Your Social Communication Spectrum

Yesterday I was conversing with Rachelle about how to communicate with someone who has what you might call lower than average emotional and social intelligence but is otherwise extremely bright. (It’s not a member of this community by the way, and our interactions are normally short and infrequent.)

Rachelle noted that he, “seems to have no clue about interacting with people.” The rest of our conversation proceeded like this:

Star Trek geekiness aside, the point is that it’s best to present an interface to him that he understands if we are to have any hope of communicating with him. He doesn’t seem to grasp emotional communication, so if we expect compassion or caring from him, we’re only setting ourselves up for disappointment or frustration.

However, if we limit ourselves to a narrower subset of the human communication spectrum, like if we talk to him like we’re speaking to Alexa or Siri, he responds to that perfectly fine. Other people might find such communication too curt or bossy, but he wouldn’t take offense. Being too gentle is more likely to offend him.

Now consider that other people will likely learn to offer a communication interface that they believe will be acceptable to you. If they see you as a compassionate and caring person, they’ll be more willing to open up about their feelings. If they see you as as very logical person, they may seem your rational advice more often.

Where people detect awkwardness and discomfort from you with a certain mode of communication, they’ll be more likely to avoid interfacing with you on that basis. Consequently, you won’t necessarily connect with people as much in the ranges where you convey resistance and discomfort. This means that the range of human communication you typically experience will have some gaps. Other people may communicate a great deal within those gaps, but they’ll probably avoid interfacing with you within certain subranges.

Now when you’re on a path of personal growth, you’re likely to open up and expand your frequency ranges over time. Areas that were once outside your comfort zone may become comfortable for you. Sometimes you may need to communicate and reassure people that you can handle a range that they might think is beyond you. Now and then it’s good to let people know that they won’t offend you or make you feel uncomfortable if they try to interface with you in some part of the spectrum where they may otherwise be cautious or hesitant.

When I was younger, some frequency ranges felt uncomfortable to me, but now I feel a lot more comfortable with them, partly due to deliberate stretching and partly due to racking up more practice.

Many years ago I’d have felt uncomfortable if someone cried while talking about an emotionally vulnerable issue with me. I’d have tried to dodge and escape such conversations, not wanting to go into that range with anyone. Today I feel the opposite. Not only does it not bother me when someone shares something emotionally vulnerable, I tend to see tears as an indication of trust, authenticity, emotional honesty, and depth I feel honored that people trust me as someone they can share their feelings with. Sometimes I even comment that I “love making people cry,” and I’m only half joking when I say that. It’s nice when people feel safe enough to express this range of emotion. I’d actually like it if more people felt comfortable with tears and less embarrassed or stigmatized by them.

Another area that took some practice was learning to communicate about topics you might call spiritual or woo-woo. At first I felt a little hesitant writing about such topics publicly, but as I leaned into this, I gradually felt more at ease, especially as so many people in my audience responded positively and wanted to see more on those topics. Lately we’ve been having some really interesting discussions about the Law of Attraction, manifesting, and the nature of reality in Conscious Growth Club. On this morning’s coaching call, we started testing a new intention experiment to see what, if any, effect it has on us.

Two areas where I’ve had a lot of practice are talking to people about their problems and their desires. People have told me details about all sorts of problems they’ve experienced – financial problems, relationship problems, business problems, family problems, health problems, emotional problems, and more. They’ve also opened up about many different types of desires and needs, including some personal and intimate desires they don’t normally share with other people. So I’ve had plenty of time to become comfortable with this range of communication. I actually find it rewarding to gain this perspective on humanity. One insight I’ll share is that people who are struggling are often a lot more aware of their deficits and less certain about their desires, whereas people who are thriving tend to be more in tune with their desires and less concerned about areas where they aren’t doing so well.

I’ll also note that when you communicate publicly with a wider spectrum, you’re more likely to make someone uncomfortable. It’s hard to avoid stepping outside of someone’s comfort zone sooner or later. One way to deal with this is to back off and restrict your range. I dislike that approach because it makes me feel stunted; it’s harder to feel like I’m being honest if I hold so much back. So instead my approach was to learn to feel comfortable with other people’s discomfort. Then I can write about more topics, knowing that someone may feel uncomfortable with that range of communication, and just accept that it’s going to happen repeatedly. Another useful frame is to also consider that people are choosing to read, watch, or listen to what I publish; it’s not being forced upon them.

In one-on-one conversations, I usually prefer to constrain myself by respecting someone else’s comfort zone. So if I know they aren’t comfortable with a particular range of topics or communication style, I won’t push them to go there. But when communicating with a bigger audience publicly, I don’t find that approach tenable. It’s too constricting to limit myself to topics or communication styles that won’t make anyone feel uncomfortable. You’d be surprised at the sorts of things people find objectionable.

When your social interactions start feeling a bit stale, boring, or predictable, you may want to broaden your range. One good approach is to start communicating about topics that make you feel uncomfortable. Step into your own range of awkwardness, and explore that for a while. This isn’t easy, but it works. Many people will respect you more for simply trying to communicate about something that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Imagine how impressed Rachelle and I would be if the guy we referenced in the beginning of this article started opening up about his feelings or if he said that he wanted to be nicer to people. We’d be shocked initially, but we’d also really respect him for just making the effort. We’d be super supportive as well.

I too have noticed this reaction from people when I’ve made a genuine effort to expand my range. While some people won’t follow me into a range that feels awkward to them, many more are delighted by my efforts to stretch.

Just realize that no matter how wide you think your range is, it’s still limited. The full range of human communication occupies a wider spectrum than any individual can experience in a lifetime. There’s always more to explore and experience. You probably won’t have to look very far to find additional subranges that make you feel awkward or uncomfortable. Challenge yourself to explore one of those awkward parts of the spectrum now and then, so you can enjoy the rewards of expanding your comfort zone over time.

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Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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