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Good Communication Is Built On A Pyramid of Skills

In my last article I described how good communication can go against our natural instincts and requires “a series of unnatural acts.” Here I’ll talk about some of the underpinnings that are involved in being able to execute those unnatural acts.

But when heated emotions are involved, things complexify in a flash, and the thoughtful, deliberate parts of our brains can get hijacked. These times demand more skills.

At its essence we can think of communication as sending and receiving. Between two people, ideally there is an alternation: one person sends, the other receives, then they switch roles, and so on. Again ideally, in each exchange the information received matches the intended information sent. This is what we refer to as “being on the same page,” or being in sync. Problems occur when the intended message is not received as such — the experience becomes frustrating. The frustrations grow, especially when these mismatches build up in both directions, and over time. This is compounded even more when the two people love each other, since that ups the ante for wanting and expecting to be received. Being received or not becomes a measure of how much we are loved.

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To be received is to be cared for, and vice-versa. And for those of us who were not received adequately in early life, it becomes all the more important.

When we are not received well, or well listened-to, we experience frustration and hurt. These emotions take over, and interfere with being able be good receivers ourselves. Most fights occur because one or both people are feeling unreceived, therefore unloved, and so they go into self-protective modes. These include defensiveness, attack, and/or withdrawal in futile attempts to ease the pain. Ironically, however, these self-protective modes only serve to perpetuate the mutual non-reception. Listening and understanding each other is what enables communication channels to stay open. Or if some damage has been done, listening and being responsive can open things back up again.

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The Catch-22 is that in getting louder and more forceful they actually are creating barriers to really hearing each other in a way that would settle things.

On first being asked what the most important thing about the conflict is for Latitia, she might say that the box be cleaned on time. This is the logistical, or practical level where many couples get stuck. At this level the argument is a power struggle. “You need to clean it on time” vs. “I’m not going to clean it on your schedule.” It goes nowhere. But drilling down a level, the reason Latitia wants it cleaned on time is that her sense of smell is more sensitive and so it affects her more than it affects Salmud.

It’s not what you say, it’s what the other person hears. If your message isn’t getting across, you need to do something different. And it might mean more listening!

Back to the ball analogy, imagine that the throws aren’t aimed well, but go off to the side so that the receiver has to go out of his or her way to get the ball. Or worse, the ball hits you when you’re not even looking! Which makes you want to hit the thrower back. You get the idea.

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Making sense of relationships.

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