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Relationships: Effective Communication | Elegant Navigation
Part 1: The Problem (1346 words. Average reading time: 6 minutes)
In the global marketplace of cultures, ideas, relationships, and business strategies, we can no longer say that there is one way to “do relationships” or that there is an “is-ness” to what form they should take.
There simply is no global—or even local—consensus around relationships—if there ever was.
Whether we are speaking about arranged marriages still common on the other side of the globe in India, gay marriages—legal in some countries and some U.S. States or other alternative forms of relating from polyamory, or other non-traditional, non-monogamous relationship forms, we can certainly say that what is considered an acceptable form of relating is massively expanding in scope.
Whether you agree or disagree with those life-style choices, it is undeniable that the very idea of relationship is in evolution both morally and culturally. Not to mention in practicality—in form.
And yet …
And yet, most people still cannot seem to even navigate the waters of traditional relationships with facility and elegance. Even many friendships are not always fulfilling and conflicts are rarely navigated effectively—if at all. Sadly, many marriages and intimate romantic relationships often hobble along until people are just in a habit, not a relationship. They’re still “together” on the surface, but the reality, truth, intimacy, and dynamism faded—or died—long ago.
They are in a habit, not an actual relationship.
There are certainly exceptions to this. Both in relationships and in society as a whole. We have individuals and small “intentional” communities who have it as one of their stated values to become facile at navigating the waters of relationships—including conflicts and misunderstandings that arise, as well as their internal, individual, personal emotional upset or “charge” that comes along with it—with skill, ease, and a good degree of elegance.
But even after more than 40 years of the rise and expansion of the human potential movement, these are exceptions, not rules. Heck, they are often not even expected standards, let alone the rule.
But it could be so.
We can all have fulfilling, harmonious relationships. Even in conflict, there are philosophical approaches as well effective communication models that, if take on, can fulfill on this possibility—and make it a reality.
So…what are they?
First, let’s look at some of the common problems that arise. And then, together, we will examine some simple solutions.
Many of dynamics within inter-personal problems and/or conflicts can be summed up thusly:
Why are people dishonest? Several reasons seem to occur most frequently:
Why do people blame others? Oh, so many reasons, but a few common reasons are:
Why do people resist—sometimes at great cost interpersonally and in terms of intimacy—taking responsibility?
Sadly, people think that responsibility equals blame or fault, but they are actually separate matters. Responsibility really means just that—being able to respond. To engage. To resolve. To accept your part in it. When they collapse fault and blame with taking responsibility, they avoid it like the plague, lest they experience guilt and/or shame around it. Unfortunately, the other person in the equation is often all too willing to assist the other in feeling guilt or shame for egoic reasons—or to extract their pound of flesh, their pint of blood.
While I certainly do not want to oversimplify these complex and multi-faceted issues, we could say that all of those items can boil down to one core cause: insufficient esteem for the self; a lack of healthy and appropriate ego development. Except in the case of actual physical abuse, there is no reason other than a lack of esteem for yourself—knowledge of your competence to communicate it and your belief that you deserve to be happy—to explain it. AND, in the case of actual physical abuse, if the individual is staying in that system—and therefore participating in it—we can trace it to the same core: a lack of esteem for the self; that they deserve better and take action to make it so.
Without boring you by vivisecting all of those problem dynamic bullet points let’s cut to the quick of it: we could trace all of the problems in relationships down to 4 basic common denominators, 3 of them completely resolvable, and the 4th, quite often possible to resolve:
We will address solutions to items 1, 2, and 3 in Part 2. For a partial examination of the 4th item, I will point you to another article on that subject HERE on my legacy site.
You can proceed to Part 2 of this article: The Solutions HERE.
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:
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:
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:
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]:
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:
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.
[Validation (V) ::: Worth | Referencing (R) ::: Efficacy]
Internal and external locus
If we combine Dr Nathaniel’s definition of self-esteem—that is that self-esteem has two integral and inseparable—yet equally important and parallel—components:
…with another multi-dimensional idea ::: that the “high self-esteem” and “low self-esteem” binary representation is inadequate to accurately explain some behaviors and behavioral choices, and we look at where the individual’s attention is, then we begin to create a richer and deeper—and therefore more accurate signifier—a more accurate representation of esteem for the self.
I prefer that phrase, that is: esteem for the self, to the more common phrase “self-esteem” for two reasons:
The sad part is that what most of the “experts” in academia call “self-esteem” is simply not self-esteem, but rather “other-esteem”. This can border on the absurd when supposed experts call for an end to competition. Or, an end to grades in school.
