As a business leader I am curious about communication in general. Being aware of intrapersonal communication enables me to become a better leader, just like using different leadership styles does. I become a better leader both when it comes to my own intrapersonal communication as well as understanding what shapes the intrapersonal communication of others.
In most cases, we refer to the concept of communication as an information exchange between two or more people. Here is where intrapersonal communication differs since intrapersonal communication is the communication you have with and within yourself. This can be talking to yourself, reading aloud, writing, thinking, meditating, singing and analyzing for instance. Intrapersonal communication can play an important role in developing your Emotional Intelligence, which is useful for building resonant leadership.
If you simply came here for a short answer and do not have time to read the entire article (although I recommend that you do), here is a short explanation.
What is intrapersonal communication?
Intrapersonal communication is the communication you have with yourself, either spoken, written, or thought. Intrapersonal communication can be anything from solving a complex problem in your mind to thinking about what to wear today or what to have for breakfast.
If you read an article or watch a video online – what do you think about? External stimuli often set you off thinking and before you know it you are engaging in a deep thinking discussion with yourself, i.e. intrapersonal communication.
Besides the normal intrapersonal communication that reoccurs all the time, there are also techniques and methods of positive affirmations to lead a better, healthy, and successful life using intrapersonal communication. There are many self-help books on the topic of intrapersonal communication these days, even if they do not necessarily use that concept.
All intrapersonal communication is triggered by external or internal stimuli. All the rethinking and musings with oneself are intrapersonal communication. Yes, having conversations with the self in imaginary scenarios is also a part of intrapersonal communication!
Different types of intrapersonal communication
There are three different types of intrapersonal communication, namely self-concept, perception and expectation.
1. Self-concept or self-awareness
This is the core foundation of intrapersonal communication since it decides on how you see yourself in relation towards other people. This aspect of intrapersonal communication consists of your beliefs, your values and your attitudes. Again, this is important for developing emotional intelligence, a crucial aspect of being a leader as explained in the Daniel Goleman Leadership Styles framework.
Your attitudes on different topics are normally connected to your core values. These attitudes are based on your values, which are your rules of what are the right and wrong things to do, your ideals etc. Values are in turn based on your core beliefs, which are your personal perspectives on what is right and wrong, good or bad etc.
The perception aspect is focused outwards. How you perceive other people and the world, in general, is filtered by your self-concept. Depending on your beliefs, values, and attitudes, you can perceive the same thing differently than another person with differing beliefs, values, and attitudes. This happens all the time, doesn´t it? We perceive things in connection to a framework of judging parameters so to speak. One also tends to perceive yourself in a perhaps better light than others do. After all, you are setting the rules for your own behavior, so it is a very biased thing to judge yourself.
The third type or aspect of intrapersonal communication is regarding expectations of the future. What do you expect of your own future and the future of others? Some people expect to have kids in the future, some don’t. Certain people expect to become something great, others don’t. Your long-term expectations are sometimes projections of what you have learned from environments such as your own family growing up and the society you belong to.
These three aspects are used in your intrapersonal communication as you reflect, think, analyze or clarify. If you ponder on something, you consciously or unconsciously judge it in the context of your self-concept, your perception of the world and the expectations you have. Makes sense, doesn’t it? These three aspects form a framework to bounce your thoughts on as well as your own rules for how to process things.
Examples of Intrapersonal Communication
As mentioned above, there are many ways of performing intrapersonal communication. We will outline some examples in a bit more detail in this chapter.
1. Thinking form
This includes thinking as well as dreaming, both day-dreaming and the dreaming we do when we are asleep, i.e. nocturnal dreaming. When you think about something, whether it is what to have for dinner or a complex mathematical problem, you are engaging in intrapersonal communication.
We think almost all the time, and especially when we are concentrating. Performing different tasks, even when mundane, involves some thinking on what to do next, what to grab, what to move etc. Even if you do not need to think about your activity, then you normally think about something else, right? What happened at work today for instance or what you plan on getting your spouse for the upcoming birthday etc.
2. Vocal form
This way of performing intrapersonal communication is essentially to talk to yourself out loud. Normally reoccurring reasons for this is to repeat or otherwise rehearse a message; letting your emotions be heard; giving yourself instructions.
