Communication between people is a multilayered process. Because of this fact, many of us feel inadequate in our attempts to understand others and be understood. Whenever any two people try to communicate, there are at least two levels to that communication: the overt, conscious message and the covert, hidden message. The overt message consists of the words we hear and the gestures we see. The hidden message has more to do with the intent behind the words. This is something we ordinarily overlook because we don’t have the language to deal with it. Consider this example: on her way out the door, Jerry’s seventeen-year-old daughter Melanie announces, “Don’t wait up. I’ll probably be home after midnight.” The overt message here is some information about what time she’ll be home. What’s the hidden message? She is telling him that she is making her own decisions now about what time she’ll get home. She’s letting him know that he no longer has that sort of power over her. In other words, she’s asserting her independence.
Jerry receives and registers his daughter’s message on both levels. He hears her words. And he feels a discomfort in his gut — there’s something about her statement that just does not sit well with him. But, like most people, Jerry has not been trained to put value on his subtler gut-level reactions. So he nods robotically and gives his usual reply: “Have a good time and be careful.”
A communication like this leaves both people with a sense of incompleteness. There’s something between them that has not been acknowledged. The next time they are together, that unfinished business will affect how relaxed and connected they feel with each other. In time, as more and more of these incomplete communications recur, their communication channels will become more clogged.
If Jerry had better communication skills, he might notice the uneasy feeling in his gut and comment on it instead of going on automatic. Even if he didn’t know why, he’d still trust his gut feeling that there was more to Melanie’s message than the words he heard. If Jerry had access to the Seven Keys to Authentic Communication and Relationship Success that you’ll learn about in the following chapters, he might respond, “Hearing you say that, I feel uncomfortable. Are you telling me that you’re now setting your own curfew?” Or he might feel something stronger, such as anger: “Hearing you say you’ll be home after midnight, I feel angry. I think we need to talk more about this.”
Using the key phrase, “Hearing you say that, I feel...” gives Jerry a lead-in to stay present to his feelings and thoughts about what he just heard. It helps him pay attention to his more deeply felt but subtler reactions, enabling him to respond in a more authentic way.
In this book, you will learn about how and when to use this key phrase and six others to make yourself a more authentic, conscious, and powerful communicator. These phrases support you in noticing and expressing what you really feel — so you’ll be more effective in your relationships with others.
Cleaner Communication Equals Less Stress
We all know how unclear communication and unfinished business from the past interferes with our ability to be present. Knowing the seven keys helps you prevent the buildup of unfinished business in your communications with mates, lovers, friends, family, and coworkers. These tools help you get in touch with what you are feeling and express it rather than stuff it. Some of these tools can also be useful for cleaning up old business from the past.
Unclear communications and unexpressed discomfort about them are a major source of stress in our lives. How often have you wasted energy worrying about what you should have said or wondering what someone really meant? Imagine how much more time and energy we’d all have if we had better communication skills.
The seven keys help you become more present — so they could also be seen as seven keys to present-centered relating. When your communications are based on present-time feelings, and you know how to skillfully clean up the old business from your past, you have a lot more of your mental attention and energy available to you.
Unmasking the Intent to Control
In my opening paragraph I mentioned that every communication has an intent behind it. Most of us do not have the knowledge, the skill, or the confidence to address the often hidden intent of another’s communication — especially if the intent has something to do with trying to control an unknown outcome or trying to mask one’s anxiety about feeling “not in control.” People try to manipulate the outcome of their interactions all the time. And if they’re not doing that, they’re trying to bolster their egos by acting more in control or “on top of” the situation than is actually the case. In my research, I discovered that almost 90 percent of all human communication comes from the (usually unconscious) intent to control. Most of us are not aware of when we are communicating with the intent to control and when we are expressing our feelings and thoughts simply to exchange feelings or information.