Given that our esteem for the self is our immune system for life, it must be tested, so it can grow, respond, and develop the metaphoric antibodies to the hardships of life. While I am far from competitive, I am glad it existed in my upbringing. Grades. Martial Arts training, science contests, spelling bees, etc.
Anyway … to bring a richer texture to the conversation … in the above figure we have 4 basic locations or orientations to esteem for the self. Internal / external and validation / referencing.
Below are some relatively raw notes on the quadrants above, but more importantly, below that is a table that lays out some of the misconceptions about what it means to have true esteem for the self. For those of you who know me to be a proponent of stage conceptions, this is not in conflict with an egoic stage conception, but it would overly complicate the conversation for mass consumption to add another dimension in this writing.
If you are curious about how this quadrant-based model would interact with a stage conception for egoic development, shoot me an email … ok:
With no further ado:
UPPER LEFT ::: If someone is Internally validated [VI] and they are externally referenced [RE] then we have the ideal situation; someone who is internally validated, and therefore “immune” at a core level from the opinions of others—yet also externally referenced, meaning they care about gathering feedback from the outside world and from others—so they can continually become more effective, and—if need be—adjust their behaviors. This quadrant is the healthiest of the quadrants. Those grounded in this quadrant will be happiest, more at ease with themselves, interact more effectively with others, and produce better results in the real world.
UPPER RIGHT ::: Internally validated and internally referenced. Not ideal. They truly do not care about the opinions of feelings of others—and do not need them, but simultaneously they do not notice their impact or care about their impact. You could call this person the empowered idiot. Unaware entirely.
LOWER LEFT ::: Externally validated and externally referenced. This person is constantly contorting themselves to whomever is around them, based on subtle or gross cues, but they are also dependent on the opinion of others to feel good about themselves. They try to be everything for and to everybody. I jokingly refer to this quadrant as “hell”. They will never feel good about themselves as they are never in touch with themselves—and do not even know who they are—and their feelings will shift like the wind upon the whims or preferences of others.
LOWER RIGHT ::: Externally validated but internally referenced. This person is desperate for people’s attention, their validation and praise, yet is inner-focused and not able to adjust to cues. Imagine them seeking approval, and constantly bumping into walls and people all the time. Desperate for approval. Never quite able to do the right thing to get it. Let's call this quadrant "purgatory".
Pseudo Self-Esteem; Myths Of Self-Esteem
True Esteem For The Self [The Truth About Self-Esteem]:
People with “high self esteem” are egotistical or arrogant. They are always proving something to others or to themselves. They talk about how great they are all the time
Have supreme, unshakeable, yet quiet confidence; they know when they are good at something and know they are fundamentally “OK” and have nothing to prove—not even to themselves. They have no need to talk about how good they are at what they do: for them it is simple fact.
People with high self-esteem do not admit their mistakes—or admit them more slowly than others, as they are unwilling to admit they screwed up.
People with his esteem for themselves can and do admit their wrongs and faults and their mistakes quickly as it “means” nothing about them. They are more concerned with efficacy than how they “look”.
Others can somehow “hurt” your self esteem
Are internally validated, so others opinions, while important for efficacy, has no effect on true esteem for the self [otherwise, it would be called “other-esteem” rather than “self-esteem”
People with high self-esteem do not care about what other people think or about others’ feelings
Want to know how they are impacting others-both positively and negatively-as they are willing to adjust their behaviors; efficacy above all
It’s bad for most children’s self esteem to “lose” in a competition [as there is always “winner” and a “loser” and far fewer [and often only one] “winner”.
Are just fine losing, but rather have the mind-set around acquiring more skill/developing further, and look forward to the next opportunity to “compete:” yet have no need or desire for competition as such
Need people to like them or need them
Are fundamentally at peace and love themselves absent any acknowledgement, praise, or need from others; they eschew dependency of others or idolization from others
Thrives on the praise of others
Have no desire for the praise of others, but takes note of what the other prefers for the practical purposes; for the sake of eficacy
Until next time ...
In Warmth and In Service ...
One of the CLC3 Apprentices recently asked me a very important question.
He asked about the problem of becoming attached to the outcomes of the client--in other words, “what happens if they do not achieve them? What happens if they do not hold up their end of the bargain [doing homework, reading, etc.], and what does that mean about us? How do I avoid this problem—and the discomfort of it all”.
“And what happens if--even worse, they have already paid in advance in full and it becomes clear they are not keeping up with the milestones that are necessary as sign-posts on the way to their destination we call 'goals' or 'outcomes'? What do we do?”
