Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Q&A about Effective Communication

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/qa.htm

Updated  12-29-2014

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      This is one of the Web articles comprising Lesson 2 in this self-improvement Web site. Based on my 40 years' study of effective interpersonal communication, it offers brief answers to common questions about communicating, and provides links to more information.

      This brief YouTube video provides perspective on what you'll find in this article:

      My practical guidebook Satisfactions (Xlibris.com, 2010, 2nd ed.) integrates the key Lesson-2 Web articles and resources in this nonprofit Web site, and provides many useful resources.      

      Before continuing, stop and reflect - why are you reading this - what do you need?

      Adults growing effective thinking and communication skills together is a vital requisite for high-nurturance families and relationships. Average adults and all kids lack these skills, and endure significant frustrations and conflicts as a result. These Q&A items assume you're familiar with Lesson-1 concepts about personality subselves. Links below lead to brief answers on this page or other articles.

      Suggestion: scan all these questions before following any links, to get a sense of their scope  Pause and notice what you think and feel after you've scanned. Option: try answering each question out loud before reading the answer here. Option: to raise your interest, try this quiz on basic communication knowledge, and return here.

  Questions you should ask about effective communication

1)  Is there an overview of communication basics in this Web site? Yes

2)  What is "interpersonal communication"?

3)  What are "innerpersonal communications?"

4)  Why do we communicate?

5)  What the are the two essentials for effective (vs. "good") communications?

6)  What is an "R message," and why can it make or break any communication?

7)  What can I do to improve the effectiveness of my verbal communications?

8)  Is it possible to not communicate with someone in a relationship? No!

9)  What are the three concurrent ways ("channels") we all use to decode "meaning" from each others' behaviors?

10)  What's a double or mixed message, and what causes them?

11)  What are the four kinds of messages we unconsciously decode from each other all the time (over each of our three channels)?

12)  What are the seven communication skills I (and anyone) can use to meet my social needs?

13)  What are the five types of conflict I can experience, and how can I and my partner/s resolve each of them?

14)  What do most people do instead of effective problem solving?

15)  What causes my "mind-racing or churning," and can I reduce it?

16)  How can I learn more about my non-verbal communication habits?

17)  What's an "E(motion)-level," and how does it affect my communication effectiveness?

18)  What are relationship ''boundaries,'' and how can I assert mine effectively?

19)  What's the difference between a surface need and a primary need, and why should I care?

20)  What's the difference between a request and a demand - and why should I care?

21)  How can I become more confident and skilled at asking for what I need?

22)  What's the difference between assertion and aggression?

23)  What's the difference between verbal abuse and aggression?

24)  What is communication ''mapping,'' and why is it useful?

25)  Do typical males and females communicate differently? If so, why should I care?

26)  How can I learn to give effective feedback  to others?

27)  What are communication sequences and patterns - and why are they important?

28)  What may I be doing that blocks effective communication with important others?

29)  How can I improve my communication outcomes in general, and with typical minor kids?

30What is a "Be spontaneous!" paradox, and why do they harm relation-ships?

31)  What are my communication options with an adult or child who won't tell me what they think or feel?

32)  Why is it often harder to communicate effectively with the people who mean the most?

33)  What are "self talk and "inner-voice dialogs," and why are they valuable?

34) Can I get all this information in one place? Yes - from these links and the Lesson-2 study guidebook - Satisfactions - 7 Relationship Skills You Need to Know (Xlibris.com,  2010, 2nd ed.)

35)  What are some other useful books on effective communication skills?

Connecting With Self and Others, by Daniel Wackman, Elam Nunnaly, Phyllis Miller, and Sherod Miller (Editor); (Interpersonal Communication, 1988)

People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts, by Robert Bolton Ph.D, (Touchstone, 1986)

You Just Don't Understand - Men and Women in Conversation, by Deborah Tannen (Quill, 2001)

 If you don't see your question here, please ask!


Q2 & Q8)  What is "interpersonal communication," and  Is it possible to not communicate with someone? Communication between people occurs when any perceived behavior or lack of behavior in one person causes an emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual change in another person. Because silence ("no response") is often assumed to mean something, there is no such thing as "We can't communicate" or "S/He didn't answer me."


