3 Ways to Dig Yourself Out of a Communication Hole

30 October, 2012

When you're in a hole, stop digging? How do you do that when you find yourself in a communicaiton hole with another person?

I am part of a Writer's Group (Wellington Writers & Wine) which is an informal, regular get together where we support each other with our writing. We were set the task of writing about something we were passionate about. I struggled for ages trying to pin it down to something and asking myself the question; what do I really care about, above and beyond everything else?

The answer for me personally is communication. I wrote my piece for the Writer's Group, and then cut and pasted it as a blog post.

It was a great exercise for me to get clarity around this passion - why it was the one thing I kept coming back to, and why do I care about it so much?

There is a simple answer to this: what I have observed over the years is the better communication flows, the better life flows. Life is simply better and easier when we communicate well with the people in our lives. Think of a time when communication with a certain person became difficult and frustrating - remember how much energy it took out of you?!

I invite you to take part in a little experience that can highlight this for you. Just follow the instructions step by step, and don't jump ahead:

  1. Remember a time when you were part of a relationship that felt great (not necessarily a romantic one) and a relationship which you valued. Perhaps one that felt easy, where there as a sense of trust, and that there was a robustness to that relationship, a safety, and one where you didn't have to pretend, you could just 'be yourself' - even at times when you weren't sure who that really was. Found one in your memory? OK, great.
  2. Now, in a moment, close your eyes and remember what it was about that relationship that made it was it was. What did it feel like to be around that person? What was possible? How did you relate to one another? What did you do when there was misunderstanding between you? What was it like when you had a problem to talk through? What specifically was it about them that made you value the relationship so much? Got some thoughts? OK, great.

If I were guessing I would say the relationship would have the following communicative elements in it:

  1. Listening - for the most part you felt heard and understood.
  2. Non-judgemental - you could say anything and you wouldn't feel judged. This would lead to a feeling of safety.
  3. Ways of resolving mis-understanding / conflicts. Even if it took a while you trusted that you'd get there in the end.
  4. Rapport. Easy to relate, a sense of flow and connection. The non-verbal side of communication, where you don't have to 'say' anything and still feel comfortable.

It's obviously not feasible to think we can develop these kinds of relationships with everyone. Some people have just a select few close to them, and perhaps have had those people in their lives a very long time. Some people seek close connections with a wide variety of people through travel or work. And, even though we all have different preferences and styles, there are times when a relationship is important. Perhaps not because you've chosen to have it in your life, but because it's been chosen for you (i.e. family, mother in law, manager, team mates, someone in your wider circle of friends). It's important to take care with these relationships, you don't need to seek a level of closeness if you don't want to, but remember the better the attunement - the better the communication flow - the better life flows.

If you recognise that this is something you could personally improve, I suggest practising the following:

  1. Think about them: If you approach a dog and it attacks you, it's scary. If you take a closer look, you might find the dog has its leg caught in a trap. There are no excuses for bad behaviour, especially behaviour which directly impacts you. However, when people are 'difficult' it usually means they are struggling and/or suffering in some way. Imagine what life might be like for them and seek to understand why they are the way they are.
  2. Think about you: Communication is absolutely a two-way street. Two people can start from equally reasonable and acceptable positions, and end up in an argument. It doesn't mean one is right and the other is wrong, it simply means there is a clash and a temporary glitch in attunement. Question yourself - what kind of impact does your communication have on them, that could cause them to react like that towards you? Did you come across as accusing, judgemental, defensive? Is there anything you might be able to adjust, that could make this flow better?
  3. Think about the relationship: When communication gets difficult between two people, it's easy to lose sight of what's important. Most people would prefer to develop mutually beneficial and harmonious relationships with those around them; it's just that this is hard to do, especially among our daily busy-ness. Take a moment to think: what's my outcome here? What do I actually want this relationship to be like? And what can I personally do to influence this outcome?

Actually being able to step outside of your own reactivity from time to time and think - what's it like for them? - is incredibly powerful. Most people don't cultivate the self-awareness or willingness to do this - so you will be a step ahead of most. This is a courageous thing to do.

If you need more tips, do a search on 'communication' on my blog page, you'll notice it's a popular topic and I tackle it from all kinds of angles - you might find something in there that works for you.

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Love, Charlotte.

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