Did your parents have good communication skills? When I ask people this question, very few say yes. And this is the reason why we don’t communicate very well – we were never taught how, not from our parents, our schools, our peers, or the media.
It seems like it should be so easy. We all want to share ourselves with others. But often our best intentions take a turn for the worse whenever emotions enter the picture. We say one thing and end up communicating another. Differences get magnified. Words get twisted. Good intentions are misinterpreted. Talking escalates into arguing and suddenly we want to attack or flee. This can all result in low self-esteem and confidence. No matter our strategy and how we’ve learned to cope, the result of poor communication is a loss of connection and openness.
According to Attitude Reconstruction, all good communication boils down to following four simple rules. With them, anyone can communicate about any topic effectively and lovingly. There are also four main violations that create the misunderstandings and ensuing hurt, alienation, and confusion that we experience when communicating with others.
- The first rule is “talk about yourself.” This is our true domain — sharing what we feel, think, want, and need. Offering personal information brings closeness, as we reveal what’s true for us. The First Violation is to tell other people about themselves (without permission). This includes blame, criticism, sarcasm, teasing, attacking, and finger-pointing. These tactics only create feelings of separation, alienation, and defensiveness. An example of these two styles are “You’re monopolizing the conversation.” vs “I have something I want to say.”
- The Second rule is to stay specific. That’s what we do with music, architecture, engineering, cooking, math, physics, and computers; and what we must do when communicating. When we stay concrete others can understand what we’re saying – the topic, the request, the reasons. It brings peace. The Second Violation is over-generalizing. This can take the form of sweeping conclusions, abstractions, and labels, and using words like “always” and “never,” or bringing in other topics only barely related to the subject at hand. This is confusing and it fuels fear. An illustration is: “We always do what you want to do” vs “I don’t want to spend the weekend with your parents.”
- The third rule is kindness. Compassion fosters love. It can take the form of offering appreciations, giving praise, focusing on the positive, and sharing what you are grateful for. The Third Violation is being unkind. Focusing on what’s not working, that is, on what we don’t like, throws a blanket on furthering a conversation and produces anger and feelings of separation in the recipient. An example is “I really appreciated when you help with the dishes… laundry, kids, etc.” vs “I have to do everything because you never help around the house.”
- The fourth rule is simply to listen. That means seeking to truly understand what someone is saying, and encouraging them to talk. This brings closeness. Listening is a practice. The Fourth Violation is not listening. We know how that feels. Automatic interruptions, debates, and wise-cracks don’t truly acknowledge the speaker but instead further our own agenda.
The goal of good communication is understanding and feeling more love, so if we keep that in mind, we’ll be inspired to learn to speak and listen well. Luckily it’s not that hard. It just takes practice as we learn how to stop making the four communication violations and instead follow four simple rules.
The Four Rules of Good Communication are so powerful. They work in the bedroom or boardroom, with children and neighbors, with co-workers and strangers. Here’s the wonderful part: each time we stop ourselves from our old ways and abide by the four rules we feel more powerful, confident, and true to ourselves. Others will understand us better and we can also understand them. All it takes is a little practice, practice, practice and everyone can learn to have consistently effective communication skills.