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As a first step, I would like you to consider how you define communication. It is important that you and the person you are striving to communicate with have the same definition. Agreeing what communication is, Step One.
According to the FreeDictionary.com, communication is “the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, signals, writing, or behavior. The art and technique of using words effectively to impart and receive information or ideas.” And is we turn to Miraim-Webster.com we can add, “the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else.”
This may seem very basic, and if you are reading this blog because you are having communication problems, you may be frustrated by this approach. I understand that but stay with me for a moment. Let’s say I believe getting my point across is communication, that persuading you to agree with me is communication, but I am not attentive to or respectful of what you have to say during the process. I think we are communicating, Do you? Probably not.
The most important words in these definitions are; exchange/impart/receive/express- the information is moving between people. Consider this: during most arguments, NO information is exchanged. Each person is producing a monolog and reacting to not being listened to. As soon as one person escalates, the other matches intensity, emotions are running the show without the help of reason or logic. That is not communication.
That is why we should humbly consider that real communication is two-way, reciprocal process that requires listening as a prerequisite, and necessitates that both people are receiving and taking in information. Agreeing on your definition of communication is Step One.
Step Two is developing the ability to do what’s called intentional listening. This means that we respect the output of the other person, manage our emotions, and to extend as much patience and acceptance as we would like to receive ourselves. Listening means not only that my mouth is not speaking, it also means that I am attentive to what the other person is saying. I may not understand why he/she feels that way and I may not agree, but I must listen attentively and take in the information or communication will not take place.
This requires the ability to remain composed, even when the information stirs your emotions. There are two extremes when a person becomes upset; Escalation (a melt-down) and shutting down. These two dynamics are on the end of a continuum, we would all like to be somewhere in the middle if we are to achieve the goal of communicating better. If you are prone to the chaos of escalating, get some help with learning to manage emotion. Our emotions are critically important, and we want to manage them rather than have the emotions run us. If you are prone to turn inward and shut-down, get some help with the rigidity and learn to accept the emotions without a disproportionate fear that something bad will happen. Can you see the gold in this? If the escalating person has self-control, the turned-inward person can remain engaged. AND if the turned-inward person remains engaged the escalating person does not panic and meltdown. Embrace the difference, you will grow in this process and experience communicating better. When this is accomplished, we have conquered Step 2.
On to Step Three. Now that you are communicating- (two-way exchange of information, both carefully listening and accepting) -you are doing well enough to define the problem. If you try to define the problem before you have agreed what communication is, you may each decide the other person is the problem. If you try to define the problem while one person is escalating and the other is withdrawing, you will each be certain the other person is the problem.
So, define the problem. Place a big sheet of paper between you and pencil ideas of what the problem is, as many as come to mind. Then, through a process of elimination, agree upon what the actual problem is. Never make the person a problem. What was said, or not said, may be the problem. What was done, or not done, may be the problem. Being unable to make a decision because two divergent views are blocking movement may be the problem. Misinterpreting or jumping to conclusions may be the problem. But never make a person the problem, by making someone the problem you are making her/him “bad.” We are all imperfect people who fall short. If you make the person the problem, this is an intimacy and relationship KILLER. Believe me.
Step 4 is the last one for now. What I would like you to do requires you to slow down, breathe and emotionally step back a bit during your conversation. When you hear a statement that upsets you, I want you to ask the other person for clarification BEFORE you run with your interpretation. We often make assumptions based on our emotional state. If you make your assumption and run with it the situations will almost always deteriorate. ASK for information, a restatement, or clarification. The intention of the other person is almost always better than our interpretation or assumption. Communicating better is worth learning these steps.
With this accomplished, you are already communicating better. There is an array of communication skills, concepts, and guidelines to continue growing in this area, I will write subsequent blogs to continue my conversation with you.