Q3)  What is "innerpersonal communication?" It is the thought streams, images, memories, hunches, intuitions, "senses," day and night dreams, fantasies, physical and emotional feelings, and knowings that kids and adults have all the time. These can be seen as communications among the different subselves comprising our personality, our body, and our spirit or soul. Normal people (like you) have inner conversations (''self talk'') among their subselves all the time!


Q4)  Why do we communicate?  Adults, kids, and infants try to fill two or more of these needs by communicating:

  • To feel respected by ourselves and our partners now and over time (a constant); and to...

  • Give or get information (so we can understand and make informed choices), and/or we need to...

  • Cause change (and feel impactful, vs. powerless) and/or to...

  • Vent - i.e. to feel empathically understood and accepted) and/or we need to...

  • Create excitement (avoid boredom and numbness); and/or to....

  • Avoid discomfort, like a social silence, conflict, or a painful awareness.

Typically, people are unaware of their (and others') communication needs, which hinders filling them. Our communication needs aim to increase current emotional, physical, and spiritual comfort. Personal and relationship problems are unfilled needs (discomforts).


Q5)  What the are the two essentials for effective (vs. "good") communications? They are:

each person feeling they got enough of their current communication and other needs met...

in a way that leaves them feeling good enough about (a) themselves, (b) each other, and (c) the recent process between them. For example - lying may get the first essential, but not the second.

      In order to attain these essentials communicators need these requisites.


Q6 & Q11)  What four messages do we unconsciously decode from each other all the time? and What is a "R(espect) message," and why can it make or break any communication?

      The four simultaneous messages we send and receive are: "Here and now,...

  • I need..."; and...

  • I feel..."; and...

  • I think...", and...

  • my attitude about you and me is...

    "1-up" (my current needs, feelings, and opinions are more important than yours), or...

    "1-down" (they're less important than yours), or...

    =/="  (they're just as important as yours.") 

The last one can be called an R(espect)-message. It is often the most powerful of our four messages and the least noticed, in shaping communication effectiveness and relationship quality. When both partners get =/= (mutual respect) R-messages, communication may be effective.


Q9)  What are the three concurrent ways ("channels") we all use to decode "meaning" from each others' perceived behaviors?

      They are...

words (verbal channel - estimated to convey under 10% of the spoken meaning we decode!)

voice dynamics - (paraverbal channel): voice tone, inflection, tempo, accent, intonation, pace, and volume; estimated to provide ~25% of the meaning we decode;

and the...

non-verbal channel: (facial expression + body posture and movement + eye contact + touch + smell) provide most of the meaning we decode from face-to-face interpersonal communication. They provide even more for pre-verbal kids!

In normal face-to-face conversation, we each unconsciously decode meaning from each of these dynamic channels simultaneously. Few people are aware of this complex exchange.


Q10)  What is a double or mixed message, and what causes them?

      This confusing communication occurs when we perceive that the meaning on one channel (e.g. the words we hear) contradicts the meaning on another channel (e.g. what we see). Example: "I love you!" / "Don't touch me."

      Such self-contradicting messages leave us feeling uncertain, uneasy, and doubting our own perceptions and/or the sender's true feelings, intentions, and needs. Sending frequent mixed messages is a sure sign of inherited psychological wounds and false self dominance. Minimizing or denying double messages or joking about it are more signs.

      Once aware of a double message, a useful response (a metacomment) can sound like "(Name), you say your not upset, but you're frowning and you raised your voice. I'm confused."


Q12)  What are the seven communication skills I  can use to meet my personal and social needs?

      Before continuing, can you name them? Most adults can't, regardless of maturity and formal education. The skills are...

  • Awareness - paying non-judgmental attention to up to 30+ communication (relationship) dynamics; and...

  • Clear (vs. fuzzy) thinking - (a) developing and using a wide, descriptive vocabulary, and  (b) intentionally avoiding...

