I am not an academic. You will not find scoure links in this diary. What qualifies me to write on the topic of how human’s communicate is simply a lifetime of independent study on this fascinating topic, and 40 plus years front line professional experience as a Psychiatric RN that showed me how much human suffering is caused when people cannot effectively communicate, and/or do so in harmful and hurtful ways (often without any intention to harm or hurt.) Eventually my fascination with this topic led me to several years of conducting workplace/corporate seminars and workshops on Interpersonal Communication, which taught me a bunch about organizational communications too.

This topic on interpersonal communication has far too many aspects to consider to try to touch on them all in one diary, so this one will be general comments, and the next will focus in on the typical differences in communication styles between men and woman.

I have long held a theory, proven to be true many times over in my personal and professional experience, that it is often the inability of men and women to communicate effectively with each other, that causes many of our conflicts, and that, together, we have the power to DO something about this, if we want to bad enough. I’ll get into that more next time.

Where so we learn how to communicate with each other? First, from those who raised us and from those all around us. Some of us luck out and draw parents who are all together emotionally and intellectually, and can teach us effective communication skills, but most of us just get normal, or even impaired parents who cannot teach what they do not know. From there, we learn what world as we go, trial and error. I’ve yet to meet any adult who wouldn’t benefit by evaluating, refining and expanding their own communication skills, including me, and I’ll be at this the rest of my life.

We are not all taught the same things about how to communicate. There are differences, for example, on how girl kids and boy kids are taught. Growing up in my world, boys were expected to be louder and more assertive in expressing or acting out their anger or frustration . Girls were taught to be `nice”, to speak softly, and to never express anger openly. Wish I could say it’s not like this anymore..but it still is in many homes. Some of these lessons are instilled very deeply into our psyche in the formative years, and affect us for entire lifetimes.

We can’t change, or grow, or change anything about ourselves unless, as adults, unless we choose to. This means being willing to look inward; to embrace enough honest introspection to objectively evaluate what we find. Over and over again, I see people resist this: it is always much easier to look outside oneself for the causes of conflict and misery. So, lots of us, when we run into problems with others that just keep repeating themselves, never think to ask ourselves, could there possibly be something “off” in how “I” am communicating with others?

My own long journey down this introspective path, (with outside help), was one of humbling, horrifying discovery. Like many people, I was shaped by early sexual/physical abuse in an harsh, violent alcoholic home. I learned as I went along, how much of how I communicated with others, was designed to protect and defend myself, and it took the form of a very aggressive communication style that insured me I could stay “in control” of my interactions with others. No was ever going to get the best of me again. Can you even imagine how well this went over back in the 50’s and 60’s, when all “good women” were to be seen and NOT heard?! I could have more easily painted a red bulls eye on my back. Eventually, I got battered down enough to stop trying to communicate with my world, and simply withdrew into the silent world of and addiction and depression. In the recovery years was when I learned that I knew almost NOTHING about effective or respectful communication with other human beings. It was start from scratch for me.

The only way we can learn how effective our communication style is, others is by how successful we are in getting others to hear the messages we actually want to send.. They let us know this by how they react to us.

If how I communicate my message passes people off, and makes them want to attack me back, well..ok, mission accomplished, IF that’s the reaction I wanted. But if I really wanted them to hear the content of my message, to be able to take it in and consider it, uh oh. Mission NOT accomplished.

If this only happens now and then, I can chalk it up to other people’s stuff and go on my merry way till I find those who are willing to listen to me.

BUT, if find that I no matter how hard I try to be heard, I am consistently drawing defensive and counter attacking responses from a number of others, then it’s time for me to take a look in the reflecting pool. (Because really folks, it actually was quite unlikely that I was the only sane one in this world, and everyone else was nuts.)

I find this little parable quite useful.

If one person tells me have a green tail trailing around behind you, it’s easy to ignore them. How ridiculous.

If two people tell me have a green tail, well, what’s up with that? I need new friends, that’s all.

But if a bunch of people start telling me I am dragging a green tail around, I’d better damned well turn around and take a look, if I’ve got any smarts at all.

Pissing people off to the point all they want to do is pound on us in only one thing than can happen to us when we pay no attention to our own communication styles. Other, more painful things that can occur.

Like people we may care a lot about distancing themselves from us, maybe because they are sick of feeling “put down” or “dismissed” or “controlled” by our communication style. (Note: I had NO conscious intention of putting down, dismissing, or controlling anyone back in the days of my own bulldozing commination style. But that WAS how it affected others anyway. Even those I loved the most, who I would never have intentionally harmed.)

An ineffective, off-putting communication style also has the potential to sabotage us in our desire to reach our own goals, even when those goals themselves may be completely altruistic and even noble. I still cringe when I look back at my counseling style of those old days, and see (now) where “telling people what “I” think they should do”, rather than empowering them to decide this for themselves, did not serve them at all, an only fed my own ego. Now I can understand why co workers hated to see me coming, so eager I was to tell them how to do their work “better” or more efficiently. All I did with how I was communication was shooting my own foot off over and over, and causing others to feel belittled in the process.

I knew nothing..and I mean NOTHING… about the incredible power..of LISTENING, with a sincere desire..to understand in ways we can use to further genuine communication. (Covy is right smack on target with this part.)

Knowing how to LISTEN, and to come up with a sincere desire to actually HEAR what someone is saying, thinking, feeling is nearly a lost art in today’s world. Instead, we use worlds like weapons, and an endless supply of them, to defend, deflect, convince and attack each other. Everyone talks, and so few can listen. Of those, even fewer can truly “hear” each other.

All of our relationships in this life depend on whether or not we can effectively communicate with each other. If I want to have close, intimate personal relationships, satisfying social and professional relationships, I see no way around focusing on how I am choosing to communicate, then adjusting and expanding my skills in this incredibly vital area of human interaction and relationships.

I beleive we have a choice as to whether to learn how to use words to weave stronger interpersonal ties and to bridge conflicts and differences, or we can use them as weapons of defense, coercion, and attack, with or without conscious intenion.

So. Any thoughts to share on any of this so far?

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