The intent to control reveals itself in many disguises:
- denying that you feel pain when you’re hurting
- trying to impress others
- manipulating to get what you want
- being nice or agreeable to avoid a hassle
- lying to protect someone’s feelings
- assuming you know something that you really cannot know, instead of living with the uncertainty of the situation (e.g., jumping to conclusions or making assumptions about what someone else’s behavior means)
- keeping silent to avoid conflict
- playing it safe
- trying not to rock the boat
- trying to appear more “together” or composed than you really feel
As you look down this list, you’ll notice that all of these things have something to do with avoiding uncomfortable feelings (e.g., anxiety about feeling not in control) or avoiding an unwanted outcome. Perhaps you recognize yourself in one or more of these examples. If you do, then you’re probably aware enough to admit that this sort of controlling doesn’t really work. We may cling to the illusion of control and continue trying to predict or manipulate the outcome — for example, we may try to make ourselves feel more comfortable by assuming we know how someone else is going to react to us. But we can’t; such things are unknowable until they are revealed in time. If you are focused more on avoiding the discomfort of not knowing than on communicating and really listening to others, you are not present. You’re in your head or in the future — as if you’re playing a game of chess: “If I make this move, my opponent will have to make that move.” This is an example of the intent to control. This sort of strategizing keeps you in a state of chronic fear or anxiety. Trying to avoid uncertainty is very stressful. On the other hand, when you relax your grip, allow things to unfold, and pay attention to what is actually going on (vs. your wishful thinking or your fears), you are naturally more confident.
Again, most people are not even conscious of the fact that most of their self-talk and communication with others comes from the intent to control. It’s no wonder that they often feel frustrated and out of control. You see, the more you try to control things, the more out of control you feel. When you are more focused on creating a favorable outcome or a favorable impression than on expressing yourself authentically, you are reinforcing your fears and anxieties. You are in a sense affirming that if things do not turn out according to plan, you will not be okay. This puts your well-being on pretty shaky ground. The fact is, you will be okay. And the only way to really discover this and learn to trust yourself is to risk feeling what you feel and expressing yourself authentically. Feeling and expressing what’s so for you in each moment is what I call “getting real,” or “relating.” There is a big difference between communication that comes from the intent to relate and communication that comes from the intent to control.
Controlling Is Largely Unconscious
Most people’s communications are tarnished by unconscious defense mechanisms designed to protect them from feeling hurt, rejected, abandoned, controlled, or not in control. All of us have been hurt by other people at some time in our lives as we have tried to express ourselves authentically, offer love, or get our needs met. Somewhere in our past we learned various strategies to protect ourselves in order to minimize further damage. In my own case, I learned to judge my father for how easily he was provoked to anger rather than simply feel my fear of his anger at me. So now, when someone I love gets angry at me, I have a tendency to judge rather than feel. Most of us have developed similar control patterns, and we’re not even conscious of how this robs us of our ability to feel and express our real feelings. We may not be conscious of our patterns, but other people are impacted by them nonetheless. And we are impacted when we’re on the receiving end of such strategies — as we saw in the case of Jerry and Melanie.
But healthy human communication is not really about protecting ourselves from discomfort or controlling how others react to us. Healthy communication, communication that fosters connection, trust, intimacy, and respect, is about knowing and being known. It is not about getting people to do what we want. It’s about creating mutually beneficial solutions. It is not about controlling what we feel. It is about feeling what we feel, and sharing what we feel and think in the present moment. This sort of openhearted sharing is “relating.”
Controlling vs. Relating: What’s the Difference?
Here is an example of how the intent to control might show up subtly in an intimate relationship. Georgia tells her husband, “Since you’re going out with your friends tonight, I think I’ll call my ex and see if he wants to come over. He still enjoys my company.” Instead of telling her husband how she feels about his going out without her, she sends the not-so-subtle message that if he chooses not to be with her this evening, she’ll find someone else who will. If her husband, Howie, knew how to say what’s real, he would reply, “Hearing you say that, I feel...” (followed by a feeling such as disappointed, threatened, angry, or insecure). Without such tools, he’ll probably do what most unskilled communicators would do — he’ll try to act unruffled or in control: “Sure, honey...whatever.” The phrase “Hearing you say that, I feel...” supports relating. Most people are in the habit of controlling.