  • vague, ambivalent words and phrases, like this thing, that, it, them, then, you know, those people, stuff, issue, and avoiding...

  • "hand-grenade" words and phrases which are emotionally "explosive" - like rape, abuse, stupid, insensitive, childish, selfish, bigot, weak, chauvinist, whore, Nigger, Kike, Raghead, Slant, Frog, fanatic, redneck, incompetent...);

and clear thinking uses awareness skill to avoid...

  • not focusing, and defocusing (changing the subject before finishing the current topic).

  • Digging down below surface (secondary) "problems" (unfilled needs) to the primary needs underneath them.

  • Metatalk - talking objectively and factually together about how we're communicating, in order to identify current and chronic communication blocks;

      Three more essential communication skills are...

  • Empathic listening - periodically summarizing what we perceive the sender thinks, feels, means, and needs without comments or questions. Doing this does not mean we agree with the speaker!;

  • Assertion - (a) being clear on our personal rights, (b) stating our current needs and opinions clearly, directly, and respectfully, in a way that our partner can hear, and (c) handling expected resistances with empathic listening before firmly restating our needs or opinions; and...

  • Problem solving or conflict resolution - identifying each other's needs and brainstorming mutually-satisfying (win-win) solutions as teammates. Effectiveness at problem-solving grows with fluency with all six other skills if your true Self steadily guides your personality. Most people are unaware of win-win problem-solving, and unconsciously use various lose-lose alternatives.

      Could you name these seven skills before reading this? If not, you're probably not using them! Does "Most people don't know what they need to know about communicating" seem more credible now?


Q13)  What are the five types of conflict I can experience, and how can I and my communication partner/s resolve each of them?

      All kids and adults encounter five universal stressors, which are each resolved differently:

Internal conflicts - disagreement among your personality's subselves. Resolution requires...

  • awareness of all your personality subselves,

  • your true Self to lead your other subselves,

  • distraction-free times to meditate and focus; and...

  • fluency in the seven communication skills.

For practical inner-conflict resolution options, see this.

Conflicts of values , like priorities, morals, attitudes, dignity, integrity, and preferences. Resolution can only be genuine mutual agreements to disagree. The stressful alternative is to try and persuade the other person to want to adopt your value, which risks them violating their integrity.

Conflicts of current primary (vs. surface) needs:  "I need peace and quiet, and you need to end your boredom by (doing something noisy)." The communication skills of awareness and digging down can reveal a  partners' local primary needs. 

Conflicts over concrete resources like money, appliances, vehicles, clothing,... These conflicts are really about whose surface and primary needs and values get priority; and...

Conflicts over current communication needs  - e.g. you need to vent now, and I need to cause action.
      Resolving each type of conflict requires communication partners to..
  • have their true Selves in charge of their other subselves; and...
  • have mutual respect and a two-person awareness bubble; and to...
  • want to focus on one problem at a time, and to be...
  • patient and willing to compromise; and to...
  • use all seven communication skills  cooperatively.

Q14)  What do most people do instead of effective problem solving?

      Because most of us weren't taught effective-communication basics at home or school, we're unaware of over two dozen common ways we block effective internal and social communication. Instead of win-win problem-solving, most people fight or argue, postpone, withdraw (flee), threaten, hint, repress, submit, numb out, lecture, explain, interrogate, monolog, whine, joke, complain, defocus, and/or preach (see any favorites?). Here's an example.

      The good news: once you're aware of these blocks, you can (a) reduce and avoid them and (b) help each other build your communication strengths over time.  


Q15)  What causes my "mind-racing or churning," and can I reduce it?

      Mind-racing, chattering, or churning refers to spontaneous episodes of kaleidoscopic, unfocused thoughts, images, feelings, and memories. It's the opposite of focused, logical thinking (reasoning), and is probably caused by several personality subselves all communicating at once. This happens when some active subselves don't trust your true Self to lead them.

      Patiently meeting and harmonizing distrustful subselves via "parts work," (inner-family therapy) can significantly reduce mind-churning and improve mental focusing over time. That raises your problem-solving effectiveness!

