In working with clients, Sigmund Freud had two primary objectives. His aim was to make the unconscious conscious and to strengthening the ego. The ego is important because it brings balance. In previous posts we examined the id, the baby of the family, which operates on the pleasure principle. We saw how communicators with a strong id drive can be fun and funny. Nevertheless, when left unchecked, an overactive id results in an undisciplined, me-focused communication style that provides little of lasting value.
Next, we dove into the strengths and weaknesses of the superego, or the pastor of the family. Since the superego is concerned with morals and values, we saw how this part of our psyche adds meaning to our message. The down side is that when left unbridled, superego communicators either become harsh and judgmental of others, or highly anxious due to becoming intensely focused on themselves.
The ego on the other hand, draws from the best of both of these worlds. The ego operates on the reality principle. If we were to compare our ego to a family member, it would be the professor of the family. For communicators, a strong ego is especially important.
When applied to communication, the reality principle says, “Ultimately, communication is not about us, it’s about our audience.” On one hand, our id may try to tempt us to tell story after story painting ourselves in a positive light. It may tempt us to aim for praise and applause—even at the cost of leaving out portions of our message that would add value to others. The id will try to convince us to make communication about ourselves.
At the other extreme is the superego, which may fill us with feelings of shame and guilt as we scrutinize our message. The overactive superego will seek to convince us that we are not good enough. Again, making communication “me” focused.
Fortunately, the ego brings balance to each of these extremes. Communicators with a strong ego will have fun in sharing their message, while still providing insights, value, and substance to their audience. In addition, a strong ego will remind us that something is always better than nothing, and the only way to get better is to start where we are at and hone our message though practice. The ego will also remind us that the only way to add value to other people is to share our message, in its imperfect form.
The reality principle is vital because it helps us understand that:
- Having fun is important and equally as valuable is providing a message filled with substance and value.
- It’s ok to be nervous, and striving to do one’s best is good. But, the only way to learn, grow, and improve is to start where we are at, gain experience, and use that experience to progress. In other words, wishing we were better communicators is a poor excuse for not communicating. The only, only, only way to get better is through practice!
- Finally, the reality principle will prevent us from becoming judgmental in our dealings with others because it reminds us that we too are imperfect human beings.
But, intellectually understanding the importance of the ego is simply not enough. More importantly, we have to put our ego to work, and there are a number of ways this can be done. One way to strengthen our ego is to act “as if”.
For anxious communicators, this might involve acting as if you are confident. Start by asking yourself, How would a confident person:
- Greet his audience as they enter the room?
- Begin this speech?
- Recover from a mistake?
- End the talk?
But, don’t stop there. Do your best to visualize your answers. Try to paint a mental picture in your head as vividly as you possibly can. Or better yet, picture a confident communicator whom you know well. Envision this person giving your speech. What words would they use? How would they walk onto the stage? What facial expressions would they use? Picture everything—their gestures, tone, and choice of words, etc.
Can you see exactly what this person would do if they were in your shoes? Good, now what would happen if you decided to borrow their style and take it for a test-drive? Now, please note, this is not the same as “stealing” someone else’s communication style. The goal of this exercise is not to try to become exactly like someone else. You are unique and have something to offer the world that no one else does, and this is far too valuable to give up. Instead, the goal is to try out new communication skills, adopt the ones that work best for you, and then use these techniques to carefully craft your own unique style. One of the best ways to strengthen one’s ego is to act “as if” one already has a strong ego in place.
Speaking confidently starts by acting confidently. The path to strengthening one’s ego starts by acting “as if” a strong ego were already in place. Finally, developing deeper, more meaningful talks starts by beginning right where you’re at, adding value to others in the best ways that you know how, and refining your message over time. As you can see, the reality principle relay can be a powerful tool for communicators. With this in mind, how will you put this into action this week?