Friday, February 3, 2012

Speak the Truth in Love (Good Communication)

Speaking the truth in love requires good communication in my estimation.  If you are just talking to get your point across then really you are just using persuasive speech and not solid relationship affirming communication.  Persuasive speech does not require an intimacy of relationship.  It does not require mutual understanding.  It does not even require the person speaking to take a turn listening.  Good good communication does require these though. Let's take a closer look at the process of good communication.

It Starts With An Idea
Communication starts out with an idea that a person wants to share with another.  This idea then is translated into words.  Now at this very first step things can already start to fall apart.  Can you recall a time that you wanted to share something, but you just could not come up with the words to say?  That can be the first roadblock to good communication.  Lots of things can contribute to this problem (anxiety, depression, attention problems, boredom, lack of sleep, nervousness).  The main way to overcome this is with thoughtfulness.  Thoughtfulness takes more effort (and more time) but in the end you are more likely to be understood if you use thoughtfulness.  One essential characteristic of thoughtfulness is considering the person you want to share your idea.  How are they going to receive what you want to share?  Is a good time to talk?  Do you have a clear idea of what you want to say? 
Are you willing to hear their perspective even if it differs from your own?

Once the words are formulated then they are spoken.  The spoken word can cause problems as well.  Sometimes we speak by mumbling or in soft tones to quiet to be heard.  The tone of voice also sends a message about what we are saying.  

Along with the spoken word is the unspoken non-verbals.  Things like facial expression and body language communicate as well.  Our emotions are very much communicated by our nonverbal (some say as much as 80%).  If you say "I am not angry" with a angry expression on your face and a harsh tone in you voice then what you say is immediately dismissed by the person you are talking to.  People tend to read our nonverbal communication as being more honest than our words.  That makes it very important that we do not undermine our verbal message with distracting or contradictory nonverbal messages.  

Now the message travels over the airways to the person who is receiving the message.  

The first thing is that the person has to be close by (proximity).  Remember the goal is good communication here.  You can communicate with someone that is not close by, but it decreases good communication.  The example I give is calling downstairs to one of my kids and they yell back "What?"  See they are wanting to have a conversation through the stairwell.  I know from experience that is a bad idea and it does not work.  I want them to come up to me (or I need to go down to them) if I am to have good communication.

Sometimes people are separated by distance and are trying to communicate by other means (phone, email, texting).  In this case proximity is more likely determined by the emotional closeness of the relationship.  That is to say the closer the two feel emotionally the better the communication.  The opposite is also true the more distant the two feel emotionally the more likely these forms of communication are likely to break down into unhelpful and often hurtful communication. 

Next the other person has to be able to hear.  You probably have someone in your family that is hard of hearing.  I am sure that you can think of examples (humorous and frustrating) that demonstrate that poor hearing ability interferes with good communication.  The humorous story is told about a son eating lunch with his elderly mother and when they were done having this conversation:
“I’ve dined sufficient”
“You say you went a fishin’?”
“No, I’ve had plenty.”
“Say you caught twenty?”
“Poor old soul.”
“And you broke your pole?”
The ability to hear is also affected by the noise in the environment.  Loud, annoying, and/or distracting noises impact the ability to hear.  

Assuming the person is able to hear, next they have to be listening.  That is to say they have to be paying attention.  There are times when we can hear, but we are not paying attention.  We can also fake it by recalling the last little bit of what was said (short term memory), but without proper attention what was said will quickly fade from memory as if it was never said.  Another thing that can happen is competition for our attention.  Let's face it with all the gadgets that surround our daily lives there is much that competes for our attention (Music,Radio, TV, Computer, Ipods, and so on).  We can also be distracted internally.  that is to say we can be so focused on our own thoughts that we are not attending to what is being said to us.  

Now that we have got this far then we have the words that are heard.  These words then have meaning attached to them.  The meaning of these words are influenced by the strict definition of the word, but more often than not they are also influenced by personal history.  The meaning is attached to how the person perceives what is said.  Dr Eggerichs offers the following example to illustrate differences in meaning in the words that we speak and hear.
What I say is not what you hear, and what you think you heard is not what I meant at all. Let's see how this plays out at home as a couple is getting dressed to start the day. She says, "I have nothing to wear." (She means, she has nothing new.) He says, "I have nothing to wear." (He means, he has nothing clean.) There is no serious danger of conflict here, but the "nothing to wear" line illustrates that we all see things out of our own needs and perceptions.

Emerson Eggerichs. Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs (Focus on the Family) (Kindle Locations 341-343). Kindle Edition.
Now if you charge the meaning of words with an emotional history of hurts, disappointments, threats, loss then the way people hear what is said can become very different from what you think you said.  Vice versa what you hear can be very different from what the other person intended to say. 

Once meaning is attached then it becomes an idea in the mind of the person receiving the communication.  In a perfect world the idea of the person speaking and the idea of the person listening would be the same.  Reality Check:  We do not live in a perfect world.  In fact when I consider all the ways that communication can break down I am amazed that we are able to communicate at all. 

How do we close the Gap?

We can close the gap in communication by feedback.  In the military they use feedback to make sure the message that was given is the same as the one received.  If they are giving and order then the person receiving the order repeats it back.  That is important because if you are going to blow something up then you want to make sure that you are hitting the right target.  Nurses also use this when receiving a verbal order from a Doctor.  You want to get the correct medicine right?

In our communication with others then we have to use feedback to close the loop of communication.  There are several ways to give feed back.  The most basic is a verbal prompt.  These include "Yes" "Um-hmm" "I see" "uh-huh" and others.  These let the other person know that you are engaged.  unfortunately these also can be faked.  Remember good listening requires attention, but you can usually get away with simple verbal prompts without listening.  Nonverbals can give feedback.  Looking at and facing the person communicates that you are listening.  You can give feedback by paraphrasing or summarizing what the person has just shared with you (reflective listening).  You can give responses that advance the conversation (related to what you just heard) or ask meaningful questions.

Two Goals of Good Communication (Understanding and Validation)

When a person listening understands the speaker and then gives meaningful feedback the speaker feels validated.  Understanding then is an accurate appreciation for what the other person has just said.  Validation is the experience of being heard and believing that the other person understands you.  The great thing about understanding and validation is that it energizes good communication.  The more you have the better you communicate. 

Validation is:
  • the experience of being heard
  • communication of understanding
  • Not necessarily agreement
Understanding is:
  • Accepting as valid the other person's thoughts, feelings, and actions.  
  • Knowing the other person
  • Seeing their point of view.
Without understanding and validation effective communication, negotiation, and resolution cannot occur.  If mutual understanding does not exist then one person is just going along with it and will eventually resent not being understood.  It might come as a surprise to some of you, but you don't have to agree to understand and validate the other person.  You just have to see their point of view.  You might disagree with their opinion.  You might think they are basing it on faulty information.  You may even disagree with their reasoning, but you still get how they came to the conclusion they are sharing with you.  
Example:  A teenage daughter is sharing with her father about how some girls are being mean to her at school.   The father says "Don't be so dramatic."  That is invalidation and the communication has just ended.  However if the father says, "That is a big deal to you"  then the daughter feels validation and the communication continues.  Note that it does not necessarily have to be a big deal to the father.  However he has communicated that it is important to him because it is important to his daughter. 
Communication is a complex and challenging activity.  Good communication even more so.  When it comes to communication we could all use more grace and less trying to get our point across.  If we pay attention to the pitfalls of communication and focus on understanding and validation then we can be effective in our communication.
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