      Some kids and adults diagnosed with "Attention Deficit Disorder" (ADD) and "Hyperactivity Disorder" (HD) are probably really suffering from a chaotic (leaderless) inner family. Medication may reduce behavioral symptoms, but won't cure inner anarchy and chaos. Lesson 1 offers a better way.


Q16)  How can I learn more about my non-verbal communication habits?

      You can learn more by...

Studying this article on awareness, and practice what you learn; and...

Using the concepts of communication sequences and patterns, and communication mapping to learn what's going on inside and between you and important communication partners; and...

Learning the skill of metatalk (talking about communicating), practicing it, and teaching it to interested partners. Then ask them to use it to describe your nonverbal behaviors that help or hinder shared communication. Return the favor if they wish.

And you can...

Study and experiment with this framework for giving effective verbal feedback, and ask others to describe your nonverbal communication (behavioral) habits and their effects.


Q17)  What's an "E(motion)-level," and how does it affect my communication effectiveness?

      In this Web site, 'E-level" describes the degree of emotional intensity in someone at some time (low to high). When someone's E-level rises "above their ears," s/he usually can't hear, empathize, or focus well, or maintain a two-person awareness bubble. Our E-levels shift quickly, depending on...

  • how calm our subselves are,

  • whether our true Self is steadily in charge of them, and...

  • how well our current primary needs are met.

Patient, respectful empathic listening will usually drop a partner's E-level "below their ears" so they can hear you again. Use the term E-level informationally vs. critically in awareness and metatalk to improve your mutual communication outcomes.  


Q20)  What's the difference between a request and a demand, and why should I care?

      A request asks the receiving person to do something, where the sending person can tolerate responses like "No," "Not now," "Not your way," and "I'm not sure." A demand is a communication to which the only acceptable responses are "Yes" or something like "Let's negotiate and/or problem-solve."

      Requests and demands are types of normal assertion. They work best (satisfy primary needs) if the sender and receiver share a genuine mutual-respect attitude. That depends on the sender having genuine self respect.

      Use awareness to get clear on whether you're making or receiving a request or a demand. Option - if in doubt, ask your partner "Is that a request or a demand?"). If either partner is ruled by a false self, perceived demands usually imply "I'm 1-up," causing the receiver's E-level to rise and degrade or block their hearing.


Q21)  How can I become more confident and skilled at asking for what I need?

      Four ways to grow more effective at asserting your primary needs with any child or adult are...

doing Lesson 1: see if you're being controlled by a shame-based false-self, and evolve a personal recovery plan if you are;

evolve a Bill of Personal Rights you can really believe in, and practice acting on it. Accord other people equal rights, and expect "resistance" as you become more self-assured; and...

work toward a genuine mutual-respect attitude with each person in your life. This often happens spontaneously if you choose to see vexing people as wounded and unaware, not bad, stupid, dumb, selfish, deceitful, abusive, etc. Then...

  • Use awareness and dig-down skills to discern your current primary (vs. surface) needs. 

  • Study and practice these communication skills, with special focus on growing your fluency with assertive 'I' messages. And...

  • Over time, become an expert on spotting and avoiding these communication blocks.

Q22)  What's the difference between assertion and aggression?
      Assertion is (a) being clear about your rights as a dignified (self-respecting) person, and (b) firmly requesting or demanding what you need now while respecting your and your partner's dignity, worth, and current needs equally. Effective assertion has been described as the skill of saying what you mean or need in a way that your partner can hear (vs. agree with) you clearly.
      Aggression is demanding that your partner satisfy your needs without respecting their current needs, feelings, or dignity (implied R-message: "I'm 1-up here.") Watch for double messages - the words may sound respectful but aggressors' non-verbal behaviors imply "My needs come first here."


Q27)  What are communication sequences and patterns, and why are they important?
      A communications sequence is a series of reciprocal events (e.g. I smile) and reactions (so do you) between two or more personality subselves or people - i.e. an action > reaction > reaction chain...  Every sequence has a beginning event (Marla cleared her throat...), and continues until someone designates an "ending" event (Jose walked away / hung up / changed the subject / fell asleep...) 
      Three common types of sequences are (a) conflict resolution, (b) attack > defend > counterattack or withdraw, and (c) giving and receiving praise.

