Creating Understanding in Today’s World
According to Attitude Reconstruction there are only four rules of good communication and four opposing violations. Being aware of both gives us a choice about whether we want to create distance or connection with our words, whether we’re dealing with friend, foe, neighbor, or family member. Here are some examples of two ways of communicating about the same topic.
You never help with the dishes.
I need some help washing the dishes right now.
Are you ready to go home?
I’m ready to go home now.
You’re monopolizing the conversation.
I have something I want to say.
We always do what you want to do.
I don’t want to spend the weekend with your parents.
This isn’t working.
I want to talk about where we are in our relationship and discuss what our options are going forward.
What’s your problem?
I’m upset and want to talk about what just happened.
Just by reading each pair of sentences out loud you can sense that the first way is way too familiar and that the second way is a clear communication about yourself that brings understanding. It’s really so simple. However, becoming aware of the difference and making the switch in styles takes a bit of practice.
The bottom line is that when we communicate well, we honor ourselves and others with every exchange and increase the probability of finding common ground. When we don’t, we create distance and feelings of separation. Here is a brief summary of the Four Rules of Communication and their opposites – the Four Violations.
The First Rule is “talk about yourself.” It’s a big enough task to take care of ourselves, so believing it’s our duty to comment on or interpret others diverts us from focusing on what’s true for us about us. It’s lovely to share what we feel, think, want, and need about ourselves. This brings closeness, as we reveal information about ourselves.
The First Violation is to tell other people about themselves (without permission). This includes blaming, sarcasm, teasing, attacking, and finger-pointing. You’re guaranteed to create separation and accentuate differences. I call this “you-ing” because instead of talking about ourselves, we divert attention and put the focus on others with put downs or by making them wrong.
The Second Rule is to stay specific and concrete. We deal in specifics with everything from music to architecture to computers and from finance to engineering to cooking. That is what we must do when communicating. When we stay concrete, others can understand what we’re saying: the true topic at hand, as well as our needs, requests, and boundaries. Being specific brings peace.
The Second Violation is over-generalizing. This can take the form of sweeping conclusions, abstractions, and labeling. Using words like “always” and “never,” or bringing in other topics barely related to the subject at hand, all fall into this category. This way of talking is confusing at best, as we don’t really know what the communication is actually about. Talking in generalities fuels confusion and fear.
The Third Rule is kindness. Compassion fosters love. It can take many forms: offering appreciations, praise, focusing on the positive, and sharing gratitude. Remember the old wise adages: “Look for the good and praise it.” “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
The Third Violation is being unkind. Focusing on what’s not working or what we don’t like, throws a wrench in furthering the conversation. Attending to the half empty and voicing negativity produces anger and feelings of separation in both the speaker and recipient.
Remember: share your own experience, use specifics, stick to kindness, and listen.
The Fourth Rule is simply to listen. That means seeking to truly understand what someone is saying and encouraging them to share about themselves. Almost no one feels listened to enough! It is a simple practice that brings connection.
The Fourth Violation is not listening. We know how that feels. Not good. Automatic interruptions, debates, and wise-cracks don’t truly acknowledge the speaker but instead further our own agenda and need for attention.
The following is a list of listening violations or don’ts. I suggest you keep them in mind.
Interrupting; Leaping into problem solving; Offering unsolicited advice or opinions; Finishing others’ sentences; Changing the topic; Matching stories; Debating or challenging; Cornering or interrogating; Multi-tasking.
We don’t have to look very far to find examples of all four violations. They are in virtually every setting and cause communication breakdowns, distance, hurt, and misunderstandings. Recognizing these four bad communication habits will help us avoid the alienation and confusion we often experience when interacting with others, especially at emotionally-charged times. Indulging the violations is like throwing gasoline on the bar-b-que.
I suggest you stop yourself when you are going to speak impulsively, take a breath, and line up with what will bring you better results. Abiding by the Four Rules bring loving, effective communication and feelings of togetherness. Remember: share your own experience, use specifics, stick to kindness, and listen. They are very simple (but not easy) rules. The rewards of living by them are infinite and supremely satisfying.