Whenever 2 People Interact, There Are Actually 6 Of Us In The Mix.

The ‘6 Ghost’ theory of communication.

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Ever wonder why even the simplest exchanges can sometimes go completely off the rails? Communication can be tricky but even if we are masters of both our verbal and non-verbal language things can still get thoroughly tangled up. Despite our best intentions and efforts we can nevertheless end up frustratingly confused or frustratingly misunderstood.

Even the simplest exchanges are never truly simple. In the average conversation it may seem like there are only two people involved but the truth is there are actually multiple versions of ourselves and the other person in play. We each bring three of them with us which means in every exchange there are six ‘ghosts’ to be contended with. Our core truth, the version of that truth we intend to project, and the version which the other person sees matched by a parallel three ‘ghosts’ from the other person.

Even if all three of our ‘ghosts’ are consistent and well-aligned there is still plenty of room for confusion and misinterpretation. And the greater the disparity between the three versions of ourselves the greater the potential for confusion. Our best chance to be clear and understood is to be aware of our ‘ghosts’ and make all possible efforts to ensure they accurately portray our intended message.

But first we have to understand them.

The Core Truth

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This is the genuine essence of our thoughts, feelings, and nature as they exists inside us. Knowing our own inner truths is not an easy thing. It requires introspection, time, and patience but in order to effectively share an idea or concept we first need to know what it actually is. We have to understand it before we can figure out the clearest way of communicating it.

These core truths are always present inside us whether we fully grasp them or not. The less we are aware of them, the less we understand them, the more chaotic and powerless we can end up feeling in any or all aspects of our lives. Developing self-awareness is an entire process in and of itself but one of the crucial tenets is constantly asking ourselves ‘why’ and ‘why not’. We won’t always have an easy answer but it is vital we never stop asking.

Once we feel we have a firm grasp of our inner truths we then have to look outward to the person and environment we are intending to interact with, which brings us to the second ghost.

The Version We Intend To Project

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This is what we intend to ‘say’, the idea, feeling, or image of ourselves we wish to convey. This is the level most under our control, where we are able to bring our skills of communicating to bear. Language, tone, demeanor, all our verbal and non-verbal cues are set to the task of projecting the particular image or message which we have chosen to convey.

Some of us are naturally gifted communicators others have to work at it but the skills associated with this level of machine are ones which can be honed and developed through practice and training. The more skilled we are the more accurately representative this ghost can be.

There are many reasons, some forgivable and some not, why we might feel the need to project something different from our core truth but whatever the reason the greater the difference between this ghost and our core truth the more room there is for misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

The Version Which Others See

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How we are actually seen and perceived by others is the ghost least under our control but has the greatest impact on our interactions. While the specific image we deliberately project plays a large role this level is powerfully influenced by the perceptions of the other individual, something we have virtually no control over. Regardless of how well crafted our projected ghost might be it will always be at the mercy of the perceptions of others and the near infinite factors which can influence them.

In an ideal scenario all three of these ghosts would match up perfectly. We would completely understand our own thoughts and feelings, be able to convey them clearly and persuasively, and others would see and understand them exactly as we intend. But that is often not the case and it is the disparity between these different levels which often leads to all sorts of confusion and misinterpretation.

Sometimes the disparities are intentional, sometimes completely accidental. Whichever is the case being aware of the disparities and their possible repercussions not only helps us be more effective in our own communications but also helps us to understand the information, impressions, and messages we are being constantly presented with from others.

Disparity Between The Core And The Projected

Discrepancies between what we mean and what we say can be deliberate or unintentional but the trouble caused by them ripples in both directions. Regardless of how articulately or artfully expressed our intended message is if what we are saying or projecting feels contrived or manufactured, if it doesn’t feel like it is based in a genuine core truth, it discredits us and fosters distrust. We are seen as being false.

Outwardly the farther from the core truth our projection seems, the more effort exerted to ‘sell’ it, the more false we are perceived to be with all the social consequences of distrust and withdrawal which come with it. Inwardly, the farther our projected message or impressions are from our core truth the less genuine we feel and the more stress, effort, and emotional drain maintaining it engenders .

The old adage about telling the truth meaning not having to memorize everything you say holds true, and currently has never been more relevant. Even if done out of self-preservation the emotional and psychological cost of maintaining a projected image which contradicts our internal core truth can be immense and lifelong.

It’s important to note congruity between these two levels is by no means a guarantee of factual accuracy. Even the most casual glance at current political discourse offers countless examples of people fully and firmly believing, expressing, and projecting with perfect clarity something which is categorically and patently false.

Disparity Between The Projected And The Seen

While this level is somewhat under our control a great deal is very much out of our hands. Our contributions at this level are affected and limited by our ability to communicate effectively. Even if we have a perfectly clear concept of what we intend to project our communications skills greatly impact whether or not that is the message which actually gets received on the other end.

Not feeling understood when we are trying to be heard can be extremely painful and isolating but thankfully these are the kinds of skills which can be developed, strengthened, and honed with practice and coaching. Unfortunately the perceptions and preconceived ideas other people bring to the situation are completely out of our control. Our capabilities to speak or project are important but so is the other person’s ability to listen and to see.

You might be masterfully presenting a calm and professional image as you propose a brilliantly structured and clearly communicated petition to put more left-handed desks in class rooms but if the person you are speaking with has a deep rooted belief all left-handed people are liars all the quality and congruity are negated before they can have any impact.

We can, and should, try our best to make the messages we put out into the world as clear and congruent as possible but the simple truth is we cannot control how they are received, we can only set the table up to engender the best chances for success.

The Moral Of The Story

We need to take a beat, a breath, and do our best to be aware. We need to do our best to fully understand our own ideas and motivations, to challenge and question the thoughts and ideas inside us, so when the time comes to try and communicate something we know and understand what it is we want to say.

We need to understand that how we express our thoughts, the image of ourselves we project, can have an enormous impact on other people and thus on our lives. Too much double-checking and filtering can lead to a paralysis of analysis but taking a beat or two to make sure what we are about to say is actually going to accomplish what we’re hoping for can prove invaluable.

It is crucial we realize and acknowledge we have no control over other people’s perceptions and also that what we are perceive from others may not always be a fully accurate representation of their core truth. Other people can have disparities within themselves too. Are we tinting the messages we perceive with our own preconceived ideas? Are there disparities in their ghosts which might be muddying up the waters?

In every exchange between two people there are six ghosts playing a version of the telephone game. All it takes is for one of the ghosts to be out of sync with the rest and the whole process can start sliding off the rails. So we need to be constantly asking ourselves…Do I know what it is I want to say? Am I accurately communicating it? Am I being received the way I intend? If not, is there anything I might be doing which could me muddying up my message?

And with regards to others, rather than relying purely on flash-fire instant reactions…Do I understand what they are trying to say to me? Do they seem to be aware of how they are coming across? Do I know them well enough to understand the core truth they may be coming from? Are their words matching their behavior and if not does that seem a deliberate choice?

Taking a beat to do a simple check-list cam be immensely helpful in ensuring we are communicating clearly and effectively with those around us. It also helps to make us far less vulnerable to being lied to by others or by ourselves.

Written by

A professional dancer, choreographer, theatre creator, and featured TEDx speaker with an honours degree in psychology, two black belts, and a lap-top.

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