A couple of days ago I wrote a post about communication and
relationships. I talked about the most important aspect of good
communication: active listening. Today I’m going to get into some more
advanced issues regarding communication: safety, trust, and borders.
If you want to have successful communication with someone, they must
feel safe talking with you. Most people feel a general sense of safety
when talking about normal, everyday things with friends and
acquaintances. When these same people find them in a situation where
they need to express emotions or otherwise talk about something that
makes them feel vulnerable, that feeling of safety becomes so much more
important. And if the situation changes and that feeling of safety is
ruined, it can damage the relationship or make it very difficult for
that person to open up again.
Let me give you an example of a good way to destroy communication safety
for a relationship:
Wife: “Honey, when you go on business trips I feel like I don’t matter
to you because you never call me.”
Husband: “What’s your problem? I’m out there making money for you and
all you can do is complain!”
Maybe this is a bit of a contrived example, but the main point here is
that the wife expressed her emotions, placing herself in a vulnerable
position, and the husband invalidated her emotion and attacked her.
Don’t do this.
Safety comes from validation. It comes from a consistent pattern of
active listening. It comes from completing difficult conversations
without turning them into fights or attacking the other individual.
By the way, what do I mean by validation? Validation is the process of
proving or recognizing that something is true and valid. So when you get
a parking validation, it is essentially showing that you are a valid
customer of that institution and worthy of receiving a parking discount.
In conversation, validation is recognizing that the other person’s
emotions are true. People can be wrong, and they can misunderstand, but
when a person has an emotion and expresses it, you had better believe
that to that person in that moment, that emotion is as true as anything.
You can recognize and validate that person’s emotions by actively
listening and trying to understand what emotion s/he is trying to
express. You can simply say, “Oh, you feel sad about …” or whatever it
may be. Over time, consistent validation of the other person’s emotions
will increase the feeling of safety, and communication will improve.
Another huge aspect of communication is trust. Trust is built over
time through consistency in action. At its most basic level, it means,
Are you going to do what you said you were going to do? As you follow
through on promises day after day, week after week, month after month,
and year after year, that trust will increase and make communication
and your relationship improve.
I talked in my last post about a trust bank. I want to re-iterate that
analogy here because it seems to work so well. Each relationship you
have has a trust bank that you both have access to. There are two
accounts: one for each of you. When something difficult comes up in the
relationship, a virtual withdrawal of that trust is often needed. When
funds are insufficient, the relationship suffers. When there are enough
funds, however, the relationship can actually quickly earn back that
trust and more. Frequent withdrawals from that trust account can
eventually deplete the reserves, though, so be wary of that.
I think the trust bank is especially important for children and their
parents and then employees and their bosses. It always goes both ways.
When a kid has been consistently doing his homework, following his
parents’ counsel and rules, and otherwise been doing what she’s supposed
to, her parents are going to allow her to do things that a lot of other
kids would never be trusted to do. And when a parent consistently
validates his child’s emotions, goes to his games, and spends quality
time with him, that kid will be able to open up more easily and let the
parent guide and direct his actions.
Without trust in a relationship, communication is very difficult because
someone is always expecting the other to attack or to stab them in the
Some relationships, though, are pretty much beyond repair, at least in
the short term. This is where a defensive strategy can help both parties
in the relationship. And that defensive strategy is to set up borders.
In relationships, borders should often be more like castle walls. They
should never be breached. Here is an example of where a border is
Your father-in-law always makes fun of your job. You’ve told him that it
hurts you and tried to help him understand that you don’t want him to
say stuff like that, but his remarks are incessant.
So what do you do? You could get angry and yell at him. That’s not going
to improve the relationship, though. You could just keep trying to help
him understand you feelings, but he might already understand them. Maybe
he wants you to hurt because he also hurts about his career.
This is when you set up a border. When your father-in-law (or whoever it
may be that is hurting you) starts making fun of you, you just leave.
You might want to say, “I’m leaving because I don’t deserve this kind of
treatment, not because I don’t want to talk to you or because I hate
you.” And then you walk away. This is a pretty drastic measure, but at
times it is needed.
In the long run, hopefully that person will figure out that you won’t
listen to his/her hurtful words, so they’ll stop. Then trust and safety
will (probably slowly) increase and the relationship will improve.
Hopefully some of these communication methods will help you improve your
relationships. There’s still a lot more, so maybe I’ll share more in