Prepare to Improve
__ Learn what you need to know about effective communication
- take this quiz.
definition of "effective communication" out loud. Then compare
several adults or kids you have
chronic trouble communicating with (i.e. difficulty getting your needs met), and...
any situations you have trouble
communicating effectively in, like job interviews, personal intimacy, facing angry people, receiving major criticism, disrespect or
disciplining kids: and making important assertions and confrontations.
__ Imagine what your life would be like
if you could consistently communicate well with each of these people and
situations. I guarantee you can, if you
commit to studying Lessons 1 and 2 here.
__ Imagine any minor children in your life sitting in a group looking at
you. Now imagine they are grown, and have adult kids and grandkids of their
own. Imagine all of these adults and kids in a semicircle around you. The
youngest child speaks for the rest of the kids. S/he asks "Please
- would you show us how to think and communicate really well? If you don't -
Try answering that question out loud now. Then reflect - how would you
like to answer?
make what follows more real and less abstract, pause and
several people you judge to be (a) really effective communicators,
and (b) very ineffective communicators. Reflect on the criteria you
use to make these judgments, and bring these people along as you learn.
__ Rate yourself...
On a scale of one
(I'm never able to
to ten (I consistently think very effectively
in calm and stressful situations),
rank your recent ability to think
(communicate internally) in calm ___
and stressful ___ situations.
On a scale of one (I'm never able to
to ten (I consistently communicate very
effectively), rank your recent ability
to communicate in calm ___ and stressful ___ situations.
On a scale of one (I'm never able to
to ten (I consistently problem-solve
effectively), rank your recent ability
to resolve problems and conflicts in calm ___ and stressful ___ situations.
Would people who
know you well agree with your ratings? Option - ask them!
- if you commit to
studying and practicing the ideas in Lesson 2 here, you can rank
yourself at least a solid 9 in each of these domains. How
interested are you in achieving that for your-self and any descendents? For
perspective, ~80% of site visitors who responded to
the poll above say they are
What is Effective
Try answering this question out loud. After 45 years'
study and reflection, I propose that
(vs. "open and honest")
communication occurs when each person involved clearly feels...
they got their current
(vs. surface) needs met well enough (in their opinion), and...
they feel good
enough about (a) themselves, (b) each communication partner, and
Think of the last time you experienced "effective
communication." Were these two criteria clearly met? Now think of the
last ineffective oral or written communication you exchanged. Were
either or both criteria clearly not met?
any communication exchange between two people, there are
of these two criteria. Only one satisfies both criteria for both people,
so in important situations, the odds of
fully satisfying outcomes for two persons is just 6%!
Causes Ineffective Communication?
"communication problems" - my partner...
never listens to me
blows up or shuts
down if I
has to have
the last word
intellectual (or emotional)
focused on one thing
won't say what
illogical / "unreasonable"
won't talk to
pessimistic / optimistic
tell me the truth
never lets me
tells me what
I think and feel
calls me names
up the past
never shuts up
won't look at
me when we argue
jokes too much
/ won't take me seriously
same thing over and over
talks down to me
will never get
things when we talk
Complaints like these are "communication
problems" - and each of them is a
surface issue. Trying to
correct any of these permanently is often a frustrating waste of time and energy.
Discover the primary needs causing these surface problems, and seek to
fill them together!
Three Primary Problems
My experience over half a century suggests that
three factors combine
to hinder effective communication, regardless
education, gender, and profession:
validate or discount this premise until you know more about each
factor. Has anyone ever taught you about them? Are you teaching your kids
about them yet? Our
society promotes ignorance of these factors so far.
The good news: you
can significantly reduce each of these three factors over time and
improve your communication outcomes once you understand and admit them.
bad news: you're probably controlled by a well-meaning
(wounded) and may be living and working in a
low-nurturance environment. These may hinder you from wanting to
improve the factors above.
The rest of this article outlines specific options for improving each factor
Reduce Your Psychological
basic premise here is that normal personalities
like yours are composed of a
of talented but uninformed "subselves."
Many of us who survived early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse
(trauma) are strongly influenced by some
of these subselves rather than guided by our talented
changes, our "false selves" makes effective thinking and communication
How Inner Wounds Block Communication
To see how inner-family
(subself) communication affects your outer
communication, meet Gina and Tom. Both thirty-something, they divorced
conflictually several years ago. They have joint custody of their nine-year-old
son Harold, and need to talk together weekly about him. Both acknowledge that
"poor communications" was one reason that they separated after six
years of marriage.
Their expensive, frustrating work with a marriage counselor and a divorce
mediator didn't focus meaningfully on the two real problems hindering their
communication. Both Gina and Tom came from
childhoods, and are significantly
as a result. Neither knows this, though each is pretty sure "something's
real wrong" with their ex mate. Each of them is also unaware of
the ideas in this article. Like most average adults, they don't know what they don't
simultaneous dramas unfold when Tom calls
Gina to discuss Harold's alarming report card:
1) the dialog among his
subselves ("thinking"), plus...
dialog among her subselves ("thinking"), plus...
3) the verbal and
nonverbal exchange between them.
Versions of these dramas have
happened many times before, despite both parents feeling dissatisfied
with the outcomes. They each care deeply for their son, and feel sadness and
about Harold's suffering from their
titles in italics are different personality
The words are the subselves' "speaking" (conscious thought streams). If you're not clear
on personality subselves yet, what follows will make more sense if you first
read this two-page overview of
inner families (like yours)!