Most of us do this every now and then, whether it is talking to ourselves in the mirror or perhaps commenting on other drivers while alone in your car.
3. Written form
This involves all writing you do with yourself as the only intended reader. This could for instance be a personal journal or diary, but could just as well be a shopping list, reminders or notes.
I take a lot of notes, and I do not necessarily read most of them again, but I would assume that still qualifies as intrapersonal communication regardless. (I use several Productivity Tools for note-taking.)
Advantages of intrapersonal communication
If you are skilled at intrapersonal communication, there are some good pros for you. Basically, a skilled intrapersonal communicator can reap the following benefits:
- Understanding yourself and your emotions
By realizing and being aware of your own emotional state you can consider what impact it has on your intrapersonal communication and in the next step also in any interpersonal communication you engage in. If you are in a positive or negative state, it will color your intrapersonal communication. Negative emotions can lead to negative thoughts and interpretation of events and the acts of others and vice versa for positive emotions. Knowing how your emotional state affects your thinking and intrapersonal communication enables you to second guess your conclusions and mitigate the emotional influence on your thinking. Realizing your emotions makes it possible for you to pause and reflect on what is going on and the reasons for it. If you are good at intrapersonal communication, you can catch yourself in the act and correct yourself when you are heading in the wrong direction.
- Empathy and understanding others
Grasping and understanding the situation another human being is in and considering what it would be like is to a large degree a case of intrapersonal communication. Yes, you might ask questions to the other person, but putting yourself in his or her shoes in an act of intrapersonal communication. Deciding what to ask as a next question depending on the previous answer is also an act of intrapersonal communication. Hence, being skilled at intrapersonal communication will likely make you better at understanding and treating others in a good way.
This is very important for affiliative leaders, transformational leaders, and servant leaders.
- Good analytical skills
By visualizing and seeing problems in different directions in your intrapersonal communication, you can more easily understand what additional information is required and how and why it is important in the context. You can identify options and alternatives on how to move forward and judge the outcome and likelihood of those different aspects. I.e. you are good at thinking. We already concluded that thinking is a process of intrapersonal communication.
- Improved decision-making skills
If you have the capacity to think things through and weigh aspects and consequences back and forth which is basically part of the aforementioned analytical skills, it will be easier for you to make good decisions. You are more likely to understand the consequences of different decisions as well as if not taking a decision at all.
All the above mentioned skills within the intrapersonal communications department are likely to help you in interpersonal relationships and communication. Makes sense, right?
How to get better at Intrapersonal Communication?
To begin with, attending a class on Communication where you can learn more about intrapersonal communication as well as interpersonal communication and other models and concepts might be a good idea. University of Amsterdam offers a class via Coursera for example: Introduction to Communication Science.
Our mind is our greatest power source. If we tap into it and use it to channel our desires and wishes, then we have the power to accomplish it. The techniques can help us better in strengthening this power and use them appropriately.
A person develops good intrapersonal skills only after repetition and practice. There is simple logic and science behind the intrapersonal communication. When we become aware of something, we set a goal. When we set a goal and think positively about it repetitively, our subconscious mind indirectly or directly pushes us to do the task that will lead us to our set goal.
Look at the above mentioned advantages of being skilled at intrapersonal communication and try to gravitate in that direction.
Get better at understanding yourself and your emotions – if you do not find yourself to think about your emotional state during events, then do it afterwards. Did you throw a fit? Did you get very sad for some reason? Did you misunderstand something completely? Spend some time on thinking how and why this happened. Reflect and analyze what you were feeling and how you acted. Creating awareness of this puts you in a constructive way of thinking. Keep on doing this, and before you know it, you will start to consider and think of these aspects during events when you can still adapt yourself to the requirements.
How do you improve empathy and understanding others then? Same as the above, reflect on how people felt. Ask a lot of questions. Analyze, think and move forward. What aspect should you have considered that you did not? You can also read up on some books about empathy. For starters, you can check out this article on the importance of empathy in leadership.
The problem is that the above requires analytical skills and decision making skills to be truly successful. Still, forcing yourself to reflect and consider what has happened after the fact will get you a long way when it comes to awareness and improvement. I do not have any good pointers on developing analytical skills on your own. Perhaps reading up and learning more about logic, mathematics and statistics could be an idea? Please comment if you have any good tips on this.