The 5 Vital Points of Communication

I characterize constructive, healthy communication as "Engaged Detachment."

Engaged because firstly, you recognize that you are speaking with someone you care about, and so you remain connected, your heart and mind participating, and you don't hide behind a fa├žade of rationality or emotional distance.

Detached because you are keeping a little space between you and your possible combustible emotional flares. The bit of distance allows you to keep from getting reactive, hot under the collar, disengaged or defensive.

Engaged detachment allows you to focus on your "desired outcome."

A desired outcome in healthy, constructive communication is usually all or one of the following: to express your truth, really hear the truth of the other, get on and stay on the same team, learn from the conflict presenting itself, create new ways of relating or "ground rules" so you don't do the same pattern over again next time, and to have a better understanding of yourself and your partner at the end of the conversation.

Know that your ultimate goal in healthy, great communication is your desired outcome. Am I right to assume you rarely consider it? Keep your eye on the goal, rather than getting swept up into reactivity, anger, upset, shutting down, walking away, blame or lashing out. Hold your tongue back a bit in favor of your end game.

You have the ability – and responsibility – to steer any conversation toward your desired outcome, toward understanding, health and intimacy.

5 Vital Points for Constructive, Healthy Communication:

1. Deep, Spacious Listening

Humans have a deep need both to feel heard and to express what they are feeling and thinking. Your excellent listening provides the space not only for their self-expression but also for them to experience being heard in a profound way.

2. What You Heard, What They Said

What you hear is often a far cry from what the person intended. Since language is an approximation, we all interpret the same words in often vastly different ways. Sometimes it is necessary to separate what happened from the story you made up about what happened.

A good rule of thumb is to repeat back to your partner what you think they just said: "So, here's what I think I just heard you say. You are feeling/thinking."

Stopping to clarify in this way can save you so much of the pain that comes from the build-up of repeated misunderstanding.

3. Diffusing Reactivity

First off, consider that you might want to try and say it differently. If someone is responding as though they haven't heard you, no matter how many times you have said it before, they are not stupid, you have not said it in a way they can hear, and they simply have not heard you. Say it differently, using different words, tone or intention.

Want to know more ways to diffuse an upset or conflict? How to cool it all down enough to restore some rationality, create some space for some real communication? I thought you might.

There is no one right way to do this, but all ways require some patience, and the keeping of your end game – your desired outcome – in mind.

These are generalizations, since all men and women are different and unique, but for the grand majority, they hold true. And I hope it goes without saying that none of these will work unless they are 100% genuine and from your heart.

If you are talking to a woman:

  • Tell her that you love her. Often in an upset, a woman will feel that you no longer love her, or that because you are angry, she is losing your love.
  • Tell her that you are not leaving her. In a highly emotional and heated situation, especially if you walk away or become emotionally distant, women can become triggered and feel like you are leaving for good.
  • Make physical contact with her, like a touch or a hug. Physical contact is grounding and calming like nothing else, and reminds her of your presence. She will stop worrying that you are out of there, and will then be open to hear what you have to say.

If you are talking to a man:

  • Acknowledge him. Tell him some way he has touched you, impressed you, something he has done well. Thank him. This opens him up to let down his guard and hear you.
  • Consider your timing. Can he hear you right now or would you do better to wait until later?
  • Give him space. Sometimes guys need to take a long time to answer you, or they need to go away for a while and figure it out. If you give him space, he will come back with something great.
  • Give him a problem to solve. Guys come in to their element when there is a way for them to show up as a hero, when there is something that they can fix. Consider posing your communication in the form of a problem for them to solve.

By diffusing reactivity, the other person will not feel like you are suddenly the aggressor or opponent, but will feel like you still have their back.
When you are both on the same team, they are open to hear you and move forward with you.

4. Take Responsibility For Your Part

Check in: where's the truth in what they are saying?

As I mentioned before, in a conflict, there is always a lesson being tossed your way. There is always something to be learned, a way in which you can shift or grow. Don't miss it, or it will be back to bite you in the ass later. Where might they be pointing out a real issue, some nasty thing you do but don't want to admit you do?

Take responsibility, own up to it, cop to the thing they are consciously or unconsciously pointing out to you. Tell them, speak it, bring it up.

It might suck to do this. In fact, it usually really sucks, but it always brings you both to the next level in healthy communication. My dad, a mathematician and computer programmer, has an acronym for this phenomenon: AFGO. Which stands for, Another Fucking Growth Opportunity.

Need a refresher on the ins and outs of taking radical personal responsibility? Go to Taking Radical Personal Responsibility.

5. Co-Creating Language and Ground Rules

These are my favorite parts. I am big on learning from my mistakes so I don't keep doing them again.

Co-Creating Language:

I love the co-creation of shared language between me and my partner. It seems to me that our customized collection of short-hand, definitions, colloquialisms, mannerisms, signals, jargon and inside jokes is a full-on language, unique to us, in which we can communicate brilliantly and subtly with each other.

Co-Creating Ground Rules:

I also like the process of creating what I call "ground rules. These differ greatly from relationship to relationship. They are the co-created guidelines that you lay down to keep you both on track and on the same page, and that serve you both toward bringing and keeping you higher and closer.

Try asking your partner, "How can I do things differently so that this doesn't come up again? How can I communicate in a way that doesn't trigger this for you again, make you defensive, reactive, etc?"

This is a two way street, of course. Your partner needs to take responsibility and ask the same of you, as well. Ground rules don't work unless they are developed and adopted by both parties!

Want to go more into some of actual subjects of communication, the very reasons you are attempting to communicate in the first place? Go to The Nature of Vulnerability, Shame and Fear

Go to The Nature of Vulnerability, Shame and Fear
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