TOM - before calling
his ex-wife Gina about their son...
D's! Oh, man - Harold's gonna flunk! He'll never make college, and have to
struggle for money his whole life! We'll have to support him forever, and that
Good Dad (Nurturer) - "Oh, shut
up, Gloom King - we have to help Harold - now!"
Inner Critic - (acidly) "Really nice job, Tom. What drug were you on when
you thought you could be a competent father? Now Harold's failing, because you messed up."
Shamed Boy - "See - I
AM no good!"
Distracter - "Hey - a
beer would taste great right now! Why don't you..."
True Self - "Not a good idea. You've already had two... We should
call Gina and talk this report card over."
Practical Adult- "Yes,
good. Do it."
Historian - "Remember the last
couple of times we talked about Harold's school problems, Gina blamed me, and
Skeptic- "Yeah - we can call, but
you'd better brace yourself for the usual - hysteria, accusations, and no
(or Critic) - "What a lousy excuse
for a woman and mother she is - how did you ever get involved with her?"
Practical Adult - "You'd better
balance the check book before you go to bed - you bounced two checks last month,
and that cost us."
True Self - "Stay focused on Harold - he needs help from Gina and
all of us. Call her now."
Tom dials her number, and she
answers. Bold words are spoken, and words in italics are thoughts.
(distracted by tooth pain)
"Hear that voice tone? No way she's going to listen now! This is
a waste of time."
does it, go easy, now ..."
Good Dad -
"Come on, we can do this..."
from work, slight headache)
"Oh God, what kind of problem is he going to dump on me now?
"Wait a minute - maybe we can have a good conversation, for a
change. Maybe this time..."
"Have you seen Harry's
"Could it be a problem with a teacher? Maybe Harry's glasses are too
"I'm kinda worried.
Harry's grades have been dropping this whole school year."
Good Dad -
"Sounds like good ideas..."
Practical One -
"Hey, where's the money going to come from? We can't afford a
Judge - "See,
there she goes taking control again. Hell will freeze before she thinks
about asking our opinion. She is so self centered...
Historian and Guilty Boy - "Last time, the
counselor implied Harry's problems came from our
break up. She talked about parents 'like us' needing post-divorce
counseling. His low grades are really our fault..."
"Yeh, I just read the
mail a few minutes ago."
Good Mom - "Ah -
Tom and I really do need to talk together about this..."
"I'm concerned too. I think he feels
bad about it - he's holed up in his room now. We ought to set up a
conference with his counselor, and maybe consider a tutor."
not real crazy about Ms. Richardson (the school counselor).
got 40 kids to take care of, and I..."
"See, right away, it's the 'yes but' game. I make a constructive
suggestion, and Tom shoots it down with no alternatives. Why did he call
me, anyway? What a jerk!"
"Well Tom, what do you
think we should do?"
Skeptic - "Uh huh - here we go again..."
"Gina, you know I feel he watches
too much TV at your house. Why don't you cut that back, and pay closer
attention to his home-work?"
Guilty One - "He's right. I
really should insist Harry do his homework first.'
Weary One - "But he puts up such
a stink - it's just easier just to let him watch..."
Inner Critic - "No excuse.
You chose to have Harry, and you are responsible - so stop whining, and
do your job!"
Shamed One - "Aagh - I am so
Good Mom - "I'm
really trying, but it's so hard, be-cause..."
True Self - "Wait - wait all of you. Calm down, so we ...!"
Chorus - "Ah, shut up, wimp!"
Scared Girl - "Something bad
is going to happen. I'm gonna get hurt again!"
Amazon (Guardian) - "NO! We
are not going to let him trash us again! Watch this!"
"Ah, so you think that I'm causing
Harry's bad grades, because I'm a lousy Mother, huh? We're going to get
into finger pointing and complaining again? Some things never change..."
(Guardian part) "You want to fight, Gina? Fine with me, you b_____.
I know just how to make you back off."
Good Dad - But wait, this
is about Harry ..."
- "Oh no,
Skeptic - "See - I told you
Health Director - "Man, your
tooth really hurts! You have to get to the dentist this
Catastrophizer - "This is bad.
Gina' and her shark lawyer'll probably turn this into a tabloid court
fiesta. That'll mean..."
Shamed Boy - "Dad was right
- I'll never amount to anything."
Distracter - "Look, this is
going nowhere. Tell her you'll call back, and get that cold beer..."
Warrior - "Oh no you don't.
We've had a lifetime of backing away from controllers like her. Time to
stand up and draw the line!"
True Self - "Will you all be quiet so I can think? I can't
make a good decision unless you all..."
Chorus - "Yeah sure - your
'good decisions' got us into this mess! Butt out!"
<<< inner chaos
/ mind babble / tooth pain >>>
Paralyzer (Guardian part)
"Alright, this is too much. I'm going to shut everyone down."
Notice what you're thinking and imaging. This three-way drama took under two
minutes to happen. Similar versions had happened many times before,
which conditioned these parents to expect "poor communications." How would you
guess this conversation turned out?
of the last conflictual conversation you had. Can you imagine your and your
partner's subselves interacting like this?