If you want to communicate better, learn this one lesson from Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee in the 1971 film The Big Boss [Wikipedia]

By the time most babies are one year old they’re already beginning to talk.

So why is it, as adults, we still have such a hard time communicating clearly and being understood?

Perhaps we can learn how to communicate better from Bruce Lee.

Most people think of Bruce Lee as a martial artist and fighter.

The rest think of him as an actor.

But few know him for the thinker he was.

As much of a warrior as people knew of him, his students also knew him for the philosopher he was.

Bruce Lee knew that martial conflict is an extension of the human condition and if he wanted to be a superb fighter, he needed to also be a student of the human dynamic.

And the key to human interaction is getting to the core of who we all are and not getting distracted by the noise.

(a short clip of Bruce Lee speaking about emotional content)

Emotional content

And that’s the key.

We communicate emotional content via the sloppy tool of words.

And so we confuse the message (the moon) with the pointing finger (the words).

We communicate with emotion content, not words.

Have you ever gone to a movie that has drawn deep emotional impact into you?

How is the actor able to draw such deep feelings from you by simply watching the screen?

How do they do that?

The Tale of the Blue Sweater

If you’ve ever taken an acting class your instructor may have given you a very odd drill to practice.

Standing on the stage, you and your acting partner are instructed to have a conversation.


The only words you can use in your conversation is “blue sweater.”

So the two of you repeat back and forth to each other the phrase, blue sweater.

And as you get better at this exercise, you discover how much you are able to communicate by just saying the words blue sweater.

What the instructor is having you discover is that the nonverbal communication conveys so much more information than just the spoken words.

The 5 Core Basic Needs

And that is why so much communication is miscommunication.

We focus on the words and miss the emotional content.

We focus on the finger, missing all of the heavenly glory.

There are five basic human drives and most conversations revolve around them;

  1. Drive to acquire — obtain tangible and intangible possessions; i.e. material wealth, power, status, etc.
  2. Drive to bond — feeling valued, accepted, and loved; forming relationships both platonic and romantic.
  3. Drive to learn — satisfy curiosity and to share what is learned.
  4. Drive to defend — the desire to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our possessions.
  5. Drive to feel — experience the pleasures and excitement of life.

Too often in poor communication, the listener is listening to the words and not paying attention to the underlying emotions, drives, and needs; creating misunderstandings, frustration, and lack of connection.

So, instead, heed Bruce Lee’s advice and learn to notice the need for emotional content in communication.

Life-long learner and idea machine.