Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.
Rollo May, noted American psychologist
I use that title just because if you are of a certain age, you remember it well from the movie "Cool Hand Luke" - it's one of the 10 most famous movie lines. It is also what causes a lot of stomach knots, divorces, lost jobs, failed businesses, and even some plane crashes.
Good interpersonal communications are essential and yet it seems we are getting worse at them. Some say it is because of the pandemic, politics, or technology. I don't know the answer to why it is getting worse, but I know how we can make it better.
We start and end with a very simple premise. All parties need to respectfully show up and be involved.
When we cannot, or will not, adequately express our thoughts, emotions, needs, and wants in a respectful way to others, we are hiding. Here is how hiding sounds.
You: “What do you want to do today, honey?”
Your spouse: “Oh I don’t know, whatever.”
Consider that you could be overusing a hiding style of communication if these are true of you: You rarely give negative feedback to someone even if you think it would help them; you always try to avoid controversy; people frequently ask you what you are thinking.
Those of us who overuse hiding may think that it is safe, but there are dangers.
Leadership consultant, Michael Useem, who wrote the book, Leading Up, chronicles a number of disasters which could have been prevented if certain people would have spoken up. Usually the hiders were in subordinate positions and fearful of castigation.
Hiding doesn’t feel good. If you feel you cannot express yourself, you become annoyed. Unhealthy hormones flood your body and upsets your immune system. You can’t think straight. You feel lonely because you cannot authentically connect with others.
Sometimes when we decide to stop our hiding we flip to another major communication problem, dominating. In contrast to hiding, when we cannot, or will not, hear what others are attempting to express, we may be steam-rolling others or dominating in our communication style.
A dominating communication style is more than not listening. It is so vigorously pushing for our agenda that we purposely disrespect or inadvertently drown out others. It might sound like this at home.
You: "You need to enjoy the outdoors. When we retire, we should fish as much as possible. It will be really good for you. I have several places in mind."
Your spouse: "But I am not sure that I want to fish."
You: " Of course you do. You just need to get out there and try it. August will be the best time to go to Nootka Sound. I have told the lodge to book us. We might even see whales."
We may think that a dominating style is efficient and effective but an overuse of the dominating style also has dangers.
We lose much when we are dominating. We lose potentially valuable information and talent. We lose connection. Dominating styles often de-motivate others. Goals which were never truly endorsed by others are not readily and enthusiastically achieved.
Are you overusing a dominating style? If you argue for the merit of your ideas at length or most people would say that you can be blunt, perhaps even abrasive, then you are overdoing it.
Strong interpersonal communications are a mutually respectful free flow of information among all parties. No one is hiding or dominating. Dialoguing might sound like this.
You: "I have been thinking about how much I enjoy fishing. Do you think you would be interested in doing more fishing yourself when we retire?"
Your spouse: "Actually I would rather spend more time with the grandchildren."
You: "Well it could be fun to brainstorm ways of putting fishing and seeing the grandchildren together. What do you think?"
(Before you ask, the answer is “no” – my husband and I do not always sound like that. Both of us have been known to hide and dominate at the worst possible times).
Suppose we recognize the merit of good communication and we want to give up some of our hiding and dominating ways, what can we do?
Interpersonal communication has many layers of subtlety and complexity. Many books have been written about this subject. Accept that this will be a life-long learning. Change requires accurate self-awareness, awareness of others, and practice.
We can learn to better recognize the signs of hiding, dominating, and good communications. We can keep ourselves motivated by remembering the dangers of hiding and dominating. We can evaluate ourselves after our conversations or during conversations that seem to be going off track. If we are really daring and determined, we can invite others to give us feedback.
Keep in mind these two questions to set your intentions before your conversations: Am I respectfully showing up so that others can understand and connect with me? Am I making it easy for others to show up so I can understand and connect with them?
Learning how to express ourselves as well as helping others express themselves leads to feeling good and doing well with friends, family, and colleagues.
How might we improve your interpersonal communications skills and Journey together to The Good Life?
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