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Pardon my French

Am I speaking in French? That’s a tag line I find myself sometimes thinking when communicating with my kids. The more appropriate term is miscommunicating – and I’m going to guess that we’ve all been there. Communication is a central dynamic pattern within any relationship – siblings, parent-child, significant others, co-workers – you get the idea.

We all know that communication is broken up into verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Of which, non-verbal can be just as much key to understanding as verbal. Hence, if you are in a pattern of high conflict or misunderstanding, no good can come from text or email messages – because there is no non-verbals (tone/inflection/facial expression/etc) to drawing on for information. In other words, people tend to misconstrue written messages. Why do we misunderstand each other? Well, let’s just slow down one message exchange and examine it.

First there is the thought that forms in the sender’s brain. That thought must be transmitted to the sender’s mouth – in its original intended form. Then the sender’s mouth must form words to communicate the thought – in its original intended form. Then those words must reverberate through the air (or paper or phone text message – e.g. the medium) into the receiver’s ear drum - in its original intended form. Then that message must be directed toward the receiver’s brain - in its original intended form… that’s step one to go from sender to receiver. Then that message must be gathered and explored using the receiver’s knowledge of the sender, their understanding of themselves, and their view of the general world. And then that process must repeat to make just one feedback loop. Just one!

Do you remember the game of telephone where a message would start with one person and have to be whispered through a chain of people until the final person held a message. Which often did not sound like the original message. Well, that’s a great example of this “simple” process we do everyday. No wonder why we often feel like we are talking in different languages.

Not only is the method of communication difficult but let’s “complicate” it with adding in our own unique communication stances. According to Virginia Satir, who is often referred to as the founding ‘mother’ of family therapy, humans use one of five stances when they communicate – and guess what – only one stance makes “healthy” communication choices. Satir believed humans can be broken into the following five stances:

The Blamer – a person who avoids accountability and instead points out the faults in everyone else. Blamer’s usually like “power”.

The Placater – a person who tries to please others in order to keep peace and be liked. Placater’s often worry about their own value and worth.

The Distracter – a person who seems to jump off topic – i.e. the “jokester”. Distracters are uncomfortable with emotions and high tension and are usually people who feel they don’t belong in the conversation.

The Computer – a person who seems very logical – with little to no emotion. The calm, cool, and collected among us. Computers don’t like being vulnerable.

The Levelor – the person who matches their words with non-verbals with actions with their own value system. This is the person we often strive to be – the person who knows their truth, can speak it, while being aware of everyone else’s truth. Hence they are confident in themselves.

We take on these difference “stances” depending on the situation, the people we are communicating with, and our overall mental/emotional load at the time. In other words, we can look like all five, depending on the interaction/underlying conditions.

Today, which are you? Which is your child or your partner? And in what ways would you like to see change?

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