The missus and I are currently enrolled in a program call “The Marriage Course” offered by Alpha International (don’t worry, everything is fine in the married bliss department – we have wanted for years to take such a course to help us refocus on our marriage, no point in waiting until the boat has hit the rocks).

Lesson 2 is on communication. Apparently, the five bad habits of communication are:

(1) jumping in and reassuring
(2) giving advice
(3) intellectualizing / spiritualising
(4) interrupting
(5) going off on a tangent

I am guilty of all five. No questions asked, no argument.

Apparently, the proper way to communicate is to:

(1) pay attention and do not interrupt: let your partner finish what he or she is saying
(2) put yourself in your partners shoes: put aside your own feelings and views. Do not ask a lot of questions.
(3) acknowledge their feelings: reflect back what has been said.
(4) find out what is important: ask “What is the most important part of what you have been saying?”
(5) help determine what he or she might do: ask “Is there anything you would like me/us to do about what you have said.?”

Okay, my take. I think the bad habits of communications are good habits. And here is my reason: it shows that I am actively listening and participating in what is being said. I expect my partner to do the same – otherwise, I can just go and talk to the plant! (In the communications example we were shown, I really thought the husband was nothing more than a glorified piece of vegetation endowed with the ability to nod and smile.)

Criticisms of the good habits:

(1) paying attention and not interrupting. I can’t take in a fifteen or twenty minute speech. Too much information!
(2) Putting yourself in your partners shoes. I can try to empathize, but without asking questions I am going to be really bad at it.
(3) Acknowledge their feelings. I agree, reflecting back is vital (that is why I interrupt to ensure I understand what is going on).
(4) Find out what is important. Hmmm … after 20 minutes of talking to me, if I ask Sofia, “So what are you really trying to say?” Is likely to get me a “Haven’t you been listening?” response, “Yes, but I zoned out 15 minutes ago” This is another reason I think interrupting is important, it allows me to repeat and reinforce the discussion so I don’t need to ask for an executive summary at the end.
(5) Help determine what can be done. Has this been a discussion or a polemic with a list of demands at the end?

Fortunately, Sofia seems to more or less agrees with me. I think we have good communication in our marriage. But, my disagreement over communication at the last session probably did not endear me to anyone. Sigh.

I suppose there are people who just talk past each other, mouthing words, never listening, and changing the subject. I am blessed that neither Sofia nor I are like that – we do try to understand one another.


ingrid said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bee said…
Hey Ricahard, this is a good topic. :)

My opinion is that the theory on communication would always need to be modified according to the 2 persons involved in any particular communication.

This is so because we are all unique individuals with different temperaments... what work for one person might not work for another.

Nevertheless, it's good to understand communication theory and to use it as a guide or a checklist for us when relating to another.

All things said, I think to communicate effectively is to say/do something in such a way that the other person could see/understand, rather than how we prefer to say/do.

Just my thoughts.
Richard said…
Hi Bee! Thanks for posting. I wasn't sure if you ever visited this site. Your thoughts, comments, and random musings are always welcome here.

In the post Ingrid deleted (and I hope she posts it back, since I thought it was great!), she identified the problem with that particular lesson - it was about listening, not communicating (I'm glad some people are sharper and better with words than I am).

I am always conscious to tell people "I like talking WITH you" rather than "I like talking TO you". The preposition makes a big difference.
ingrid said…
On Richards encouragement, here is my comment with some additions. A bit long winded though...

My biggest comment about the list, is that it is not about communicating at all. It is about listening. There are many bad relationships that include good listening, but not much communication.

I also think that it fails how to address conflict situations. How do you bring up the hard stuff? That's what I want to know. That is what I am truly bad at. I want to know, "How do I bring up issues that are painful without responding with anger or crying simply because I am overwrought." And although I do not have this problem myself, what do you do if you are the listening/communicating part of the partnership, and your significant other treats your ideas, opinions, hurts and other thoughts as unimportant.

I’m not an expert, and I don’t have answers. I am full of communication faults, most of which are wrought out of silence. And often (99% of the time or more) when I do express my thoughts to my partner he is loving, patient and understanding. Yay for me !

My two cents: I think that part of good "communication" would include the following.

(1) Do not rant. This is not productive. Instead, formulate simple sentences that directly state what is bothering you.

(2) Give your partner the chance to respond to what you have said.

(3) If your partner "freaks out" try to end the conversation in a gentle and calm way, since it is no longer productive. Or, listen silently since you won't get a word in anyways. Chances are, all that you will get out of the freak out is one or two messages anyway. Since your partner is beyond rational thinking, but clearly they are upset. Don't argue. This is very important. If you try to argue at this point, you will get no where, and chances are you will say hurtful things.

(4) Do not get defensive. This will lead to ranting.

(4a) If your partner gets defensive, let them blow off a little steam. Do not react in kind. You will say things that you regret later.

(5) Do not interrupt in the middle of a sentence. Instead, wait for a pause and respond gently and appropriately. If there is no pause, think about fluffy clouds and rabbits, tuning in occasionally and making note of key words and ideas. You can refer to this list later.

(6) Ask questions to clarify what your partner is trying to say, otherwise you might misinterpret. If your partner says, "You never take interest in my hobbies" they may mean that you should ask about the most recent Female Mechanics meeting that they went to. They might not mean that they want you to attend.

(7) If you are wrong, apologize. If you are right, decide whether it is worth insisting that you are right. Either way, you should pick your battles. Issues like tooth-paste caps are simply not worth arguing about. Really.

(8) Don’t whine. This will shut the other person off immediately. At least if they are me. It isn’t nice when children whine and it is infinitely more annoying when adults whine. You could not provide your partner with better ear plugs than to whine.

(9) Don’t nag. It is also annoying and counter productive.

(10) Care.

(11) Respect.

(12) Stay calm.

(13) Love.

(14) React in a way that shows that 10- 13 are true. Don’t just say “Unhunh”, do something to show that you really meant “Unhunh.” This might mean an apology, this might mean spending more time with your partner, this might mean cleaning the bathroom, this might mean encouraging them to go out with their friends without you

(15) Share the little things that are important to you.

(16) Don’t judge, since none of us are perfect.
Richard said…
Thanks Ingrid!

How do you bring up the tough issues? You just bring them up.

With me the best time to bring stuff up is Saturday or Sunday morning. The evening (especially after work) is a really, really bad time to discuss issues with me.

One of the worst things about being married is I've discovered that I can be cranky :-(

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