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Communication Information for Relationships

Relationships with others act as a reflection of the relationship we have with ourselves. Our fears and judgments affect how we see, hear, and perceive others. An example would be if you have a fear of rejection in any form. Your subconscious will always be on the alert, filtering the information it receives to see if there is any risk of being rejected. If it sees any potential for rejection, real or not, it will cause you to go into a defensive mode where you protect yourself from that perceived potential risk.

Another good example of typical miscommunication is if a person has a tendency to feel offended by the actions or words of others. If you were to take a closer look at that, you would see a person who lives with fear. They have been so deeply hurt that when they observe the actions of others, they are on the alert to prevent themselves from being hurt again.

Fear complicates your communication with others, since you lose your ability to see a situation clearly. When you look at the list of issues that an average person has, whether they are aware of them or not, you can see how easy it is for miscommunication to happen. And we all have issues and fears.

The main problem with fear-based perceptions is that almost anything can be viewed as a potential risk, so that a person can regularly be emotionally triggered and react. This happens during encounters with the outside world as well with encounters within close relationships. For most people, the closer the relationship, the higher the risk of getting hurt.

From a practical perspective, when we hear a person speak, that person’s original intentions are rarely understood precisely as they were meant. If you really think about it, all people have a specific, personalized understanding of any particular word. We also have an emotional connection to each word. When a sentence is created, that string of words ends up having a slightly different meaning to you than to another person. Make up a paragraph consisting of many sentences and we start to get even further apart in what that long sequence of words precisely means to us.

Now add to the equation tone of voice and body language. The possible meanings explode exponentially, depending on our experiences and resulting associations as children. Each and every word has a distinct emotional connection from our past. It takes some work to become aware of this and to learn how to change the meanings, or better yet, to not have any meanings in reaction to what we hear or see.

When we are in a relationship, we need to stay aware of how we give meaning to things based on our pasts. It is not uncommon for one person to be speaking and for the listener to be preparing their response while listening. That is a reactive type of communication where the listener has stopped listening by the action of actively thinking. It is hard to follow two conversations at the same time in any circumstance; it is no different just because the other conversation is in your head!

Learning better communication involves becoming aware of the different ways in which we create additional meaning to actions and words. When you get upset with someone for what they have said or done, you do so because in your mind, you are sure you are right about what the meaning of those actions or words are. Yet that “fact” is only based on your personal experiences and associations. Your experience, while true for you, is not true for the person you are interacting with. You do not have enough information or facts about that person to judge them or to create factual meaning for them.

Your “facts” are based on your assumption that the present experience has a relationship to your past ones. Yet it does not. Each and every moment you experience is unique and only has the meaning that you give it. Can you see how when you go into reaction over something that you are creating meaning that is not really there? You are only assuming you know the intentions of the person you are interacting with and generally speaking, our assumptions are usually wrong.

When you do communicate with others, watch to see where you make assumptions about what something means to you. Watch to see how you are applying meaning out of your own past experiences and associations. When you notice even a remote chance of this happening, take a long deep breath, step back, and stop reacting. Then ask the person you are communicating with to clarify what they mean.

This gives the other person an opportunity to describe their experience to you more clearly. Can you put yourself in that other person’s shoes even for a moment? Try to keep yourself out of the picture while you listen. What you are hearing has nothing to do with you, but everything to do with the other person. What kind of experiences did they have in their past that influences how they communicate now? What kind of fears or concerns might they have that motivate their words and actions?

When you look at other people in this way you develop a deeper understanding of others and most importantly, of yourself. In other words, you develop more compassion. Imagine being able to have an experience where you simply observe and not react. Imagine being able to see what is happening so clearly that you can grasp what motivates the other person’s behavior. You don't have to react. If you do, you are creating meaning that is not really there.

Practice this new type of communication with your partner, family, friends, coworkers, strangers; anyone you come into contact with. You can even practice this as you watch a movie or TV. Watch your emotional reactions to what you see or hear, identify how your interpretations are based on your past associations, and then see if you can create a different meaning for what you see.

As Sherlock Holmes once said: "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

Ewa Schwarz

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