sometimes be viewed as disrespectful, or even rude.
For instance, during the peace negotiations in Cairo with Israel and the USA in 1979; President Anwar Sadat said to a group of American journalists: “Invited or not invited I shall be going to Washington”. To the Americans, this statement appeared rude and arrogant, but to Egyptians it meant he was determined to do his best to influence a positive outcome and bring relations back on track. This is a typical example of a cross-cultural communication phenomenon referred to as “embedded cultural formulaicity”. He also used a literal translation of a fixed Egyptian formulaic expression commonly used among Egyptians. Such expressions are taken for granted in terms of meaning and intention to the culture they belong to, and can show up when speaking in a foreign language.
Another powerful communication tool is what you wear. Most people don’t give enough importance to what colors or patterns they are wearing; and yet it is a determining factor in subconscious communication. Of course, cultural differences should be respected in terms of dress code, but the patterns and colors of our clothes also play a powerful role. This was clearly exemplified in the tie that Sadat wore to Tel Aviv during his trip to discuss the peace treaty in Camp David that had a swastika pattern. Even though he was going to advocate peace and desired to put an end to war and violence, he wore the tie to send a subconscious message to the Israeli Party that he was still in a position of power.
Another case is how politicians like to use specific tie colors when they are giving a speech. Hot tie colors like red and orange are worn when the speaker is trying to make a firm, powerful statement; whilst warm colors like blue and turquoise are worn when the speaker seeks approval or empathy from the audience. An interesting point to mention around color is that “drunk-tank pink” is used to paint the cell walls of violent prisoners in the United States, as this color has a calming influence.
A lot of the problems, conflicts and issues that are challenging us as a society right now could be eliminated if we paid more attention to how we communicate on both a conscious and unconscious level. Communication is of vital importance to everyone on this planet; and with the world getting smaller and smaller, we need to focus on using all the tools we can to build connections and enhance personal and professional success.