One of the major reasons for the failure of relationships or of businesses is a failure to communicate clearly. There are also powerful reasons for thinking that much ill health is rooted in “blockages:” inadequate communication between your body, your mind, your emotions, subtle systems and spirituality.
Any communication consists of ten essential components:
- The integrity and mental state of the sender
- The intent of the sender
- The expectation of the sender
- The information
- The medium
- The context
- The receiver
- The mental state of the receiver
- The reaction or response of the receiver
- The meta-text and meta-communication of the exchange
Naturally, in a healthy communication, everyone involved takes turns being the sender and the receiver, and this interaction between you creates the overall message. I must be very clear that I’m not just talking about verbal communication, but also physical and intimate interactions, business and family discourses.
I’d also like to take the whole notion of communication a step further: meaningful communication needs for us to be consciously aware of the interaction, and we should see it not just as an exchange of information, but of energy. A charismatic individual may communicate a lot more than mere words and his or her impact may last long after the words have been forgotten. On the other hand, there is actually a technical term – phatic communion - for empty language that is purely used for social lubrication: “How are you?” “You’re welcome,” “Have a nice day.”
It really is important to be aware of all of these components of communication. A problem in any one of them can make a mess of any attempt for people to connect. Too often I see people think only of the sender, the message and the recipient, without realizing that it is the other aspects of communication that are the keys to success or failure. This is often very important in therapy: people may ruminate on something said to them, when they should be considering the context of whatever was said.
Meta-text and meta-communication refer to the whole spectrum of other components of our interactions that stretch beyond the message itself. These include the types of language that we use as well as prosodic cues. And if people are in close proximity, body language and gesture. You may well know that it is possible to tell a great deal about someone’s intentions by studying changes in the tone of their facial muscles, changes in the color of their skin and the directions I which they move their eyes when speaking. How we use certain words to fill in our communication can be as important as the main body of a communication. Something that we do all the time is to try to understand the underlying meaning or meta-text, that is often quite different form the actual words being spoken.
Whether dealing with an individual in therapy or a business that wants to perform better, there is a series of critical questions that will uncover communication problems:
- Do you have any communication problems?
- Who is responsible for it?
- Is there a disconnection between the mental state of any message sender and the message itself?
- Does the sender have a clear purpose in communicating?
- Are people able to understand the sender? (T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia fame) was said to have one of the largest vocabularies at the University of Oxford. So large that many people didn’t have a clue what he was talking about!)
- Is information being communicated appropriately?
- Is the environment conducive to communication?
- What is interfering with communication?
- How long has this been a problem?
- Why has the problem not been solved?
If there is a communication problem, consider starting from scratch:
- Any communication contains information and energy: are they both clear and pure?
- Is there congruence between what is being communicated and the intent of the communicator?
- Is there a culture of integrity in communications?
- Are people striving for the greater good or personal aggrandizement?
- What people, policies or procedures are interfering with communication?
- How are communications becoming degraded?
- What and who's emotions are interfering with the informatyion and the energy of any communications?
- What might lead to the misunderstanding of a message?
- What systems are in place to ensure that communications are being received and understood correctly?
- What system of questioning is in place?
Once we understand each of the phases of communication, and that it is a dynamic exchange of energy and not just information transfer. And that ANY message or communication is subject to degradation, and that there are ways to check for and correct it, you are well on your way to abolishing many of the problems that can wreck relationships, capsize companies and ruin a therapeutic alliance.
“Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships he makes with others and what happens to him in the world about him.”
-- Virginia Satir (American Family Therapist, 1916-1988)
“Skill in the art of communication is crucial to a leader's success. He can accomplish nothing unless he can communicate effectively.”
-- Norman Allen (American Playwright, Recipient of a Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play)
“A world community can exist only with world communication, which means something more than extensive shortwave facilities scattered about the globe. It means common understanding, a common tradition, common ideas, and common ideals.”
--Robert M. Hutchins (American Educator, and, from 1929-1945, President of the University of Chicago, 1899-1977)