The Difference Between Self-expression and Communication

Why didn’t he understand? Why did she get SO upset?


This has been you at some point, right? You were just having a simple, no-biggie talk with your significant other. Or your colleague. Or your sister. And then, whoooooaaaa . . .you thought expressing your feelings would clear the air and make you feel better, but it just made everything worse.

Honesty is of incredible value in this world of alternative facts. Sometimes, our honesty will necessarily ruffle feathers. Sometimes, it backfires big time. For success in communicating, it is useful to know the difference between self-expression and communication.

Self-expression is the act of bringing an internal experience to the outside world. It’s purpose is to reveal, to release and even at times, to express as in “squeeze out.” Self-expression can be full of all and any level of emotion. It fuels artistic endeavors. It takes only one person to express themselves. Self-expression can happen if no one else hears, witnesses or understands, as in writing in a diary.

Communication is the act of transferring information to another person(s). It takes (at least) two people — the communicator, and the receiver(s) of the communique. Effective communication takes the listener into deep consideration. Communication needs structure. It may format self-expression so that it is most digestible by an intended audience. Unhinged emotions are rarely effective. Tempered emotions can be effective in making a point.

Self-expression and communication are essential, and often go hand in hand. We access and express our raw emotions to extract what to say to another. We communicate from our hearts and express something essential about our nature.

An artist’s self expression can deeply move us.

An orator’s communication can change our thinking.

Mostly, we confuse the two, and as you can imagine, this results in considerable frustration. Self-expression masked as good communication can backfire and be experienced as a dump (think: Trump tweets; having a calm and “honest” talk that is filled with hostility). Communication masked as self-expression is either inscrutable or reads as inauthentic (a renown designer insisted upon using an aesthetically pleasing but tiny font on a client’s marketing materials).

If the difference between self-expression and communication has you piqued, I invite you to explore more. Copywriter and creativity coach Nancy Tierney delves further into this topic in her Facebook video inspired by this post, and you can read more about effective communication and how to be mindful of the difference in your personal life here: Honestly Speaking.

4 responses to “The Difference Between Self-expression and Communication”

  1. Wow. Concisely communicated! You define these so well. Thank you!

  2. Andrea Maas says:

    Thank you for this! I study musical expression and am often asked about how these differ. Would you be willing to share any scholarly references you have about this? Would like to read more. Thank you so much!

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Hi Andrea! I don’t have any scholarly references that I can think of at this time, but two books on communication I love are called Crucial Conversations and Thanks for the Feedback.

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