This phrase helps you bring your awareness to this present moment. When you can do this, you’re more connected to yourself and to the overall context, so you feel more confident and powerful. Fear of an unwanted outcome recedes into the background and is replaced by trust, the most basic kind of trust there is — the trust that no matter what the outcome, you will be resourceful enough to deal with it.
The Seven Keys Help You Feel Safe
The seven key phrases you are about to learn are designed to enhance your capacity for love and trust by bringing your awareness into this present moment. The regular use of these seven statements proves that when you know how to focus your attention on the present moment of contact instead of getting caught up in the mind’s machinations and strategies, you naturally feel safe. You learn that you don’t need to insure a predictable outcome to feel okay. Then you can let go of the illusion of control.
On the other hand, if you allow your attention to be clouded by hidden agendas and unfinished business that you do not know how to address, you will feel unsafe. When you feel unsafe, your need to control things gets magnified. This breeds further fear and mistrust.
It has taken me thirty-five years of working as a relationship coach and teamwork consultant to boil the knotty problem of human communication down to its essence. The seven statements you are about to learn are essential for having authentic relationships. Use them whenever you want to keep your attention focused on what is going on here and now with this person in front of you. Using these seven statements prevents your fears about an uncertain outcome from taking over because you are more connected to yourself and to the other in present time. Feeling present and connected keeps your attention on what you’re doing. This is very empowering. When you’re present, you’re not in fear. Fear is about the future.
The need to control the outcome often comes from the fear that something will happen in the future that you won’t be able to deal with, so you try to control how you come across or how the other person responds to you. Present-centered communication (relating) is open and relaxed about such things. Your aim is to express yourself authentically and allow the other to have whatever reaction he has. When you are not so focused on controlling the outcome or your anxiety about the outcome, your attention is available to deal with what’s really going on right here in front of you. You’re naturally going to be more resourceful. Take Jerry and Melanie’s brief conversation as a case in point. If Jerry had told her, “Hearing you say I shouldn’t wait up for you, I’m feeling uncomfortable,” he would have made real contact and received his daughter’s attention in a more meaningful way.
Using the seven key phrases brings you into a frame of mind that taps into your natural loving and self-trusting essence, as opposed to your self-protective (fear-based) conditioned self. You develop the ability to relate more and control less. And you learn that whatever the other’s reaction, you’ll find within yourself the resources to deal with it.
Can You Make These Statements?
Before being introduced to the Seven Keys to Relationship Success, take the following quiz. The quiz consists of fifteen statements, not seven. But all fifteen are variations on the seven, and when applied consistently they can lead to successful outcomes for most relationship dilemmas.
Take a look at the fifteen statements below. Next to each statement, write 0 if it would rarely or never occur to you to say this, 1 if you might occasionally make this statement, and 2 if such a statement is typical of your style.
1. Hearing you say how that affected you, I feel sorry I did that.
2. I want you to listen and hear me out before responding.
3. I’m sorry. If I had it to do over, I would...
4. Tell me more about why you feel/think/see it that way.
5. I didn’t mean to hurt you. What I wish I’d been able to communicate is...
6. I’d like to make it up to you/to make amends.
7. Could we sit down and talk about something that’s on my mind?
8. I’m feeling unfinished about that recent conversation between us. Could we talk about it?
9. I need some time before I respond to you.
10. I see it differently than that. May I tell you how I see it?
11. I think/favor/want...What do you think/favor/want?
12. I appreciate you for...(something this person did or said).
13. I want...How does that work for you? (Is this something you can give?)
14. I feel crummy about what just happened. Can we talk about it?
15. I notice myself getting defensive. I think I’m getting triggered.
The highest possible score is thirty, and the lowest would be zero. The higher your score, the higher your likelihood of having successful relationships. Here is a breakdown of what your scores might mean:
Benefits You Can Expect
- 0–9: You probably find yourself frustrated in relationships more often than you would like. This book will open your eyes to new possibilities.