This is an important question and it has a several-part answer. It is important because it comes up for most coaches and practitioners; at some point you really, really want XYZ for the client. Yes, they must be outcomes the client wants [not outcomes you see they "need" but they do not resonate with] but even still, with their outcomes we get emotionally engaged--we care--and we want them to have XYZ really badly.
Part of the challenge is that we are not responsible for the lives of our clients--we can't be. They would get less out of the process if we were; at best, we would actually be inhibiting their growth if we take on that responsibility. They might blame us; they would take less responsibility for creating the life they want and deserve. It could become the coaches "fault" or for some, the coaching [or whatever you call the process] will be just another thing that did not work for them, etc.
And we created that with our attachment.
So the first part of the answer is to make clear to the client--practically--that we are not responsible for their life; that they are. How do we do this? We write it directly into the client-coach agreement that they "are responsible for the results of their life, business, relationship", etc. And given how some people can be when they are making large life-altering decisions, we review the agreement and then we further clarify and have them initial each paragraph while reviewing it with them to make sure we have done our due diligence as a practitioner in making sure they understand the nature of the relationship is one of trusted adviser--nothing more—and that they understand the agreement in full.
That is the practical aspect.
What about the interpersonal aspect? The actual coaching dynamic? Because you see, to complicate matters if you seem attached [that is you start become emotionally attached to their outcomes, you may engage them in a way that has them polarize, dig in, and resist you--and they start to resist you in ways that will not serve the process overall.
Or worse--they do not do their "homework"--whatever that may be or represent--and they are scared to tell you. In the worse cases they may simply go missing in action. Or they become dishonest.
This is simply another reason I am not a "coach" I am a "Guide" and that approach is something I am careful to embody in every interaction--they do not do their "homework" I communicate to them--with a compassionate smile and a shrug--that I want them to get their outcomes. That I care; and I may even ask them how they best want to be supported. How they want to be held accountable--and I have them design the dynamic.
I have found this softer approach--with nothing for them to resist or push back against--is far more effective than any hard-nosed techniques by far.
Finally [and at times most importantly] is our own development as we, as practitioners, continue our path: who we are is not the results we assist clients in achieving [both positive, amazing over-the-top goals as well as "failures". Who we are is not that.
Those are the results we assist them in producing, to be sure, and we are professionally responsible for that, but who we are is that which is experiencing it all. Who we are is that Witness; that locus of awareness. And as we come from that place, we will be even more effective, they will feel more freedom to expand and grow within that gentle, ever-present embrace. From that place, where universal beauty unfolds, we are reminded why we do what we do--for that expansion. And within that expansion a better, more joyous, more beautiful world awaits us all.
One of the aspects of working on and in the context of personal evolution is that I am constantly in evolution in both senses of the word--"in it", as in exploring the context and in the process of my own personal evolution as well--because you see, it is never over. Our evolution, which is really about allowing the greatest depths of ourselves to unfold and manifest in the world, is never over--because our depths are infinite. If who we are is a manifestation of the divine--an outpouring of Spirit, and the Kingdom of God is Within [and I believe it is] than there is no end to uncovering, clearing, and allowing that beauty to unfold in the world.
And I never ask my clients to do anything I have not done myself and am applying in my own life. Period. As such, this post is a little more personal for me to demonstrate that.
After my divorce, and the year long self-reflection that followed, I realized that for the most part, what consistently happened in my romantic relating was a zero-sum type of dynamic. That at the end of my relationship with a woman, she was tangibly more empowered, more comfortable with herself, more fully embodied, and proud of her womanhood.
Partly because it was my constant practice to be sure she felt loved, had per positive qualities acknowledged somehow on an actual daily basis [not the same ones, but what authentically struck me in the moment as I appreciated her at some point], that she not only had a daily reminder, with full connection and presence of my love for her [and what I loved about her and why] but that she blushed with my acknowledgments.
It was conscious. Intentional. And the relating really cost me dearly. I was psychically drained, more dis-empowered, and frankly, less of a man by the end. It was, in fact, a zero-sum game.
It was not the things I was doing that drained me. They were rewarding to just do it. It was the lack of any reciprocal expression, I think. And I other things they did that I lacked facility around.
The contrast had never been so great than after my divorce--and the dynamics never so clear as in that marriage.
Now, I never planned it that way, but once I noticed it after the divorce, I ended up having a zero-tolerance policy for romantic relating that was not about synergistic upward spirals where both people were winning--and the relating was winning too. A triple win game. Both parties were winning--AND the actual relating was winning too. It is healthier for me to just be alone and fully empowered McClain-Ness than to be in unfulfilling and relating that ultimately cost me energetically. Although it took me a while to adjust to that, and sadly there was one relationship in which she ended up being drained...but it is all a process--and sometimes that is about the pendulum swinging the other way before it swings back the middle to finally rest upon the golden mean.
