Relationships: Effective Communication | Elegant Navigation
Part 2: The Solutions (1100 words, average reading time: 4.5 minutes)
[Part 1 can be found HERE]
I have a very simple approach to relationships, that avoids most, if not all, of the problems outlined in the interpersonal conflicts above. It is the philosophical grounding I take on in all of my relationships explicitly:
- Realize—and accept—the fact that no one way of approaching relationships, communication, or conflict is the “right way”. That there is no consensus agreement or reality except that which you form with the Other. They are simply different styles…therefore take this on as an organizing principle and act accordingly:
- Give the other person the freedom to be however they want; to be self expressed free from attempts to control them or suppress them
- Give yourself the freedom to be fully self-expressed—to be your authentic self
- In the event that one person’s behavior upsets the other, the person who is upset makes a clear request to alter the offending behavior
- If they accept the request, you now have an agreement
- If they decline the request, you now know what to expect from them and have more understanding of each other’s approach to the world
- Forge an agreement with the other that this is the way you will approach relationships and conflict
It gives both parties maximum freedom to be themselves. It treats both parties like adults who are responsible for their own experience—and can express their needs. Everything is on the table and at face value. There is no second-guessing. There is no ambiguity. There are no guessing games or “game playing”.
And really, holding someone accountable to agreements they have not made—in the form of your unstated expectations—is simply unjust. It is also supremely arrogant, in that it assumes that “well, everybody knows that you should…” which can be translated at a deeper level of its assumption is “my way of doing relationships is the global standard”.
Your way of doing it may be more effective—and may even be more enjoyable for both parties if accepted by and engaged in by both parties—but it is not the only way to do it, and in the absence of an explicit consensus or agreement reality, you must create one.
As I said, it is simple. However, it is not easy.
There are several things you must do and develop efficacy with for this approach to work and work well for both parties. There is also a very effective way to communicate through those upsets before making your request (the last bullet point above). We’ll get to that in a few minutes.
First, here is what you must do:
Take on the recommended philosophical grounding and approach outlined in the bullet points above.
Take responsibility. Don’t do it for them, or for the other person. Do it for yourself—as your esteem for yourself will expand and grow each time you accept responsibility. Your sense of self expands. It also has the effect of allowing people who are emotionally mature enough to follow suit and take responsibility for their part in it—rather than polarizing, blaming each other, and digging your heels in—to the detriment of the relationship and/or for the thin gruel of short-term ego inflation (as opposed to healthy egoic expansion, which occurs, again, by taking responsibility).
Engage in as many other practices as possible to build true and healthy esteem for the self. It is your immune system for your emotional life.
Make a firm decision to practice and exercise your facility with self. At a bare minimum, know that even if your interpretations of what is occurring are mostly accurate, they are at least incomplete. Always look to include more information in your world-view. Expand your perspective.
More advanced practices to exercise your internal facility would be to consider:
- How else could the events/their actions be interpreted?
- Where else could the person be coming from?
- What else—besides your disempowering interpretation/projection/guess—could be their motivations? Their intent? Their outcome?
- What could their positive intent be?
- Step into their shoes. What could their experience of you be right now? Is it positive? Neutral? Negative? What else is going on right now for them that is straining their resources?
- What emotion is underneath their communication—and speak directly to and validate that before getting to facts and agreements
Take on a responsible and conscious model for communicating your emotions, expectations, and for requesting an agreement around styles.
All three of those can be addressed by one simple model—in 4 steps. For this, I borrow heavily from Dr Marshall Rosenberg’s work. Here is my suggested approach to communicate upset and negotiate an agreement:
- State the emotion responsibly [“responsibly” is explained below in step 1]
- Take responsibility for the unstated/un-agreed-to expectation
- Make a request
- Get an answer
Let me provide an example of the kind of language to accomplish this, mapped to the steps, with some guidelines. Let’s take an innocuous example of someone not calling you and they then arrive 20 minutes late [recommended language in bold]:
- I am noticing I am experiencing anger [or worry, or frustration, or ____________”… [not “you made me angry”, “It pisses me off when you do that”, etc. Not everyone would be angered by it. It is your interpretation and your expectation causing the upset—not some external force or person;
- That’s because I have an expectation that people will call if they are going to be more than _____ minutes late…
- So my request is that from now on, if you are going to be more than _____ late that you call and let me know.
- Is that something you are willing to agree to…or not? [yes and no must both be fine answers, otherwise it is a demand/boundary declaration, not a request. Give them the freedom to say no]
This model can be used with any situation between two people where there is emotional upset present to elegantly and rapidly move through it.
And…to turn this in on itself, you could use this very model to get agreement around using this model. In fact, I highly recommend you do that.
How? Here is the model used to get agreement around the model:
- I am noticing I am frustrated by the way we have been communicating when we are upset or in conflict
- That’s because I have an expectation that it could be done in a way that would honor us both, while moving through it rapidly
- So my request is that from now on, when we are upset, we use this simple 4-step process when we are upset [show them the model—heck, show them this article]
- Is that something you are willing to agree to…or not?
If there is an actual agreement in place that was broken, there is another equally facile way to move through that…but I will save that for another time.
Some people have protested, “but this takes so much consciousness” or “so much awareness” or “but they should just know that…”
You have to choose for yourself if the relationship—intimate or friendly or professional—is worth increasing your consciousness and your skill. And it is a skill to navigate both your own interiors as well as the conflict using these approaches and models. Since it is a skill it will take practice—and give yourself the freedom to stumble until you become skilled at it.
What awaits you on the other side is fulfilling relationships based on clarity and truth—rather than assumptions and delusion—as well as the ability to rapidly move through conflict so that it takes just minutes, rather than days—or, frankly, never—to do so. AND these are approaches and skills that will serve not only you, but all of those around you in every single context and every relationship in your life.
Do it for yourself, if nothing else.
I think you’re worth it. I trust you do as well.
For more clarity and resources on the critical component of self-esteem, see Dr Nathaniel Branden’s work in general, and his Six Pillars of Self Esteem in particular. Here is an article to get you started.