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Cactus Communication

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

Have you ever noticed how sometimes your communication, or that of others can get a bit prickly?

Tangy, tetchy, impatient, petulant perhaps?

Something I refer to as “cactus communication”

That moment where your well-to-do manners and etiquette appear to have momentarily vanished.

Cactus communication isn’t just something we express to others. You might even be getting sharp-tongued with your self-talk. Prickling yourself with negative inner narratives?

Of course, there are people you may come across, who feel like they spend their whole existence in cactus communication.

These consistent cacti are likely to be people you seek to avoid.

You might even find yourselves in a ‘cactus showdown’ when it comes to conflict in your team.

You’ve probably seen this play out or haphazardly participated for yourself.

Contributing to fractious or even toxic dynamics. Zesty, judgy language. Where at least one person ends up feeling the prick!

You’re pretty good at communication most of the time. So why end up in cactus mode?

And what has well-being got to do with cactus communication anyhow?

When well-resourced we can all aspire to be "Lotus communicators". Why Lotus, you ask? Well, the Lotus flower is associated within Eastern culture as a symbol of “purity, enlightenment, self-regeneration and rebirth”. It is also known for its radiancy.

In a world where we constantly need to shift and adapt our communication lets be a little more lotus. Seeking to always find our way back to a calmer more regenerative place.

I want to emphasise that 'cactus communication' isn’t simply a good and bad, wrong and right dichotomy.

If you are already catching or reflecting on these spikey leakages of response, tone, words and mannerisms then you’re a step closer to heralding your cactus as a useful beacon. We are all human after all and sometimes reach a blockage in our communication. Noticing your cactus, raising the alarm for yourself. Warning you things aren’t feeling quite safe or ok enough in the moment.

If you are a team or organisation already showing signs of Lotus communication. Where you lead in resolve and hold the space for cacti composure. Then even more fabulous!

Often when we show our cactus spines, we have already reached a threshold beyond our rational, calm and humbled selves. Instead, the Amygdala (the part of our brain that activates the fight or flight response) has already put its foot on the throttle and is ready for full pelt evacuation of opinions.

Regulating your self

Getting to know your cactus responses and pruning them in before it’s all too tetchy or scathing. That’s a skill often aligned with Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence was developed in the 1990’s by psychologists Salovey and Mayer.

An article by Granite State College details that Emotional Intelligence (defined by Salovey and Mayer) “… involves the ability to monitor one’s own emotions and others’ emotions…” (Bechtoldt, 2008).

David Goleman refers to there being 5 intelligences in his expanded emotional intelligence theory (1995). These being self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

These are all capabilities that can be helpful when dealing with our own cactus communication and the cacti of others too.

Cactus Communication often pops up in situations where our resources are running low (e.g., low on patience, energy, enthusiasm, understanding) and in places where we begin to feel ‘unsafe’ or uncomfortable.

Let’s play this out: Someone triggers your cactus:

  • Self-Awareness – You recognise you’re in cactus communication

  • Self-regulation – You note your feelings, thoughts and behaviours and recognise you need to do something to shift them to a calmer, clearer state of being. Considering how you might do this.

  • Motivation - You look towards a solution-focused way of communication (think Lotus). You seek to gain clarity and understanding from the other party who has triggered your spikes.

  • Empathy – You take a moment to understand and be compassionate about your own response. Taking care and attention to understand the intentions of others. Acknowledging you are both humans capable of, both, making mistakes and finding resolution.

  • Social Skills – you begin to re-engage your concise and compassionate Lotus communication abilities. Exploring your way openly and courageously through the situation.

Emotional Intelligence is a great skill to build and practice in these cacti moments.

What can you do to compose a space of calm, resourced communication?

This is where you really master that, Lotus.

When it comes to cactus communication there are two very obvious issues at play.

A) The feeling we have; that has led us to this prickly way.

B) The need or value that is not being met.

You can do yourself a big favour in effective communication (especially when it comes to keeping harmony with family, friends or your team)

Rule 101 is value simple solutions for well-being.

Our communication goes arid when we haven’t taken simple steps to regulate our eco-system. (Our body and mind)

Our basic needs are essentially the fuel to communicating more effectively. So, remember to check in with the basics and keep yourself well topped up (both in life or work)

  • Water ( Thirst(

  • Light ( Natural ideally)

  • Air (The fresh kind)

  • Food ( Energy)

  • Shelter/Safety

  • Comfort ( Ease)

  • Rest ( Recharge)

Without the basic’s cared for, this make effective communication so much trickier!

Hot and Cold

It’s also good to be aware of those “hot” and “cold” buttons that other’s trigger within us. Deep within the mine of our mind there is a library of opinions and unconscious bias based on a lifetime of experiences.

If you think for a moment now, it’s probably quite easy to come up with a list of traits in people that press your “hot” buttons and leave you spikey. Or those cold buttons that leave you as dry and detached as the Sahara.

These might be anything from the gender or age of a person, their position or hierarchy, the way someone speaks or even a word they used.

Though it’s not the most comfortable thing to admit. You have evolved your own personalised rule book which includes a checklist of the "easily tolerated" to the " Not oks". Tipping you into hot and cold responses, which lead you down the cactus path. Being consciously aware of these hot and cold buttons can help us to call ourselves out for these judgments and biases.

Meeting Needs.

The biggest factor in cactus though is this inter-section between the needs we have/things we value and the way we feel when they are not met or balanced.

In coaching I spend time with clients helping gain understanding about these, because they are the map to remain in lotus territory and a helpful explanation of why cactus communication shows up.

When talking about needs, values and those linked feelings. We are essentially acknowledging the importance of boundaries for yourself too. If someone crosses the line, or the conversations takes you way too far out of that nest of familiar needs, values and feelings.

Things begin to feel less ok.

And then AWOOOOOOGA! Cactus time.

As I mentioned, cactus communication is not something we can totally avoid. It’s highlighting our human selves in a situation that requires change and shift to create safety, meet needs and regulate feelings.

But if it’s showing up a lot for you. Then it might be becoming a problem.

For most of the time. We enjoy engaged, respectful and connected communication. So, when the talk isn’t going that way. And you’ve exposed your spikes. You might be left with feelings of embarrassment, remorse, regret and shame that send you into wibbly-wobbly anxiety.

So, knowing that we all have our limits. And those margins become smaller for us, if we are not looking after our basic needs. It makes a bit of sense to give this whole cactus malarkey some time and attention.

These five things will help you to refine and maybe even tame that, Cactus.

  1. Create a self-care routine for your basic needs. Keeping yourself fuelled for better conversations.

  2. Become aware of your personal unconscious bias and the things that people do/say or represent that leave you hot or cold. (Recognising these is the first step to rationalising or maybe even healing these stories for yourself)

  3. Utilise emotional intelligence principles to reform and regulate yourself in communication and help respond to others in a way that enables you all to move away from a Cactus Showdown.

  4. Be curious about the connection you observe in yourself between your inner needs and values and the feelings that occur when they aren’t met in conversations.

  5. Define your own Lotus Communication style and when things get a little spikey. Take a deep breath, pause and find those parts that can communicate compassionately for yourself and others.

For more ways to enhance your well-being and create kind, brave and compassionate conversations with others. Get in touch to see how effective communication can help you or your team live a healthier, happier life.

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With the skills and freedom to speak out authentically, without losing respect.


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