“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
By the age of two most humans are learning how to talk. However, some can go a lifetime without ever learning to really communicate. Communication is one of the biggest problems between couples, and between parents and teens. There may be lots of talking going on, but it is often “talking at” rather than “talking with.”
The word communication comes from the word “commune,” which means, to be in a state of intimate, heightened sensitivity and receptivity, as with one’s surroundings.
Humans are gifted with the ability to share meaning. This happens best when there is a heightened sensitivity and receptivity to what the other is saying. We see this during the honeymoon stage of a new relationship. Each hangs on every word of the other, and intimacy comes as each shows real understanding of the other. To truly see and know another is the deepest of all intimacies.
Of course it is ego that gets in the way, for when it has its own agenda it is not so interested in another’s point of view. Think how present and responsive we can be when listening to the trials of a friend. We have no real vested interest in how he or she views the situation or chooses to respond. We just want to be there and lend support.
However, when dealing with a spouse or teen, and there is a difference of opinion, it is another matter. The ability to listen with a supportive and receptive ear somehow disappears as ego is immediately on guard. Ready to attack or defend, there is no time to take up the cause of the opponent.
Ego gets into power, and what began as differing points of view becomes a win/lose contest. It is about challenging the views of the other, and making him or her wrong. Ego must do this, for if the other is right, then ego is wrong, and ego will not stand for that. Ego will argue for its “rightess” even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Fairness, respect, and validation of the other go out the window.
Often this is a long-standing pattern, and two people will fall into it almost without realizing it. Interestingly, even though both are contributing to the negative process, each will blame the other for being difficult. Unquestionably, the relationship suffers, and will not have the trust and closeness both would undoubtedly like.
There is a way out. It requires a conscious shift, and to stay conscious regardless of what the other says or does. It helps to set a goal of always making the relationship more important than the issue. Then, what is required is to establish some agreed upon process to use when discussing an issue. An example may be that each person gets to state his or her case without interruption or interrogation, and the listener repeats back the essence of what was said to ensure accurate understanding.
Once both sides of the issue are understood, it is not about trying to convince the other to agree or give in. This will only lead back to arguing and the rest of the negativity that comes with that. Rather, the next task is to work together to find a compromise or solution that will work. Whereas the old way had each reiterating his viewpoint and perhaps denigrating the other with escalating intensity, the new way shifts once each has stated his case. Having heard my way and your way, we now work as a team to find a “third way.”
This takes practice and mutual co-operation. If the process starts to derail it needs a time out. Reminding each other that the relationship is more important than the issue, and refusing to let ego jump in and take you out of integrity will assist in establishing a higher road.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning Psychotherapist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books or cds, visit www.gwen.ca