Thursday, February 23, 2012

Levels of Communication: Why we're disconnected in a connected world

I'm reading a book that suggests that there are 5 levels of communication, with level 5 being the least communicative of the inner self and level 1 being the most communicative.  I've tweaked their thoughts a bit but it has brought me to some rather interesting thoughts which I will share at the end.

Level 5 - cliche conversation.  "Hi, how are you?"  Nothing is really given of the self at this level.  No risk is taken; yet some interaction has taken place.
Level 4 - reporting facts.  At this level, virtually nothing of the self is communicated.  All that is learned about the person is what he or she observed or heard.
Level 3 - reporting thoughts.  Risks are taken at this level because our personal beliefs can draw anger, hurt, and other reactions squarely at us.
Level 2 - reporting emotions.  This is "gut level" communication, the one where the greatest risks are felt.  Healthy group communication requires this level of sharing on a consistent basis.
Level 1 - perfect, mutual, empathetic understanding.  All of the other levels of communication are based upon one person and their willingness for openness, however this level requires consistent, open, mutual communication between more than one person so that these people begin to understand and empathize with each other.

I found this to be very insightful and helpful in thinking about communication; I believe I have observed these levels of communication within my own relationships and can attest to their accuracy.

Now, on to the interesting thoughts that this raised in my mind.  I have observed and heard others observe that as a culture we have picked up a habit of prefacing thoughts or feelings with "I think" or "I feel".  We no longer just say what we believe or what we are feeling, rather we couch our thoughts and feelings as that.  It seems to me that this type of communication releases a person from the risks associated with opening themselves up and sharing of their inner self.  If I say "People shouldn't eat desserts after 9pm" it opens me up to argument and attack, however if I say "I think people shouldn't eat desserts after 9pm" I have deflected that attack because rather than stating what I think I have stated the fact that I think it, and who can argue with that?
Same with our feelings.  Rather than saying "You hurt me when you said ..." we say "I feel like you were trying to hurt me" or "I felt hurt when you said..."  It is a subtle change, and one that may seem insignificant, but we all do it; I've noticed that virtually everyone will couch thoughts and feelings with an "I think" or "I feel".

Now, I'm going to connect these two thoughts and this is where I get.  In the past 30-50 years, with the advance of psychology and the encouragement to share our feelings, our culture has become much more open about our inner selves.  We are more willing to express our thoughts and feelings, to engage in what would appear to be level 2 and 3 communication.  And this should lead to vulnerability, to openness, and ultimately to change (whenever we open ourselves up to those around us we give them the ability to speak into and change our inner being), however, I think that we have created defenses around this.  Rather than honestly opening up and sharing our thoughts and feelings whatever the risks, we turn our thoughts and feelings into facts.

Rather than saying what I am thinking, I communicate it as external facts. Its the difference between saying "The fact is, I think the U.S. is the leading cause of world hunger."  and "The U.S. is the leading cause of world hunger"  In the second I have revealed a bit of my inner workings, my thoughts and feelings on the issue, which opens me to ridicule or attack, but in the second I have turned my thoughts and feelings into an external fact and reported that fact to you instead, thus moving our communication to the fourth level rather than the third or second where it could be.

We can see this all around in our society.  Even in facebook statuses, people take what could and is very personal and display it as a 200 character fact for the world to see.  Suddenly their emotions aren't as raw or their thoughts as real, they're just facts on a page that we engage and then move on.

Does your speech reflect your real thoughts and emotions?  Are you willing and able to engage in deep, raw, real revelation of your inner self?  May you grow in your vulnerability and willingness to share your inner thoughts and feelings with those closest to you, thereby growing the depth of your relationships and allowing for deeper and longer lasting change in who you are.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Addressing Difficult Situations - Proverbs 3

We all face difficult situations throughout our lives; the kind where wake up in the middle of the night asking yourself, "what am I even supposed to do?"  I had a difficult situation this week, there were no middle of the night episodes, but I did find myself thinking about it several times a day trying to think of resolutions and ways to work through it.  In the midst of all of this I read Proverbs 3 (I've decided to start reading Proverbs the other week and am only in chapter 3...) and found it to relate quite well to all of this.  You can read the whole chapter if you like, but I'm going to write up a few things that I found to be especially helpful to me this week as I tried to discern the best approach to a situation that may not have a best approach.

"Let love and faithfulness never leave you."  Its easy when addressing something or someone to only see the bad in it/them and to therefore treat it/them as a problem.  However, even when someone has screwed up or when a situation is a mess we must approach it with love and faithfulness.  Are you treating those around you, even those you don't like or those who annoy you, with love AND faithfulness?  Do you just stick around for the good times, do you only love in the good times, or are you consistent no matter how others treat you?  According to this passage when you live in this way you will win favor and a good name from both God and men.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding"  If you've been in Christian circles for any period of time you've probably heard this verse multiple times, you may even have it memorized.  But this really took on new meaning for me this week in dealing with something that was beyond my own understanding.  Interestingly, though, not only are we to trust in Him, but when He comes through we are to "acknowledge Him in all our ways" and if we do that "He will make our paths straight."  It takes a lot of pressure off when we realize that if we trust God and acknowledge that we can't handle things on our own that He will take us up on that and give us straight paths to walk in.

"Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil."  Sometimes its easy, when faced with a difficult situation that we don't know how to deal with, to bend the rules a little or to act in ways we wouldn't normally act.  Sometimes, when we don't know how to address a situation in a healthy way we can come up with these terribly creative ideas of how to handle it that in the end do more harm than good.  But God wants us to know, it is better to fear the Lord and refrain from evil or crooked ways of dealing with things and appear a fool, than to look wise and handle things in a perverse way.

What are you facing today or this week?  Are there things that you don't know how to address or work through?  Are there difficult situations or difficult people that you have to deal with?  Well remember these things, keep them in the forefront of your mind.  Trust in the Lord rather than yourself.  If there's something that you think would be a good idea, or a good way of dealing with it, take some time to pray and reflect on what the Bible teaches in relation to your actions.  And overall, be sure to live and act in a loving and faithful way that ultimately brings the glory back to God, not you.