How you communicate internally…

Your internal comms (inner narrative) impacts your external comms – so taking time to consider and develop new communication styles can be transformative.

What do I mean by internal and external communications?

When you think about internal and external communications you may be thinking about those within an organisation – the internal communications that keep employees informed of strategy, training, processes, the ‘how we do things’ sort of instruction.  And the external as the voice presented to the outside world – customers, clients, stakeholders, or the general public if it’s a press matter.

The internal and external communications that I want to look at are those inside and outside us human beings.  When I talk with people about communication, most automatically think about how we interact with others:

Are we clear, assertive, can we build trust, how do we navigate difficult conversations, how much of our selves do we share, how do we converse with others and build relationships, create a level of trust and respect, can we communicate with larger numbers of people or do we prefer more intimate forms of communication, do we withhold information, neglect to give people the full story.

They’re a terrible communicator!

You might hear someone say “they’re a terrible communicator!” And we assume this means they don’t get the whole story across very well or they omit to tell us things. Not being a very good external communicator can mean we struggle with relationships in and outside of work, we frustrate people, we may find we can’t build good levels of trust with others, we may be distant, difficult to read, or come across as rude even. We can of course do so much to enhance our external communication skills, through awareness and training and getting feedback from how our words are landing. If we’re aware enough, of course.

External communication is not just about what we say and how we say it.  It’s about our general demeanour, our facial expression, our body language (all things we can learn to change). Perhaps most importantly, it’s about how we listen, as communication is cyclical and we must receive communication from others to create a good relationship. How we receive it can indicate how the relationship might turn out. If we don’t listen, we may never truly understand the other and connection may be superficial, or they may find us frustrating.

So what about internal communication? 

I see this as the way you speak to yourself and it’s something that will affect your external communication.  

What sort of tone of voice do you use, how much information do you withhold from yourself, do you put obstacles in the way, do you tune in to hear what is going on or are you always on automatic broadcast mode (this can be broadcasting good and less good messages)? What sort of relationship have you developed with yourself and how much do you trust yourself? Do you show yourself respect? 

As a coach, I am privileged to get insight into people’s internal communications.

What is clear is that most people speak internally in a way they wouldn’t dream of externally.

The tone of voice can be harsh, the words critical and unforgiving.  Some have learned to override their internal communication style and moderate their external communications understanding what it takes to build relationships and some others have such negative internal communications that they are rarely aware of the impact their behaviour is having on others. An example of this is with someone who continually criticises themselves and doesn’t deem themselves worthy of praise or recognition. This can translate into rarely or never giving others praise or recognition as it is not on the radar.  Others may find this hard to work with, of course, and the perpetrator may never realise  the impact their own internal communication is having on others.

Simply put, our internal communications and inner narrative can impact our external communications. How we speak to ourselves will influence how we behave with others.

I always remind myself that we have choices, and can consider what options are open to us to bring about changing an unhelpful behaviour. This can be done with internal and external communications.

Some examples:

Internal communication:  Telling self, “I’m not good with new people. I can’t do small talk”

Can translate into avoiding situations with new people, making it difficult for others to get to know them and build trust.

What are your options? You could choose a different narrative. Eg “I am interested in others and I can ask questions and listen” It’s worth remembering that “everybody you will ever know will know something you don’t”. You can prepare questions. This may feel strange at first, but we generally grow accustomed. OR you can choose to do nothing.

Impact on external communication: This can be transformative as most people enjoy being heard and you will be able to build relationships of trust more easily.

Internal communication: Telling self“I don’t deserve praise and I never had any myself”

Can translate into being ungrateful, hard to work for as you may not think of giving other people praise. Or you may be self depreciating and put yourself down, which can make others uncomfortable or encourage them to think that you’re continually searching or praise.

What are your options? You could choose a different narrative. I have the right to praise like anyone else and I can choose to say thank you more and recognise others’ efforts. The way I have come to see the world is not necessarily helpful in the way I transfer it to others.

Impact on external communication: Giving genuine thanks and recognition is mostly received well. People feel seen and feel they can rely on you and trust you. 

I’m sure you can think of more examples of when an inner communication with self creates unhelpful messages to those around us when it comes to our behaviours and words. Both forms of communication are not mutually exclusive but go hand in hand.  And the great thing is that by becoming aware of our internal communication style, we become aware of our external communication style.  Where the internal is unhelpful, critical or difficult, by tweaking, changing certain aspects, we will find our own internal world is easier to live in as well as the external one being easier to navigate.  We will see changes in one create changes in the other.

I have come across cases where people have learned to brilliantly master external communications whilst still struggling with the internal.  Their relationships on the surface seem excellent and they can be outwardly happy and content. Sometimes, when I’m lucky enough to hear their internal thoughts, they are often not as happy or content.  It’s pretty exhausting to have to live in this duality where a lot of interactions feel ‘false’ and like ‘I’m acting’. When life or work gets busy and stressful, they describe a feeling of overwhelm and a fear that they might lose it and just let people know what they really think or let their inner communications sabotage everything. Authenticity is used a lot these days and for good reason,  Bringing the internal communications inline with the external feels a lot truer and more genuine.

These communications fascinate me and I love discussing these ideas with clients, to help them find a good place where both internal and external are balanced.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.