       A communication
pattern is an averaged set of sequences over time between two or more people or subselves - e.g. "Here's the typical (action > reaction) sequence you and I follow when we discuss money (or whatever)." Identifying important patterns as mutually-respectful partners (vs. opponents) can help you (a) spot communication sequences and blocks that need improving, and (b) assess any changes.

      Every sequence has an outcome - i.e. participants fill their current needs well enough or they don't. When your and your partner's respective true Selves are in charge, your awareness, dig-down, and metatalk skills and the communication tool of mapping can illuminate your important inner and social sequences and patterns.


Q30)  What is a "Be spontaneous!" paradox, and why do they harm relationships?

      Communicators can unintentionally hurt valued relationships by expecting, requesting, or demanding that a partner give you something that can only be given spontaneously - like trust, respect, love, interest, empathy, enjoyment, patience, forgiveness, loyalty, and sexual desire. These paradoxes are self-defeating communications.

      Asking for or expecting these relationship prizes makes it impossible for the receiver to give them; for if they try, the sender will probably discount it as being motivated by fear, duty, or guilt, rather than spontaneous ("genuine"). An appropriate meta-comment is "You're asking me to want to give you something that I can only give spontaneously."


Q31)  What are my options with an adult or child who won't tell me what they think or feel?

      Your partner...

  • may genuinely not know, or...

  • be too distracted to focus and disclose, and/or s/he...

  • doesn't have the vocabulary to express current thoughts, feelings, and needs well enough, and/or...

  • s/he feels uncomfortable and doesn't want to hear her or his own description, and/or s/he...

  • doesn't feel safe disclosing to you - in general, or right now.

      You can only affect the last of these. Options include (a) choosing a mutual-respect attitude, and (b) using metatalk to ask your partner if there's something you've done or are doing, that causes them to feel unsafe in confiding in you. Then (c) use empathic listening to ensure you hear their response clearly, and (d) decide if you want to change something.

      If your partner is shame-based or fear-based, s/he may misperceive your reactions and judge you unsafe - even though you're genuinely interested in and accepting (uncritical) of their thoughts and feelings.

      If so, a helpful option is to give a respectful (vs. manipulative) I-message on how your partner's silence affects you - e.g. "When you need to withhold your thoughts and feelings, I ____  (describe the specific effect on you factually)."


Q32)  Why is it often harder to communicate effectively with the people who mean the most?

      People may find it easier to confide in (some) strangers than with mates and/or some family members because the risk of rejection, criticism, and misunderstanding (pain) is much lower. Strangers are often more sympathetic and less disapproving, preachy, and/or argumentative. They usually don't bring unfinished relationship stressors ("old baggage") to the conversation, tho your venting may trigger unresolved issues with other people in their lives.

      In typical business and professional relationships, people minimize anger, disrespect, and dislike. They stress tact and pretended or genuine respect, so it may feel "safer to talk at work" than at home, within some limits.

      This is specially true in low-nurturance (dysfunctional) homes and families. A contributing factor is that most people don't know how to metatalk, listen empathically, and/or to identify and assert their needs and boundaries respectfully to make communicating safe at home.


Q33)  What are "self talk and "inner-voice dialogs," and why are they valuable?

      "Self talk" is the constant stream of thoughts, memories, fantasies, and inner visions, senses, and images we call "thinking." Inner-voice dialogs are internal conversations, debates, negotiations, or screaming matches between different parts of your personality - e.g.

"Voice" (subself) 1: "Mmm - Let's have a hot fudge sundae!"

"Voice" (subself) 2: "Are you berserk? that's 900 calories and 15 laps around the block, fatso. I don't think so!"

      Becoming objectively aware of your self-talk and which subselves are expressing themselves can help you decide if you're ruled by a false self or your gifted true Self (capital "S") at crucial times. See self-improvement Lesson 1.


+ + +

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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