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Communication mindsets

What is a mindset?

Mindsets consist of your mental models (beliefs, knowledge, understanding), values and goals related to a specific area. They are the most powerful things that influence the outcomes of your actions and communication. They are under your control.

mindset, skills action diagram

Mental models

Examples for mental models:

  • Your understanding how the heart or a computer works,
  • your idea how to get a promotion at the company you work for,
  • your knowledge about nutrition and how it affects our health,
  • your idea about what causes rainbows,
  • a specific plan to start a business and how it will operate,
  • your religious belief and whether god exists,
  • your understanding why somebody complaining about something,
  • your imagination or belief about Santa Claus,
  • your knowledge how the pyramids were built,
  • your idea or imagination how people will live in 100 years.

Definition: a mental model is a representation of a specific thing in a person's mind about:

  • something that exists in the real word,
  • an imagined thing,
  • anything about the past or future.

A mental model can be about:

  • What exists and what does not exist,
  • cause effect relationships,
  • how things work,
  • what happened, what could happen and what will happen.

Mental models are our creation in our minds about the world or they can be imaginations or fantasies. Practically, they are our understanding how things work, what exists and does not exist, what are the cause effect connections.

They are our internal maps to the external reality. It can be a future reality too, where a dreamer or inventor create something in their mind and they try to create it in the physical world out there. Mental models are our theories, knowledge, beliefs. We all have about everything.

For example how a computer works, what will happen if i take this medicine, who gets promoted at the company. Learning means getting familiar with new or different models and if we choose we can replace our old models with new, better ones that describe reality better. They do not need to be perfect, just good enough to help us. Personal development, scientific discoveries are about finding better models. It is an endless process at both individual and humanity level.

The features of mental models

Here we're focusing only on those models that we use to understand reality:

  • Mental models are always partial and over simplified, and do not describe reality in its complexity,
  • they can be right, wrong or partially right and wrong in what they say if we ignore their over simplification,
  • we do not have direct knowledge about the world, just through our mental models so there is no absolute proof or justification of the fullness or correctness of our models. We can only know whether a model is consistent with other mental models, life experiences or the result of experiments.
  • from a practical perspective, we can judge a model for its utility, that is, how useful it is for us to achieve what we want. And of course, it may turn out that we were wrong.

Using the best mental models we can create, find or learn about is very important for achieving our goals. We make decisions, communicate and take actions using our models so the result of them depends of the correctness and fullness of the models we use.

Learning is about acquiring new mental models or updating our existing ones.

Natural and social science is about developing better models of the specific aspects of nature or society.

Theories, principles, scientific laws are mental models that are consciously created, debated, published or tested. Hypothesis is a model that is not tested yes.

Technological advancement is possible because we create better and better models building on which we can create new machines, computers, smart phones etc.

Models are tools used not to understand reality but also to create a new one or to predict future trends, possibilities and opportunities.

Models go through evolution. Typically they become more complex.

Why do we and others fail or succeed in our relationships, career, business, health and wealth? The traditional mental model of external and internal locus of control sees the world black and white. I add a third element: the social (or indirect) locus of control.

I also talk about the specific thinking of system thinkers, the self-help world, social and the new age movement and how they biased in one way.

Conflicts, control and misleading

Unlike real scientists in their jobs, we, in our everyday lives, are usually not aware of our mental models. We perceive, think, make decisions, communicate, take actions, analyse the results of our actions using models and we do not even know this.

Our mental models and perspectives function as invisible filters through which we see the worlds. Our knowledge and understanding appear as the truth for us most of the time. We think we experience the objective reality but actually we create our subjective reality and we live accordingly.

And then, from time to time, we argue with others with an attitude that "I am right and you are wrong". I prefer "I am right from my partial and limited perspectives and models and you are also right from your limited perspectives and models."

Instead of arguing, often it is better just accepting that we believe in different things. If we have time and patience, we can spend time and energy to understand the other person's mental model of the issue. Of course, being open minded and spending time to listen to someone's theories can be waste of time.

Be aware of speeches, articles, videos with titles, "The Truth about ..." because the speaker or creator tries to make you believe that he is right and possess the absolute truth about their topic when actually they just communicate their opinion or version.

Be also aware of "it's our interest...." speeches. Like, "it's our nation's interest", it's our company's plan", "it's our party's mission", "it's our country's wellbeing", etc. They express their ideas in a form that it seems to belong to the community. But communities, companies, countries do not have interest, missions, goals and plans. Only individuals do. These people manipulate you to accept their mental models by claiming that it is the group model.

Mental models are tools of control. If you control what people think you can influence them. The eduction system, advertisements, raising children, cultural impacts, political and religious influences are all about telling others what to think. We do this all the time. Everybody.

Getting and keeping the attention of your audience

Attention is an asset. It is a currency that people exchange with one another. It has social and financial value.

Our attention span has been shrinking and people just cannot focus on your talk or presentation for long unless you are speaking about something in a certain way that they find it really interesting, important or useful; not what you think is important for them.

So one aspect of successful communication is learning how to keep your listeners' attention. If they do not listen to you, you cannot influence them.

