The great general Napoleon once said that imagination rules the world. Einstien claimed that imagination is everything. And author James Allen wrote that our life is what our thoughts make it.
What do these famous people mean when they say what they say?
When it comes to communication, the concepts contained in those quotes are vital to your becoming the best communicators you can become.
It is your imagination that determines how well you communicate with others. Specifically, it is the imagined interpretations of another’s perception that determines in large part how well you communicate in all its forms.
In 1902, Charles Horton Cooley discovered a concept called The Looking Glass Self. The basic idea of this concept is that a person’s sense of self is created out of your interpersonal interactions and the perceptions you form from these. In short:
- We imagine how we must appear to others.
- We imagine the judgment of that appearance.
- We develop our self through the judgments of others.
From Yeung, King-To, and Martin, John Levi. "The Looking Glass Self: An Empirical Test and Elaboration." Social Forces 81, no. 3 (2003): 843-879.Think about it. If I think you like me, if I think you like the way I look, I feel good. If I am with people who consistently praise me and like me, then my self-concept is formed in a way that is confident and strong. That habit of thinking is reinforced over time. With that reinforcement comes the ability to communicate with strength.
The opposite is true too. If I think you do not like me, if I think you do not enjoy the way I look, probably I will feel poorly. If I am with people who consistently confirm this, if I am with people who constantly put me down, then my self-concept is formed in a way that reflects that. Inferiority, weakness, and timidity become my personality traits. That habit is reinforced over time. And with that reinforcement comes the ability to communicate weakly, shyly, unconvincingly and without emotion.
This is important to understand in your quest to become better communicators.
It is important, because if you have a good trust in the love of others, you can face almost any audience, knowing that in all you will be accepted. You can trust your message, and you can trust your ability to communicate it. If you have formed a positive self-concept, you feel free to speak your truth, regardless of it’s acceptance of people.
The idea of the looking glass self is important too because if you suffer from a weak concept, then the awareness of this as an internal block to your being effective can lead to change. To be a strong communicator, it is vital that you change any negative imaging habits.
Of course, to change is not easy. It never is. All change requires willingness. Mostly, it requires acceptance of the fact that the pain of changing is less than the pain of staying the same. As well, a real desire to be different and better. Finally, it requires a decision to dig inside onself and look at the thoughts and beliefs that block you.
The bottom line is that your communication effectiveness or ineffectiveness is due to how you react to your own imaginations. If I learned to think that people generally do not like me, that thought will flash in my imagination in nearly all my interactions. The effect of that thought, are words that communicate my basic beliefs. My attitude will speak loudly through body language, tone of voice, choice of vocabulary.
You must arrest these automatic reactions to your imaginings, to your assumptions of other people’s thinking. You must learn to stop mind reading, thinking that you KNOW what another is thinking of us. You must stop assuming you know how people are judging you.
(Unless you are confident already, in which case, keep doing what you are doing. You’re well on your way. For the rest of you, you’re lucky. You’re lucky because you have an obstacle in your life to overcome. You have something to work against, to develop your character against. It’s tough and difficult, but in the end—if you persevere—you will find yourself stronger than you ever believed.)
When you assume the judgment of others, you react negatively toward yourself. This is silly.
The truth is, you do not know how others are thinking. You have no right to guess at that. Most likely, your reaction and guess is entirely wrong. And besides, what other people think of you is none of your business. Your business is learning to communicate to the best of your ability in whatever capacity. Your business is learning to speak your truth in a way that people can understand. Your business is to talk, and let the results of your talk be up to God, the universe, your higher power, or nature. Your business is to control your thoughts. Knowledge of Cooley’s Looking Glass Self will help you do that.
The absolute total bottom-line is this: Strong communicators understand the power of their imagination. They harness that power. They use that power. And as a result, they communicate with power.