Can We Talk?
How to Communicate as if Our Relations Depended on It
(Because they do!)
By Foster Gamble
Even as a child, I knew that yelling mean things at each other was unnecessary, and I often found myself breaking up fights or arguments. I could see and feel the potency of kindness, however I also could tell that just intending to be nice wasn’t enough to truly resolve my conflicts or those going on around me. So how could we be true to the intensity of what each of us felt and still honor the kindness we valued? When I got older I dedicated myself to discovering how relationships break down and how we can repair and maintain them.
Part of how this came to be was through my spending 15 years training and teaching in the nonviolent martial art of Aikido. I was really interested in figuring out how to translate the profoundly effective principles and practices of Aikido into daily life and into the realms where most of our conflicts really take place — in our thoughts, our emotions and in our communications with others.
I eventually spent six years studying communication skills and conflict resolution techniques with various teachers, reading books, attending workshops and practicing through many trials and errors in my own daily life. Eventually people began noticing some things that were working well in my relationships and asked me to share some of what I was learning. This led to my creating a course I called Interaction Dynamics that I ended up offering for another 15 years to couples, families, schools, and business teams in Silicon Valley — from startups and law firms to major companies like Intel and Hewlett-Packard.
What did I find? Basically, that how we are doing in our personal relationships is no less relevant to changing the world than getting rid of the Federal Reserve. Yet in intimate matters of the heart, where our emotions are most engaged, how our relations are doing deeply affects not only how we feel, but also how effective we can be. I discovered that there is in fact a discrete set of distinctions that are sufficient to clear the unnecessary blocks and breakdowns in a relationship — if each person involved is both willing and able to engage in and complete the process.
This is one of the subjects of a workshop Kimberly and I will be leading in Costa Rica in January. While there, among other topics, we will be unpacking the common pitfalls and tools for effective communication that we have found most useful.
Of course I can’t cover all of that in any significant depth here, but I can give you a taste of the critical insights and hopefully a sense of the relief and empowerment that comes with realizing that the pitfalls to successful communication are actually simple and few. This does not mean that they are easy to master, but realizing what they are — and that they are not unlimited — are huge and necessary steps toward the next level of joy and effectiveness in relationships.
Kimberly describes herself as having taken more of the bumper-car approach to learning about relationships, and has personal grounded examples of experiences that landed her here…in what she considers the most joyous and harmonious time in her life. I can personally attest that she is as clear, effective and compassionate a communicator as I have come across, and it deeply nurtures our love and co-creation. With my explorations, I gained a high level of skill in recognizing and facilitating the technicalities and process of communication and conflict resolution. More challenging for me has been to actually be in the feeling experience of my emotions, to express them vulnerably and to bring up unresolved issues in the first place. Kimberly continues to be a valuable and trusted teacher for me in these areas. We will both be sharing, as transparently as we can, what it feels and looks like to navigate staying true to ourselves while honoring each other, and what we are learning about cultivating a relationship that actually makes each of our lives better.
Most basically, healthy relationships depend on successful communication. Sustainable relationships — like sustainable ideas, communications, ecosystems or galaxies must be whole, by which I mean complete, true, and reflective of a fundamentally distinct and still unified dynamic…like the torus that is the blueprint for all enduring systems.
At the core of every conflict is an unfulfilled need, usually a miscommunication. I found that incomplete communication is the key culprit in destroying relationships.
Incomplete communications fall into a variety of categories that we will be discussing in more depth at the workshop, but I will list the 5 incompletion traps here. Relationships break down when a vital communication has been unintentionally or on purpose:
- INACCURATELY EXPRESSED
- RESULTS in an UNACCEPTED DISAGREEMENT
Subconsciously I believe we tend to avoid getting to completion in some of our interactions because doing so brings up the real and necessary choices: either find a true win/win solution, or compromise, or leave the relationship (or job) to find one where core needs can be truly fulfilled.
Here are glimpses of 5 of the 7 inaccuracy pitfalls that tend to stop the flow of supportive energy that I believe relationships need to thrive…
One example is using present-tense descriptions of past-tense events. This might seem trivial, nitpicky and “just semantics.” Actually I’ve found it’s just the opposite. This is the unintentional lying which drags debilitating patterns from our memories into the present and makes them into self-fulfilling prophecies.
- I am just not good at relationships (I didn’t used to be good at relationships in some ways)
- I am the type of person who blows it in crucial situations (In the past, sometimes I haven’t been my best self in some crucial situations)
- Let’s face it, I am just an angry type of guy. (In the past, I was often angry.)
Another kind of incomplete communication happens using words that reflect feelings when we are actually describing thoughts.
