Going from aware to awake – part I

Some things I learned about communication, in theory and in practice.


In my career, I have learned two different ways of looking at communication, be it writing, speaking, performing, discussing, et cetera: the theoretical, and the practical.

I can explain to you how things (don’t) work and why they (don’t) work from both perspectives. When I first developed workshops on writing and public speaking, I tried to marry those two perspectives: explain some theory, look at real life examples, help participants to try stuff out. I was trying to make people more aware of what they were doing. This was fine. The people I taught learned new things, they expressed happiness and satisfaction.

But there was something missing. Something I felt under the surface (not surprising this, as my main research interest is the implicit).

What was I missing?


A lot of writing and presentation training is about rules (don’t do this, do that) and techniques (how to steer or even manipulate your audience). Rules and techniques can be a support when you feel unsure. They can be fun to try out, to fool around with. But they can also get in the way of things. Which is what I clearly saw when I taught a class or workshop: rules were sometimes obscuring instead of clarifying; techniques were sometimes obstructing instead of helping people become more free in what they think and write and say.

And I wanted to help people play, not put them in a cage of do’s and don’ts. Yet sometimes I found myself doing exactly that.

nonviolent communication

A penny dropped when I began to study a communication method called nonviolent communication. This method tries to help people communicate more effectively, by moving beyond judgments (this is good/bad, you are nice/stupid) to the deeper level of what we feel and what we need (when you explain things so quickly, I don’t understand, and then I feel cranky and lose interest. Could you help me understand you better, by explaining things more slowly?). When we communicate on this deeper level, not pushing each other away with judgment (assumption, presumption, prejudice), it is easier to connect, and to get what we need.

making the connection: from theory to practice

This was the dimension that I was missing: the connection that most of us try to establish when we communicate. Thus, nonviolent communication filled the gap between my theoretical and my practical perspective.

Argumentation theory taught me that when we write a text, when we climb the stage, we are trying to do something with the reader, the listener, the audience. We aim for communion, or discord; to get something across, to convince people or make them doubt…

Nonviolent communication taught me that our deeper reasons for doing so are our innate needs. We want to express ourselves, to make a connection. We need to feel seen, heard, understood; or to be left in peace. We need interaction with others, communion, the stimulation of their responses; we need to hear their ‘no’ in order to feel our own ‘yes’…

To get there, we use a range of techniques, as I learned in practice: from the words that we choose to the tone we express them in to the volume that we use to the pictures that we add to the way we look at the crowd to the way we use our hands to the way we set the stage to the clothes we put on to…

for part II, click here

image: Liam Butler, aka angrycatflap.com, 2014