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
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 back.
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 boundaries. In
relationships, boundaries should often be more like castle walls. They should
never be breached. Here is an example of where a boundary is needed.
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 boundary. 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 future