- 10–15: You have a high aptitude for relating and are open to learning. You will probably find the skills and tools in this book compatible with your style.
- 16–24: You have good relationship skills and have the aptitude to take your skills to the highest level if you wish. Read on!
- 25–30: Your capacity for present-centered relating is already at a very high level. Congratulations! Perhaps this book can be useful in helping others you know reach the level you’re already at.
If you are like most people, you need to believe there is a reasonable chance of succeeding before trying something new in potentially risky situations. The seven key phrases foster greater self-confidence when you’re trying something new because they give you an actual script to get you started. Once you have uttered the words, “Hearing you say that, I feel...,” the rest is a lot easier.
Other benefits you can expect are:
Communicating with Awareness
- The seven keys bring you into the here and now. This helps you stay focused on what is real rather than what is imagined or feared. Fears are usually about the future. When you are present, you are in your body and more apt to be in your heart as well. This helps others trust you more and helps you trust yourself.
- They make you more resourceful. When you are more conscious and present, you are more resourceful. Your attention is on your current reality, so your communications are more likely to bring successful outcomes.
- They make your communication more impactful. When you make stronger, more intimate contact, you are more likely to get the other’s full attention. You are not easy to ignore.
- They put you in a more open state of mind by helping you access a fuller range of feelings, including the softer feelings and wants that lie underneath the harder, more defensive feelings. This builds empathy, trust, and rapport between yourself and others.
- They assist you in feeling connected not just with yourself and the other, but also with your entire context or current reality. This means your communications are more apt to be appropriate to the situation rather than understated or over the top. When you are more connected to your current reality, you make healthier choices because you see more of the total picture.
- They put you and the other person into a cooperative relationship rather than an adversarial one. When you communicate with the intent to relate using these statements, you are sending the meta-message, “I’m on your side, I value this relationship, I’m willing to take a risk or take some leadership to help make our relationship better.”
- They help you unhook from who you think you are or who you think you should be. Being in the present and communicating from that experience of presence allows you to expand your identity to one that is more spiritually unified with all that is. When you’re not focused on controlling the outcome, you tend to feel mostly loving, relaxed, and open — even when things don’t go your way. Presence brings you into a state of harmony and unity with the rest of life. When you are simply authentically present, you tend to become less invested in your self-image or who you think you are.
Practicing the seven keys is a curriculum for presence. They foster a high level of self-awareness in each moment. This engenders respect and openness from others, whereas trying to make others respect you engenders the opposite.
They remind you to relate. When you are relating, your communications take on a quality of caring, openness, and authenticity that just naturally engenders respect and love. It’s a paradox — when you stop trying to play it safe or get others’ approval, then you wind up winning the admiration and respect you want. When you are trying to control the outcome, you are in your head, imagining something that is not now. Your communications tend to come across as less connected, less genuine, and therefore less trustworthy. People may feel manipulated around you without knowing why.
Whenever you are in a situation where you can’t get through to someone or communications have hit a wall, try using one of these seven key phrases. If one doesn’t work for you, try another. In most difficult situations, any one of the seven can get things moving again because they all bring you into present time. In a very real sense, they bring you back to reality.
Sometimes using just one of these phrases will get you back on track or keep you on the right course. Other times, you’ll want to use two or more of them together.
In the chapters that follow, you’ll be learning about how and when to apply these seven vital communication practices.
Based on the book Saying What’s Real: 7 Keys to Authentic Communication and Relationship Success. Copyright 2005 Susan M. Campbell. Reprinted with permission of H J Kramer/New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com