Dan Rasband

Communication and Relationships: Part 2

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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.

Safety

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.

Trust

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.

Boundaries

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 posts.

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