- I feel that you should have answered her differently.
(More accurately) — “I think it would have worked out better if you had let him know you heard him before jumping in with your disagreement.”
- It’s my feeling that guys should spend more time in the kitchen.
(More accurately) — “I would appreciate if you help out more in the kitchen”
Another example of incomplete, and inaccurate, communication is using sentences that begin with “you”. We can speak accurately about our own thoughts, feelings, requests and promises, but cannot effectively presume to do so for others. In fact, trying to do so usually just triggers resentment in others.
- You make me feel bad because you don’t anticipate my needs.
(More accurately) — “I would like you to be more sensitive to what is going on with me.”
- You are just upset that I don’t do everything your way.
(More accurately) — “I hear that you are feeling sad about my being away at work so much.”
- You should just get it together, because you are ruining our relationship.
(More accurately) — “I am working on trying to meet your needs better in ways we’ve discussed. Will you listen to and work on my requests of you as well?”
And still another ineffective communication trap happens when we use questions that are actually statements. This just serves to offend the person with whom we are speaking.
- How could you be so inconsiderate?
(More accurately) — “I feel angry about your not calling when you know you are going to be late for our meetings.”
- Where do you come off treating me like that?
(More accurately) — “I feel sad about the way you are treating me.”
- How dare you accuse me of that?
(More accurately) — “Yes, I did do what you are saying, and I am sorry. I won’t do that again.” (or…“No, I did not do that.”)
And, then, there’s the common and unsuccessful “always/never” trap.
The words “always” and “never” are usually inaccurate, and they are often a tip-off to a statement that is intended as an attack rather than as a real communication.
- You are always leaving your socks in the sink.
vs. I have been noticing your socks in the sink, and I would like it if you would not leave them there.
- I am never sensitive enough to people’s feelings.
vs. Sometimes I have not been as sensitive as I would like to have been to other people’s feelings.
- You always want me to change but you never look at yourself.
vs. Would you be willing to discuss your part in this as well as mine?
CYCLE OF EMOTIONS
When I looked into the energy dynamics of our language for the cycle of emotions, I discovered that the vast majority of words we conventionally use in English to describe what we are feeling — are not actually feelings at all! They are descriptions of past events done to us by the power of an outside influence. That is why they mostly end in “ed.”
When trying to express our feelings authentically with “ed” words — like pissed, irritated, outraged, dejected and shocked — we give away our power to something or someone else, instead of accessing our own live feeling responsibly. Such “ed” words assure that we get to blame an external source and they suppress our true feeling — keeping us from the vital freedom and power of honoring and owning our inner life.
If we communicate as if someone pissed us off — rather than that we are angry, depressed rather than sad, or freaked out rather than afraid — we miss out on the power we have to experience and transform a feeling no matter what happens outside of us.
SOLUTION: Successful communication
So then, what can we do to achieve responsible and complete interactions?
Though there are endless subtleties to the spectrum of feeling, I found it very useful to work with what I call the “primary colors” of the emotional palette: Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger and Apathy. These are the root feelings which all kinds of “ed” words inadvertently cover up — muddying the palette of honest, inarguable communication and suppressing our natural, alive, motive force into apathy. Depression is just that — the life force depressed by physical holding, blaming thoughts and stifled communication.
Here’s a visual effects clip that we created showing how the all-important cycle of emotions tends to work. Knowing that experiencing your contractive emotions fully and responsibly frees your emotional body to spend more time in the expansive emotions of excitement, joy and bliss gives anyone good reason to become masterful at allowing your life force — your motivation — to flow powerfully.
The rewards are immediate when we learn how to access and speak from these primary emotions. We can also learn to listen with great care and to authentically re-create the other’s messages within ourselves and let them know that we have. We can learn to assess and share our emotions responsibly and authentically. We can learn to speak in accurate and unarguable terms. We can practice how to share, acknowledge, forgive, nurture, cooperate and love one another ongoingly.
You can find a workbook I wrote outlining the full Interaction Dynamics course in the Solutions section of our website.
Kimberly and I sincerely hope to see you in Costa Rica. There will be plenty of time to just hang out and explore these relationship topics as well as how understanding the state of the world informs our solutions with health, energy and money. We will finish with a dedicated session on the “Thrive liberty perspective applied.” Check availability soon if you are interested because there are just a few spaces left.
THRIVING — UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
DATES: JANUARY 8–14, 2017
- Creating Successful Relationships — Communication, Co-creation and the Way of Harmony
- What’s Really Going On & What We Can Do About It — How Understanding the State of the World Informs our Solutions with Health, Energy and Money
- True Freedom Within and Without — The Thrive Liberty Perspective Applied
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