But back to zero-sum...
Let's face it--people who have little or no self-respect choose bad and even abusive relationships over being alone. Me? I would rather wake up alone, be in the company of just myself, than be in an unhealthy or un-fulfilling relationship. And I never have [and never will] just go from one relationship to another. Takes at least 6 months or so for self-reflection and the integration of the learnings before we can be responsible with another's heart, But that is all romantic...
Six years later, I am just now getting to really make sure that is generalized into all relating--not just romantic.
This is all part of how I have been consciously going through ALL of my friendships, free of sentimentality or attachment, and shrewdly examining if they are rich, dynamic, healthy, and fulfilling--or if they are just habits. And then explicitly ending the friendship or deepening and continuing the friendship with more connection, engagement, and intentionality. Regardless of how much I love the individual I am in the friendship with I may be ending. The relating must also be fulfilling. and one of the most important things for me that has the relating fulfilling is emotional engagement...rather than fear and detachment. But real engagement--yet also free of identification or enmeshment.
SOMETIMES that means me making decisions for other people when their relating with me is not serving THEM. I used to refuse to do so, thinking I was availing them of the growth opportunity to declare boundaries, make those choices themselves, develop confidence in communicating their needs, etc. But given that most people are deficient in true esteem for the self, and self-respect [part of which is demonstrated by drawing boundaries] is one of the core components of esteem for the self [along with self-efficacy] but I stopped doing that. I am now quite comfortable making choices for others when they continually demonstrate they incompetent to do for themselves--so long as it is about relating with me.
That is quite enough of the why and the what. But what about the "how" Jason?
It is all about values and forms.
One of the exercises I have clients do in Phase 2 of the Personal Evolution program [and occasionally in the professional evolution program as well] is a full life, all context examination of what is important to them [values] and how they would know if it were being experienced by them; what would they be seeing, feeling hearing, doing, and experiencing that would prover to them they were experiencing value X, Y, or Z? Conflict often happens in the form [which is why politicians are scant on policy papers before the election]. Values [freedom, security, justice] are things that everyone can agree on--we all want that. The HOW of carrying them out? Conflict arises sure as the sun also rises.
So in seeking friendships or romantic relating, it is not enough to express that "communication" is important to us. For some that will mean asking about your day. For others that will mean that if you are bothered by something, no matter how small, you share your internal process. Communication is the value, but the form is different.
Anytime we are upset, barring an unresolved event from the past or a pervasive self-esteem issue, we must look to values. So this becomes a tool for elegant communication to have your needs expressed [and met] as well. One that avoids conflict or having the other person be wrong. One that has intimacy and a deeper level of understanding arise.
But that is a story for another time.
For now, do this:
Take 3 major contexts in your life [romantic, career, community] as ask your self what is important to you in those contexts. You will know it is a "value" if it is conceptual, abstract. If you can put it in a wheelbarrow or touch it or smell it, it is NOT a value, but a form. To "chunk up" higher to the value, ask, "what's important to me about that?" If you are looking at forms, then it MUST be able to be put in a wheelbarrow--measured, touched, observed. If it can not, and it is an abstract value, then you can "chunk down" to the form by asking, "If I were experiencing _______ how would I know? What would I be seeing, feeling, hearing? What would my evidence be?"
I recommend 3 to 5 values in each context. And for each value, 3 forms or pieces of tangible evidence of that value being realized in the context.
The truth is that if you do this exercise, you might be terribly confronted by the relationship or the career you are in--or you will be relieved to have a conscious and explicit answer as to why you are not fulfilled--or you are drained, or their is conflict you can not understand.
If you are not in one of those context currently [you are single, or you are laid off, or looking for a gig] then this becomes a wonderful tool to overlay onto the person or organization. So you can consciously choose a relationship or organization that truly and consciously suits your values. Otherwise, the spiritual costs are immeasurable. No matter how great the compensation package, or how much chemistry, the spiritual costs of un-fulfilling contexts [where your values are not fulfilled] are immeasurable.
At the same time, be cautious that you are assessing others *through time*. If you only have a snap shot of them, and you are saying they do not suit you personally or professionally, you may be more living out a stage 1, low self-esteem ego game by being right and "justified" than by actually seeing a conflict of values, but that is also another story for another time.
Choose the conscious, fulfilling path. I beg of you, for you and for your Spiritual expression. while this may seem like a lot of work, it is even more of a burden--and more insidiously so--to be in unfulfilling contexts.
So, ask yourself ::: are you in a habit, or in a relationship?