3 Key Communication Principles
You have good intentions, but sometimes communication hits roadblocks again and again. These roadblocks are often related to one of the following three key communication principles:
1) Choiceful for listening
3) Awareness of impact
Checking if someone is a willing listener meets needs for honor, choice, and effectiveness. When you ask someone if they are willing to listen, before you share something you honor yourself. Essentially you are saying, "I honor my own sharing by making sure it can be received." You also honor the other person's choice. In addition, when someone experiences respect for their choice, they can offer a greater quality of listening which then makes communication more effective.
Often context answers the question of whether someone is a willing listener. A quiet dinner with someone, for example, usually implies a desire for mutual conversation. In less clear situations, taking fifteen seconds to ask if someone is willing to hear you is definitely worth the effort. Some common situations in which explicitly asking for listening is particularly helpful include; transitions, approaching someone who's already engaged in task of their own, when you are expecting a certain kind of response, when you are about to share something vulnerable, complex, or tender, or when you are giving sensitive feedback.
In attachment research attunement specifically refers to attending to someone for the purpose of offering care. Used more broadly, attunement in communication can be thought of as attending to a level of communication beyond words. You are doing this unconsciously all the time. You read body language, tone of voice, eye contact, etc., continuously. The task here is to make this a conscious process. You can make this process more conscious by asking the following questions either of yourself or someone else (silently or aloud):
What is the purpose of the communication? In other words, what kind of response is expected? What needs are up? The most common mishap I see here is that one person shares a difficulty and is looking for empathy in return, but instead receives problem-solving or advice.
In what realm of experience is the communication occurring? Are you or the other person coming from a mental, physical, emotional or spiritual place? Most people have a default realm in which they spend most of their time. For example, if you are most often in an emotional realm of your own experience and your partner is most often in a cognitive realm, the two of you may experience a sense of missing each other again and again. For instance, you are excited to celebrate an opportunity to travel for work to the Bahamas, and your partner responds with a list of the practical obstacles regarding that trip. This is misattunement.
Awareness of Impact & Reception
A common assumption is that message sent is message received. Depending too much on this assumption, means you are less likely to attend to the what is happening with the other person as you share something. You don't see that the other person looked away while you spoke. You don't see the emotion on their face. Both of these could be indicators that your message didn't land as you intended. When you miss these cues, you not only aren't being heard, if you keep talking, you are likely triggering disconnect or irritation, thus creating more communication difficulty.
You may have the habit of checking on reception, by asking, "Does that make sense?" For simple things this might be fine. For complex or emotional content, this usually isn't enough. If the other person says yes, you still don't know what they heard. It's more effective to ask specific questions about how your communication was received. For example:
How did that land for you?
What comes up for you when I say that?
I am not sure I am clear, could tell me what you're getting from what I'm saying?
Could you tell me what you heard?
When I work with folks that are attempting to create this habit, the most common mistake I see is that they share too much before they check on reception. Sometimes this is a habit and sometimes they unconsciously track reactivity in the other person and then ramp up their communication with more words or a louder tone. By the time they ask what the other person has heard, all remnants of the original message have been lost. Essentially this ramping up is an attempt to take responsibility for the other person's reactivity. That's a tiring job and one you can't do. It's much easier to pause frequently and clear up misperceptions as they occur.
If you are experiencing difficulty, it's helpful to reflect on your communication using these three principles. You may find that one area needs more of your attention and mindfulness.
PracticeTake a moment now to reflect on a relationship in which communication is going well. Find a successful example of each of the three key principles named above.