Expanding your skills in your toolbox to be able to grab and keep the attention of different people, for example young kids, teenagers, adults is very useful.

Maintaining your own attention

The flip side is that it is difficult for you, too, to pay attention to somebody for long time. Your attention is naturally wandering and it takes energy and suffering to force yourselves to listen to that boring colleague, family member, speaker, teacher or beggar.

The capability of concentrating on something for longer and longer is a skill that you can develop by exercising it like you can build your muscle. A form of meditation can improve it but simply deliberately practising focusing on people when they talk in our daily encounters is a more practical approach.

If people catch you not listening or pretending to listen to them, they feel disrespected and it can hurt your relationship. If you do not want to listen to somebody, it is better to excuse yourself and walk away.

Communication and value creation

The purpose of communication is to create value for ourselves whatever value means to us. For many of us it also often means that we want to contribute and create value for others, too.

Value for a person is what he or she wants. It is subjective and changing from time to time. Communication related things that people value, for example, are a smile, kindness, approval, emotional support, joking or laughing at jokes, listening, giving or getting advice, teaching and explaining something, creating cheerful energy in a party, introducing a person to someone, getting compliance, influencing behaviour or thinking, etc.

Empathy and understanding people well can help us know better what they value so we can direct our behaviour accordingly rather than just guessing.

Ultimately, what we all want is to feel physically, emotionally and intellectually well. Everything else is just a tool to achieve that. People, money, career, food, travel and all the other things that we think we want are just the things that provide something that we feel good about in our minds and bodies.

The power of communication is that we can satisfy some of these emotional, intellectual and even physical needs in us and others directly just by communication and actions.

Finding the right people and audience

It's not easy to find people that match to us and with whom we can create great value together for each other. Selecting your business and romantic partners, the company you work for, your friends and growing the right social media followers are crucial for being successful and feeling satisfied in the long run.

Break up the relationships or at least minimise them with people that are not good match to you even if they are old friends or family members. If they take away values, if they negative to you, toxic and suck energy out of you, get rid of them - at least temporarily.

The skill of selecting the right people and building and maintaining our relationships with them is very important. You can almost never change another person to your convenience so it is better to focus on the ones that a good fit to you.

Equally important is your capability to do and create things that you and others value high. So it is about finding your "audience" that appreciate what you can offer to them and they are also behave in a way or create things that you value high. It is an iterative process in an ever changing world.

Value distribution strategies

Most people have the exchange mindset. I help you and you help me. I give you and I hope you give me back. The difference between the people within this category is the timing.

Depending on the situation and the "personality" of an individual, he or she may want immediate compensation when they do something. This is the trading mindset. I smile at you why don't you smile at me back? This person often can be manipulative and do things for people to control them to get something.

A more strategic version of the value exchange mindset is that the giving and getting can be at different times, even much later and no need to be exactly equal value.

A person with a selfish mindset tries to maximise the net value they get. We all know this behaviour. It can be a winning strategy in a short term relationship but it usually does not work in the long term.

The altruistic mindset often works in the long run and in a statistical sense. Although sometimes people take advantage of selfless people, this caring attitude attracts people and they are happy to give back. This thinking focusing on creating values for others and as a result the person get back much more in the long-term and even from those that they did not help.

Beyond exchanging information: feelings and relationship

Some people, especially men who are engineers or IT professionals, say that the purpose of communication is exchanging information. Yes, sometimes it is. However, making ourselves feel better or talking about our emotions, as well as building and maintaining relationships are much more dominant reasons among others.

And even when people seemingly engage in information sharing conversation, the underlying function of the exchange is about relating, feeling smart, showing off, getting sympathy.

When someone opens another person in their first encounter with a chat and starts to talk about the weather, the purpose of the small talk is not discussing the weather. Who cares?

The opener, "Today is much hotter than usually at this time of the year" means that you look a nice person and I have come to you to see whether you want to know me better and maybe we can have a good chat, a good time and maybe later we can be friends.


Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what somebody else is experiencing from their frame of reference. It's the capacity to place yourself in another's position. How would I feel and thing in their situation.

Empathy can have intellectual, emotional or physical aspects. Some people can even feel physical pain when see someone's suffering.

As we become older, typically our capability to understand how another person experiencing the world is improving, especially if we become less self-centred.

You can develop your skill of empathy. It helps you connect and relate to people better. It is necessary for a lot of jobs such as health care professionals, teachers, marketing and sales people.

Ego, self-esteem, self-importance

While we are chatting about some topics with a conversation partner, a part of our minds are continuously checking if the other person accepts us, respects us, treats us fairly. We are usually not aware of this background process until our ego goes on high alert and warns us about the difference between how we perceive how the other person treats us and how we want to be treated.

Be aware that people do not want you to criticise, blame, mock, look down on them. Your intention and their perception of your message can be very different. You may think you care about them and give clever advice how to improve themselves but they may think that you are judging, criticising and controlling them.

On the other hand, if someone has a low self-esteem or self-importance and you treat them very nicely, they may not trust you. It does not match with their own reality and they might suspect that you have a hidden agenda.