Originally published in The Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch, 2016.
Communication: when it lacks, it’s one of the most common areas of relationship problems and very effective at exacerbating whatever else the problem might be. Communication is a complicated thing.
There are four levels of communication. The first is superficial communication: when you wave to someone or casually say “hi, good to see you” at the grocery store. No information is exchanged. While superficial, it’s still important. You may wave to someone, and if he looks at you but does not wave back, he’s sent a message. Maybe something is wrong; maybe he is in a hurry. If you smile at someone and she smiles back, she’s sent a message. She’s happy to see you.
The second level is “people, places, and things.” Here we exchange information like updates on the latest Netflix drama, sports scores, neighborhood gossip, describing events. It’s not personal; it’s information. This level helps build relationships. Through it we discover common interests and compatibility. It’s classic first date talk, guiding us to know if the person is approachable. Level two tells me if this is someone with whom I can go deeper.
The next level of communication is “what I value.” Conversations about common interests evolve to conversations about that which you are passionate about. As I casually share about home improvement projects, I find the person I’m speaking with is also “diy’ing it” at her house. I begin to divulge my enthusiasm for the other projects I’m planning. We’ve hit on a something I care about. Any topic you or your conversational mate feel strongly about is part of this level. A person is less likely to share his passions if he felt the door close during level one or two. Here, the first date hits if off and the couple talk for hours. It takes vulnerability and a willingness to share what you care about. Based on the other’s responses, you discover whether or not it’s safe to go to level four.
By the stereotypes, men are most comfortable in level two, and women at level four: how things affect me. Reactions, emotional or intellectual, are the basis for the fourth level of communication. Thus, a woman may grow frustrated with her partner who reports his answer to her question. She wanted to go deeper. When an event has happened, now I know where you stand. I know how it makes you feel. It is the most vulnerable level. It is the level we should share with the least amount of people.
What separates the various modes of communication (in-person, telephone, letter, email, text and social media) is the ability to read the things we communicate unconsciously with tone of voice, eye contact, posture, face expression, and other nonverbal cues. “Is it safe?” “Is she paying attention?” “Does he care about me and what’s troubling me?” “Is something the matter?”
Leaning in, looking in the eyes, facing the person, head nodding, an open posture (arms open) all communicate, “I’m open to hearing what you have to say.” Turning away, looking around, checking one’s phone, a glazed look in the eyes, arms crossed may communicate, “What you say is not important to me.” You can take control of your non-verbal cues to communicate a chosen message. If someone you care about begins speaking at level four, pay close attention to your body language so that even when you aren’t speaking, you can still tell that person how much you care.
The first three levels often come naturally. Using words in level four can get tricky. Stay tuned and next week we’ll address this crucial skill.