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What is intrapersonal communication? (Hint: It’s your key to a thriving career)

Looking at this title, you might be asking yourself “does analysis of intrapersonal communication belong in the workplace? Should my employer be trying to figure out what I’m thinking?”

The good news is that employers have no interest in analyzing your thoughts. They don’t have the skills, resources or time to dig into the mind of every employee. The results would also yield little of value to them.

It’s impossible to capture intrapersonal communication wholly. We can surmise, guess and assume, but we can never know what someone else is actually thinking.

There are clues in the way we communicate with others about ourselves or our attitude towards people and life in general. It’s all, however, subject to the circumstances and how what we say is interpreted, and by whom. So opinions hold little credence.

(Just think how many rumors you’ve heard through the workplace grapevine that turned out to be garbage. Someone assumed something and spread the word – wrongly!)

The significance of this article is for you; sifting through your thoughts is in your own interest!

Coming to grips with your own internal communication helps you understand yourself better and know your motivations. The better we know ourselves, the more we can develop and improve at every level of life. We can also identify with certainty what we want, and what we don’t.

Self-knowledge paired with self-worth and self-confidence is extremely empowering, and can have a massive impact on your career trajectory.

What is intrapersonal communication?

Briefly, it’s communication with ourselves through internal vocalization and thoughts. It happens in our minds only, and no one else is, or can be aware of what we’re thinking. Internal conversation can come up quickly and spontaneously, such as in response to a need, like hunger pangs. You tell yourself to find something to eat. Once you’ve accepted that you’re going to get something to eat, you might continue the head-talk by thinking of what your options are.

We can also mull things over in our minds for days, months and even years. Events, interactions and scenarios can play themselves out in the background of your mind, for better or worse.

It’s perfectly normal, and we all have these private chats so that we can get through our daily routines, responsibilities, resolve conflicts, work out relationships and also learn. Think of when you’re trying to figure something out and ask yourself “how do I do this?” You entertain a myriad of potential solutions that come to mind and eventually, BINGO, we’ve got it sorted, or you give up and ask for help.

Most of us speak to ourselves in the first and second person as well. Research indicates that we talk in the second person when we’re facing issues of behavior, challenges, morals and responsibilities. You could tell yourself “you will get through this work before you finish for the day.”

What you’re doing is echoing voices that raised you, taught you, influenced you and brought you to adulthood. And if your childhood and teens were happy, healthy and well balanced, then intrapersonal communication will be positive.

Conversely, if you were regularly criticized and unnecessarily reprimanded, your intrapersonal communication can take on the same harsh tone, impacting your self-worth and self-esteem.

When it comes to our personal feelings and emotions, we tend to speak to ourselves in the first person. Again, this can resonate with people and events that influenced our past.

What we’ve learned we can unlearn or improve on

Because most of us don’t give intrapersonal communication a second thought, many people are unaware that their thinking is holding them back. Even if your inner-talk isn’t tripping you up, without understanding self-think, you might never reach your true potential.

Our intrapersonal communication impacts our interpersonal communication with others and how we experience the world around us. The great news is that we can change the way we think and what we tell ourselves.

There’s very little info available on intrapersonal communication that isn’t academic, and you’d have to go far to find training on how to understand, utilize and change what you tell yourself. Even at the level of research, there’s not much study into this specific aspect of human communication.

An intrapersonal communication definition

Intrapersonal communication definitions differ too. Research only really started in the latter half of the last century. The best way to define it is “interaction that takes place in the mind without externalization, and all of it relies on previous interaction with the external world.”

We do know, however, that people are capable of changing their perceptions of life and themselves and with that their intrapersonal communication will evolve. Traditionally it’s done with the help of a therapist or life coach who works with us to expose what and how we think. Once we can identify self-sabotaging or self-limiting areas of thought, we can work to change them.

Most people who consult a therapist have personal issues (and it still carries a social stigma making many people reluctant.) And not everyone can afford a life coach. Advances in technology, however, has changed all of this. 

You can use people analytics platforms like F4S to get to know yourself better and work on improving attitudes and motivations that are influenced by what you think and tell yourself. Online coaching and plenty of supporting information put a life coach in your pocket in real-time.

We’re unaware of the impact our thoughts have

The impact of negative conditioning on intrapersonal communication:

A typical example of negative conditioning many people have all their lives is that somewhere in their past they were told that, let’s say, they’ll amount to nothing.

This sticks in their mind! If anything goes wrong (as happens to everyone), they experience it as being their fault; as a personal failure. They don’t see it in the light that we all win sometimes and lose other times. 

In the workplace, they can be reluctant to take on new tasks for fear of failure and humiliation, even if their team or manager nominates them. In extreme cases, they can also secretly see the nomination as sarcasm or a setup.

They don’t believe that they’ll succeed; they don’t trust their own abilities, and they don’t trust the support of others.

The sad reality is that most of this goes on subconsciously, so the person doesn’t realize that they're sabotaging their career. Team members and managers can start thinking they’re not a team player.

