In order to communicate fully with another person it is important that we are able to express what is going on for us honestly. However, this can often lead to an ‘argument’, with our thoughts and feelings being denied by the other as they respond with pain and a desire to justify or excuse themselves.
The 5 Fields Authentic Communication Framework introduced in the last blog provides a way where we are more likely to be heard and understood by the other person, rather than argued with.
What is the magic formula?
Well, there is no magic bullet, and good communication relies on a willingness by both parties to be open to speaking truthfully and to hearing what the other person has to say. However, using this framework can greatly increase the chances of you being heard and reduce the chances of it descending in to futile argument. Here’s how:
In the last communication blog I gave a brief outline of the Authentic Communication Framework and the five different aspects. (you may wish to take another look at this blog : https://exploringtheshadow.co.uk/2014/04/04/how-can-we-communicate-with-authenticity-and-depth/ ).
I believe good communication requires 5 different aspects to be communicated. These are:
- Facts. The facts of the situation that we can both agree on.
- Fears and Fantasies. The thoughts, beliefs, ideas and judgements that we have about this data.
- Feelings. How we feel in this situation.
- Fortress. Our boundary. What wasn’t ok for us.
- Forward From Here. What we want to move forward.
Today we are going to deal with the first two of these: Facts, and Fears and Fantasies. (We’ll explore Feelings, Fortress and Forward From Here in future blogs.).
Much difficulty in communication arises when we cannot clearly separate the facts themselves from our own fears and fantasies – the thoughts we have and the judgements we make in the light of these facts.
We are all hard wired to make quick judgements of a situation for our own safety. For example, if a tiger is running towards us we will most likely fear that we are in danger, and we will run away as fast as we can. It won’t serve us to sit around and examine whether or not our fear is appropriate. That can be done later once we’re safely out of harms way. However, the thought ‘My life is in danger’ WAS only a fear. It wasn’t a fact. The tiger may not have been hungry, the tiger may not enjoy the taste of human flesh, or she may have been running towards a different target, an antelope standing behind us for example. Or the tiger may have had no teeth or may just have wanted to play. The only FACT we knew in that moment was that the tiger was running towards us.
Similarly, for our emotional and physical safety in every day life we may make quick judgements of a situation that aren’t necessarily correct:
Fact: He’s raising his voice.
Fear/Fantasy: He’s going to hit me!
Fact: She’s turning away as she talks.
Fear/Fantasy: She must be lying!
Fact: He was late for our date.
Fear/Fantasy: He doesn’t care about me!
Fact: She wants to see her friend.
Fear/Fantasy: She doesn’t want to be with me!
These are the kind of judgements that we believe are worth expressing as fears and fantasies rather than facts. This allows for a more mature exploration of what happened, where the other person is less likely to take offense and more likely to be able to hear what is going on for us. Can we step back for just a moment and allow the possibility that our fears and fantasies might not be correct? Just allowing this tiniest chink of possibility to open up can make a world of difference to our communication and our relationships.
It’s important to realise that we all have fears and fantasies that lead us to make judgements – of others or of situations. They are part of human nature. We have a right to have them, and at times they may save us from some very difficult or dangerous situations. However, it’s also important to recognise that they are ONLY FEARS AND FANTASIES. They may be true, but they may also NOT be true. In effective communication it is good to keep an open mind on this.
So in our Authentic Communication Framework we take care to separate the facts from our fears and fantasies, and to communicate them separately. We also find it helpful to get agreement from the other person about the basic facts, so that we know we are talking about something that we both agree on.
Let’s take a look at what we mean. Here we have something that may be given as a fact.
I might start a heated conversation with my boyfriend saying:
‘You didn’t turn up for our date last night.’
This sounds like a clear cut fact. But hang on a minute. What if I got the date wrong, and it’s actually tomorrow night, or maybe I got the venue wrong, or the time? He may not agree with this as a fact at all. So I could start the conversation a different way. I might say:
‘I was sitting in Joey’s wine bar at 8 o’clock last night expecting you to arrive and you didn’t turn up.’
It is more likely he will find this a fact that he can agree with.
I may go on then to add a judgement to this. I may say:
‘You’re not to be trusted.’
Now, I certainly have a right to my thoughts around what happened. I just need to recognise that they’re not necessarily true. There are many different ideas I could have about him not turning up. Maybe:
‘When you didn’t turn up I thought you were deliberately trying to hurt me.’
‘When you didn’t turn up I thought you were with Sarah.’
‘When you didn’t turn up I thought you’d been in an awful accident.’
‘When you didn’t turn up I thought that perhaps you’re not someone I can trust.’
…or any other number of different fears and fantasies I may have as a result of what happened.
Our fears and fantasies are best expressed as ‘I imagined…’ ‘I feared…’ ‘I thought…’ or ‘I believed….’ ‘or ‘I assumed…’. This gives a small gap, a breathing space in the conversation. It opens up the possibility that the other person could agree with or refute your statements. They are not facts. They are open for discussion.
So, with time to think a bit more I might say:
‘I was sitting in Joey’s wine bar at 8 o’clock last night expecting you to arrive and you didn’t turn up. When you didn’t turn up I began to think that maybe I can’t really trust you. I know this isn’t necessarily true, but it’s the sense I made of you not turning up. It’s really important to me to talk it through with you.’
This is a more authentic start to our conversation. (It doesn’t mean that I don’t have strong feelings about what happened, or that I don’t want things to be different. We’ll come on to that in the next blog.)
Below are some examples of fears and fantasies that we may confuse with facts. The first statement in each pair contains a judgement. The second statement gives the pure facts from which these judgements have been formed. Facts we often think of as something you could record or film. At the very least the facts must be something both people agree about. Our fears and fantasies are the conclusions we draw from these facts.
Fear/Fantasy. ‘You find me unattractive’.
Fact. ‘You said ‘Sarah looks beautiful tonight’.’
Fear/Fantasy. ‘You were thoughtless’.
Fact. ‘You arrived at half past seven and I expected you to come at seven.’
Fear/Fantasy. ‘You weren’t listening.’
Fact. ‘Your eyes were looking down and you were writing in your notebook.’
Fear/Fantasy. ‘You were insensitive.’
Fact. ‘You said John looked fat in his new top.’
Fear/Fantasy. ‘You were rude.’
Fact. ‘You sat down in the last chair and there was nowhere for Jo to sit.’
Fear/Fantasy. ‘You were unreasonable.’
Fact. ‘You said you didn’t like the food I’d cooked.’
The simple change of separating out the facts from your fears and fantasies can make the world of difference to the quality of your communication, and makes it much more likely that you will be heard and understood. (It doesn’t mean the other person will like what they hear, but they’re less likely to have such a strong reaction.) The other person now has a chance to understand clearly the behaviour that led to your judgement of them. It is worth trying this next time you need to speak to someone about something that you fear may be emotionally charged. You may find it leads to a more constructive conversation. It is less likely to lead to an argument as the ‘facts’ are something you both agree on, and the judgements are owned by you and clearly stated as your fears and fantasies, which you acknowledge may or may not be true.
I will explore ‘Feelings’, ‘Fortress’ and ‘Forward From Here’ in my next blogs, so that you will then, if you wish, be able to use the model in full.
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