Friday, May 25, 2012

Communication Breakdown

I was surprised by a statement that I heard on a recording with Dr. Greg Smalley, a clinical psychologist. He said (paraphrased) that if he ever caught his children trying to work out a conflict via Facebook they would lose their internet privileges for six months. He said he would gladly drive them to wherever they needed to go to work out the conflict face-to-face.

What followed was a discussion of conflict resolution and communication skills reminiscent of the material that Nan and I present to our “preparing for marriage” class.

From research studies it has been determined that only 7% of a complete communication is comprised of words. The other 93% is a combination of the tone we use and the body language that we display. And body language is the greater part.

So what is the implication here? 

We have a higher risk of miscommunication when we use any method of alternate communication other than face-to-face.

From my experience many couples seem to have more conflict while talking on the telephone or texting. There are no reassuring facial expressions or physical touch. And with text there are no voice tones to help interpret intent. And without these cues a whole lot of mindreading may be going on in the background. And then if we try to resolve the conflict by the same method, we are compounding the difficulty.

What we are looking for in a complete communication is congruency. Do the words, tone and body language all match? Or does the tone or body language speak a different message from the words being used? Obviously, we can only expect a full communication when all three elements are present. That is why video chats are more satisfying than audio or text only exchanges.

When we observe politicians campaigning for office, congruency is what we are watching for. Do they appear honest and straightforward or does something bother us about them? If we are uncomfortable it is probably because their words seem incompatible with their tone or body language.

Am I suggesting that we abandon texting and telephoning? Of course not! These are really great tools for exchanging information and much more. But they are not the preferred method when we need to deal with conflict or sensitive or emotional matters. Then it’s time to take a drive and look into the eyes of the person directly.

Plus, you wouldn’t want to risk losing your internet privileges for six months. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Help! Leave Me Alone

Have you ever had to interact with a controlling person? I know I have, and unfortunately, sometimes it’s me.

Worse yet, have you ever been dominated by one? A boss at work? A spouse, sibling, or even your own child? If you have, you know how miserable life can be when under their influence.

Why might a person become a controller?

The need for safety. The world can be pretty unpredictable at times. For some people it feels tenuous all the time. Trust is not in their vocabulary. Shades of gray in life make them cringe with discomfort.  The only way to feel secure is to manage everything and everyone.

The need for significance. For these people being in charge equates with personal value. Being a follower feels like a negative. Humility is a weakness, not strength. They only feel good about themselves when they are in the spotlight. Often these people have low self-worth.

The need for power. The concept of sharing is distasteful to these people. They are masters of their kingdom and everybody needs to obey. They are “special” and know more than you. You may be right, but they are “more right”. You must submit to their authority and wisdom.

What will these people control?

Money is a big one. They are able to empower or severely limit you when they are in charge of the checkbook.

Time. They make the schedules and expect you to comply. And they get angry when you deviate, even though you never agreed to their schedule.

Activities and agenda. They make lists for everyone to follow. Chores, recreation, family interests, and work schedules are under their control. They will determine where to vacation and how active or leisurely it is.

Topics of conversation. With these people conversations always seems to end up about things that interest them – or about them. You may have no interest in gardening, but somehow when you are with them you find yourself talking about fertilizers and soil conditions.

There are so many more areas that we could name. But you get the point.

So what can we do if we are under the pressure of a controller?

We must speak the truth in love and set appropriate boundaries with them. They will not like it and they will resist. We must be kind, but firm, and continue to keep voicing what our boundaries are, and maintain them. We must manage our resentment towards them and remember that their desire for control comes from a broken place within them.

What if we are the controller?

If safety is our issue, we must develop a strong inner voice that is self-soothing. We must learn to calm our anxiety with truth. We must remind ourselves that God is in control and He is more powerful than we are.

If power or significance is what we struggle with, we must develop a deep empathy for others. We must mentally trade places with them and try to understand how they feel when confronted with our behavior. We must understand that our control issue will create distance and isolation and resentment from the people we care about.

Whether you are a controller or the controlled you may need to seek additional help in the form of recovery classes or personal counseling. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Good Goodbyes In Dating

There are times when relationships just don’t work out. There is too much damage or too much pain. Or no matter how hard you try, you seem to keep missing each other. You are just too different. All relationships are not meant to succeed. When you are dating, this is sad. When you are engaged it can be devastating.

The decision to separate usually comes after a lot of frustration and maybe a lot of blaming and defending, or even worse behavior. Tempers may be high, and feelings of self-worth may be low. You may feel emotionally depleted, with nothing left to give.

Does it have to end badly? Fortunately, the answer is “NO”

We can have a good good-bye.

Nan and I have been witness to several break-ups, and although it is never easy, it can be constructive and redemptive.  

What does a good goodbye look like?

When the decision has been made and the dust settles, usually a kind of sad peacefulness rests on the relationship. The conflict is over and it is time for the healing to begin. We encourage couples to take turns affirming each other and asking for forgiveness for the ways they have hurt or disappointing each other. It is time to remember all the good parts of the relationship, to express the things that they will miss. The relationship started out hopeful and positive. There was attraction and excitement. These are the words that need to be spoken before parting.

Next the couple goes before God, confessing any wrongdoing or sins connected with the relationship and asking for His forgiveness. The couple finishes by praying for each other and releasing them.

Usually there are many tears of sadness and regret, and some of relief. But there are not the feelings of guilt associated with a bad break-up.