How positive conditioning impacts intrapersonal communication:

Conversely, people who were supported and encouraged by parents and caregivers have a more positive approach and will accept and even offer to take on new challenges.

They’re also inclined to openly receive praise and congratulations for a job well done. They can celebrate their successes.

What we think before we interact with others impacts how we approach conversations, both at work and in our personal life. If we’re shy and socially uncomfortable we might “prepare” potential topics of discussion in our mind when we know we’ll be mixing. 

Subconsciously we try to shift the conversation to what we prepared. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always turn out the way we planned, so our conversation becomes stilted, and we become self-conscious, adding to our shyness.

With knowledge and the right support, we can change our intrapersonal conversations, improve our self-confidence and become more at ease interacting with others.

Feeling unmotivated?

Find out how to unlock your motivation.

Intrapersonal communication examples

Here are a few examples of typical conversation we have with ourselves that no one will ever know.

Positive (and mundane) self-speak is part of daily life:

  • “After work, I must stop in at the shops to buy…”
  •  “If I do this tonight I won’t have to rush in the morning.”
  •  “I’m going to do this task before I start that one to save time.”
  •  “I’ll take a jacket in case it gets cold later on.”

Negative (and mundane) self-speak can also be part of daily life:

  • “I hope I don’t see anyone along the way; I never know what to talk about.”
  • “Look what I look like; I bet they’ll have something to say behind my back.”
  • “I feel so stupid (clumsy, foolish, etc.)”
  • “I never win anything; I have no luck in life.”

All of these thoughts are based on what we’ve heard, been told and experienced in life. These thoughts run through our minds, mostly without our even being aware. Their effects, however, have a profound impact on our life experience.

Positive thoughts give us a feeling of control over our lives which leads to confidence in our actions. They are empowering. Negative thoughts, on the other hand, make us feel insecure, doubt ourselves and others, and leads to a loss of confidence. They become disempowering.

Why it helps to understand intrapersonal communication

Millennia ago Aristotle told us “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”, and he’s still on point. When you’re comfortable with who you are, you know what you are so you don’t need any external verification of your worth or potential.

Even if you’re just starting out in your career and have limited experience, you know that you learn and adapt, so you’re willing. You interact well, accept constructive criticism and are easily trainable because you’re open to new ideas and experiences.

If you doubt yourself, at any level of your career, you’ll be less inclined to take on new challenges for fear of failure. In more senior roles, this fear can manifest as being demanding, shifting blame, lack of trust and even micromanaging. You’ll also be more likely to find communication with colleagues difficult, both personally and when discussing work issues. That’s because you’re self-conscious rather than spontaneous and second guess yourself subconsciously, but need to prove yourself externally.

If you’re inclined to self-doubt, here are some home-truths in the workplace.

  • On your first day, people will take in how you look. From then on, your level of productivity, management style, trainability and personality override your appearance completely. Don’t be self-conscious.
  • Healthy workplace relationships are based on cooperation, team support, willingness, transparency and friendliness. The more you give, the more you’ll get back.
  • People who gossip have the problem, not you. Insecure people will target sensitive people. Believe in yourself and don’t feed them your energy.
  • Management notices who gossips and who gets the job done. No guessing who’ll get the recognition and promotion they deserve in future.
  • People are naturally attracted to those who are open and willing to share their knowledge, effort and kindness. If you doubt yourself less, you’ll be less self-conscious and more transparent.

How do you get to know yourself?

Commonly referred to as the “self” in science, what you think affects your behavior, attitude and how you see the world. If you accept that the “self” has been shaped by all your past experiences (including music, movies, media, etc.) you realize the slate can be wiped clean and rewritten.

Once you learn to communicate better with yourself, your communication with colleagues, family, and strangers will improve. The best place to start is to listen to what you say to yourself. 

Jotting random thoughts down is a great way to understand ourselves. Say you’ve got a brilliant idea that can help your team, but you’re reluctant to voice it in case it gets rejected – listen to what’s going on in your mind. That’s what’s holding you back!

Once you’ve got an idea of what you tell yourself during the endless chatter with the “self” you’ll figure out what’s creating unfounded fears. The next step is to identify where those words originate. If it’s something told to you by someone when you were a child, those years are long gone. You don’t live in that space anymore; you outgrew it years ago.

It’s very easy for us to drag expired baggage with us without realizing it. Hearing those words in your mind and being able to connect them to a specific time or person allows us to give it shape and form. Once we can see something for what it is, it makes it easier to discard. 

Don’t expect things to change overnight. If you’re struggling with confidence issues, take it one step at a time, but don’t stop taking steps in the right direction.

Reprogramming your mind can be a lifelong process

It’s very easy to fall back into old patterns of thinking. Keeping on top of what you’re telling yourself every day will prevent that. Having someone help you along the way makes it all so much easier, though.

Even then, the change will be gradual but steady. As you go along, you’ll notice that your colleagues and team members respond more positively to you and that more opportunities come your way. A healthy relationship with yourself makes you a better team player, more helpful colleague, a good manager, loyal friend and worthy partner.   

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