Do you feel misunderstood in your relationships?
Does it seem that your partner doesn’t quite hear you?
You already know this, but it is worth looking at the issue again in terms of creating and sustaining relationships. Clear communication is not only important; it is crucial. A problem can enter, however, when you think that you are communicating, but you are not.
In this discussion, I want to be clear that I am not speaking exclusively about long-term committed relationships. Instead, I am referring to a larger context of relationships that includes a broad range, such as: companions, friendships, siblings, families, work-oriented relations, and many more. The elements that help create and sustain relationships of all kinds are essentially the same.
With that in mind, let’s take a dive into some observations about communication that you might want to remember if you find yourself in a difficult spot.
Words Are Not Communication
It is not uncommon to confuse speaking with communicating. You communicate not only with words, but with a spectrum of tone, gesture, posture, touch, and even an energetic meta-communication. All of these channels need to be clear and focused in order to communicate effectively and without confusion.
A person told me once that she felt that I was often dismissive of what she said. I did not think I was, in fact I held her thoughts and opinions in high regard! When I asked about that, she said that whenever she spoke—and sometimes others, as well—I shrugged my shoulder when she finished speaking. I was completely surprised and unaware that I did that habitually in conversations.
As I tracked that gesture, it usually happened when I stopped to think about what the person had to say. I was not dismissing what was said, but signaling (apparently confusingly) that I was going internal for a moment.
Don Miguel Ruiz in his book The Four Agreements points out that it is important to “be impeccable with your word.” It is important to be as clear as you can to communicate what you mean to express. Also, “taking things personally” generally interferes with clear and open dialog, and “making assumptions” will sidetrack the conversation into directions that are likely not true or helpful.
That being said, he also suggests that while you are responsible for what you say, you are not responsible for what the other person hears—how they interpret what you are saying. People will hear you through their own filtering system, just as you will interpret what others say the same way. That is why it is very important to keep talking until each person is as sure as they can be that they have been heard correctly.
Some highly sensitive people express to me that they “know” when someone is saying one thing, but mean another. In other words, they believe that the person is lying, even though all of the other indicators seem in alignment. This read of the energetic meta-communication link is very tricky. If you find that you feel this way, it is time to engage the Third Agreement, and not make an assumption about what the other is meaning. Ask for clarification instead. It could be that your partner is not “lying,” but means something different that what they seem to be saying.
You have to be careful with words. They are slippery sometimes. And yet, communication without them is not really possible. All in all, do your best to be clear and open to feedback from the listener.
Communication Is Two-Way
Remember that there are two or more people in any conversation. At least you need someone speaking and someone listening. An essential component in that equation is the listener. At any point in which the person who is supposed to be listening breaks away, the communication is effectively at an end. This most often happens when you, as the listener, begin to formulate your response to what is being said, rather than attending fully to the speaker.
When this happens, you may be reacting to something that you heard, or think you heard. If you feel yourself getting emotional, that’s often a signal that you have taken what they said personally. Remember, though, that you might have heard something inaccurately and be sure not to give into making assumptions.
In the same way, you, as speaker, need to be as clear and focused as you can on what you are wanting to communicate. You may sometimes find yourself speaking to what you think your partner will say in response instead. This is another slippery form of “making assumptions.” Do your best not to get ahead of the conversation. Let your partner have their turn.
Let there be gaps in the dialogue—opportunities for you and your partner to reflect on what has been said, your reaction to what you have heard, and what you want to say in order to be as clear as possible.
Partners in strong, authentic relationships do not always agree. That you and your partner do not agree is not a sign of problems in the relationship at all. In fact, it is likely a sign that the relationship is stronger than it might seem. When each person feels safe in the relationship, disagreements are much easier to manage and navigate.
When you disagree, it is important that each person has felt heard. If either you or your partner do not feel that you have been heard, then the discussion likely needs to continue, perhaps after a break. If you find yourselves “butting heads” instead of communicating, it is a very good idea to take a break. You are very likely lost in a web of assumptions.
It is perfectly OK to say something like, “I don’t feel like you are hearing me.” Such a statement is not necessarily an accusation; it may be an expression of how the person actually feels. It may simply be that what is being heard is not what is intended to be expressed. Time for a few clarifying questions, like: “This is what I think you said. Is that accurate?”
As long as each of you has expressed your opinion or belief as clearly as you can, and you believe that each of you has been heard, you can certainly agree to disagree. In fact, many ongoing disagreements can lead to very interesting and enlightening discussions in the future.
Let’s be clear. It’s completely OK to go for long periods of time with little or no talking between partners. In fact, there is an argument to be made that silence is a key requirement in healthy, authentic relationships.
An important element in managing long silences is how the relationship structures around them have been laid. Communication and dialog both before and after are generally helpful. The “emptiness” that is sometimes felt during lengthy periods of silence can easily be filled with assumptions about why one partner has become quiet or stopped interacting.
Another element, again, is how safe each partner feels in the relationship. When there is trust and clarity, lengthy periods of silence—even hours or days—do not seem as threatening, and there is little need for making assumptions.
* * *
Again, it is very likely that none of this is new to you. However, I often find that when I am working with couples or partners having trouble in the relationship, the difficulty involves one or both forgetting these few fairly simple aspects of communicating effectively. If this is you, I invite you to take a moment and reflect on how you might improve your communication.
Remember that you can apply these ideas to any relationship, including life companions, friendships, relatives, and business. Communication is a key and core issue in creating and nurturing relationships of all kinds.
Learn more about this topic and relationships in general in my book, Spirit Paths: The Quest For Authenticity. I devote an entire chapter in it to the issue of Relationships, Tribe, and Community.
Want More Inspiration and Insights Like This?
Get great messages of insight and inspiration every month. When you subscribe, you will also receive a free copy of the Kindle eBook, The Shamanic Journey: A Beginners Guide to Journeying, by teacher and author Gerry Starnes, M.Ed., TTH.
Connect On Facebook
Join the closed Facebook group, Shamanism In Daily Life, to connect with like-minded people interested in shamanic practice from around the world.
Shamanic Passages Institute
The Institute offers online courses and workshops in shamanic practice and living by Gerry Starnes and others. Find out more…