We live in a world gone wild inventing insignificance. From our daily doses of insipid social media, to a simple slight from a favorite friend, to the invisibility in the middle of a crazy crowd at Costco, we often feel unseen in the moments of living.
This feeling speaks of our hopes, dreams, fears, fantasies, and our profound longing to be seen, as if for the first time, in communion with others. The truth is that our meticulously manicured lives, especially online, can cultivate a static and impersonal world, devoid of profound, human connection.
Sometimes you need to connect with another person. Create a successful bond. Create a sense of belonging. Create a sensation of caring. There are times when you need to stop being an outsider and start being an insider by communicating in ways that work.
There’s no doubt that communication is at the heart of human connection. It is foundational. It is fundamental. But figuring out what to say and how to say it is a beast, especially when it comes to effective communication, because successful messaging can be a real pain in the rump. Discovering the best way to engage others and connect with the world that exists outside your thought bubble can feel like a mind-numbing maze.
For more than three decades, the study of communication has been my bread and butter, my stock and trade. What if I told you that there’s a simple, three-part process to help you communicate better today?
I’ve discovered that the roles that you allow yourself to play in the moments of life can have a profound effect on your relationships with others. By allowing yourself to be a certain type of person, you allow others to do the same: The result is a profound experience of solidarity.
This truth captures the essence of my work at the intersections of identity, intentionality, and agency. Now, identity can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. For me, identity is the idea that you are a certain character in every situation. You play a particular role. You can ask, “Who am I in this scene?” or “What’s my role?”
Intentionality is the notion that you have a goal or motivation. You might ask, “What’s my purpose?” or “What am I hoping to accomplish?”
Agency is the capacity to act, to take action. You could ask, “What can I do?” or “How can I move in the world in ways that work?”
More and more, we are discovering that who you are in the world is not something that you own, but a significance that you develop in social relationships. Who you are in the world is not one thing, but defined by all the roles you play and the dialogue that comes from those roles. Who you are in the world is not disembodied, but defined and deeply rooted in the culture and history of your being as you move in the world.
These ideas are the driving force in my thinking as I write my book. These ideas are the guiding principles in my work with more than 10,000 students and workshop participants in the last decade alone. And, for me, these ideas reflect a democracy of spirit that we bring to light through our interactions with each other.
So, next time you want to share a significant moment with another person, become a light for that someone by asking, “Who am I in this scene?” “What is my purpose?” and “What can I do to help?”
You may discover, as if for the first time, that in answering these questions you become a person worthy of connection. You become a competent communicator by focusing on what someone needs in the moment. You become a source of solidarity in moments that matter most by creating a sense of belonging, a sensation of caring.
And, perhaps most surprisingly, you experience freedom by allowing your being to inform your doing. You become free to be who you are at any moment, so that significance becomes something you invent with someone every single day.
Note: An earlier version of this adapted content was published in Interpersonal Communication for Contemporary Living, focusing on useful strategies for managing relationships at work, at home, and at play.
Dr. José I. Rodríguez is a professor and social scientist based at Cal State Long Beach.