There are certain situations in our life that call for us to dig deep and talk about what is really important to us. When the stakes are high it is important that we communicate effectively, if we are misunderstood in these important moments it can cause much pain and confusion. When we wish to build trust in a relationship, or when we want to be sure we are really heard, things go much better if we can communicate what we want to say fully and authentically. In reality this is no small thing to achieve and it requires both courage and vulnerability.
When we share ourselves fully we are stepping in to the unknown and we cannot predict the consequences. Communication becomes much more about expressing ourselves and what we are thinking and feeling, and less about trying to achieve a particular outcome or hoping to get our needs met by the other person. However, what we stand to gain is increased intimacy and deeper understanding – both of ourselves and the other. This deeper trust and understanding increases the chances that we will be able to work together towards ‘win win’ solutions where we can both feel happy with the outcome.
We often communicate only half of what is really going on for us. If we are to truly communicate then we need to share all of who we are, not just selected parts of ourselves. The parts that tend to get left out in communication are the things that may make us vulnerable to the other, or cause us some shame or discomfort. Yet these are the very parts of ourselves that we need to share if we wish the other person to open their heart to us and really hear what we want to say. It is necessary to express these things if we want true communication to flow.
We also tend to avoid saying things we fear might compromise our relationship and cause the other person to leave us or judge us. Yet, if we wish to communicate with full authenticity we need to be able to accept that relationships may change or end, otherwise we will always be compromised to some extent in our communication and there will always be certain thoughts, feelings or ideas that are ‘off limits’ in our conversations. In the terminology of my work I would say that these off limit topics have been put in to shadow. Paradoxically, once something is hidden away in shadow like this it has the potential to cause way more damage and destruction than if it is acknowledged openly.
In The 5 Fields Authentic Communication Framework that I use with couples, clients and groups we break communication down in to 5 different sections:
Facts What actually happened.
Fears and Fantasies What we think or believe about what happened.
Feelings How we feel about what happened.
Fortress Our boundary. What is not ok for us.
Forward From Here What we want from the other person in order to move forward.
Now let’s look at using this framework in more detail.
Some of us find it relatively easy to tell another person what we don’t like about their behaviour (Facts), and to make accusations and judgments (Fears and Fantasies). For example:
‘You’re ALWAYS late home from work – you’re so THOUGHTLESS.’
What we are leaving out in this however is how we feel in response to their behaviour. Our genuine deep feeling, such as sadness, anger or fear. We are also forgetting to say what we actually want from the person, in place of the behaviour that we don’t like. It might be better to say:
‘I feel frightened when you’re late home. I fear that we’re growing apart. I’d like you to come home earlier so we can spend the evening together.’
However it can take a lot of courage to say what we fear. We may not want to have our fears confirmed. We may have a sense that speaking our fears makes them more likely to come true. Or we may worry that our fears will be seen as childish or silly.
It can also feel very vulnerable to ask for what we want, so without realising it many of us leave this out too. Yet this can leave the other person floundering, they only hear what they have done ‘wrong’ and yet are left with no idea what the ‘right’ thing to do would be. If we want to communicate effectively we need to let go of the hope that someone else will magically know what is right for us, and we need to communicate what we want clearly. We also need to accept that we may not get what we want. However it’s still important to communicate this so that the other person can know us better.
Another difficulty with communication can come in muddling up what has actually happened with our fears and fantasies. This too can leave the other person feeling confused. For example, if my friend was an hour late to meet me yesterday, and I got very annoyed waiting for her, I might say:
‘You’re so late, you really don’t value our friendship do you? I bet you were with your new boyfriend, you think he’s more important than me. You’re just not a good friend to me anymore and I need a good friend right now that I can trust.’
Now, for my friend to hear this is quite a lot! She may well respond defensively and communication could break down between us. It would help for me to separate out what actually happened from my fears, fantasies and judgements of the situation. So, the only fact I know is that she arrived an hour after the time we arranged. The rest are all my fears and fantasies and it’s much clearer if I state them as that. Once I’ve had time to think about it I might say this instead:
‘I’d like to talk to you about the time you arrived today if that’s ok. My understanding was that we arranged to meet at 8 and you arrived at 9, am I right about that?’
It is always a good idea to check with the other person that we have our facts straight before continuing on any further. Assuming she agreed I might then go on to say:
‘While I was waiting for you I began to get the idea that you might be taking some extra time with your new boyfriend rather than getting here on time. I thought that maybe you don’t value our friendship so much now, and I actually thought – you’re not being a very good friend to me at the moment!’
It can also be helpful to tell the other person that we know our fears and fantasies are not necessarily true. They’re just our guesses. They’re the sense we’re making of what has happened. Below I go on to say this and state my feeling (angry), my fortress (my boundary, what I wasn’t ok with) and what I would like from her to move forward in future.
‘I know none of that is necessarily true, It’s just what started going round in my head while I was waiting, but the result of this was that I started to feel quite angry. It really wasn’t ok with me that you arrived so late. I’d really appreciate it if you could turn up on time when we meet as that would help me to believe you value our friendship – and right now I’d really like to feel secure in our friendship.’
All of this may still be hard to hear, but my friend can at least have some understanding of where I am coming from. I am sharing my vulnerability around our friendship and I’ve said clearly what I want from her and why. She is much more likely to be able to hear me and to enter in to a constructive dialogue with me. She is quite likely to share what is really going on for her and why she was late (which may bear no relationship to what I was imagining!). This then paves the way to further genuine communication between us.
So, to summarise, in the 5 Fields Authentic Communication Framework we try to break our communication down in to:
1) Facts What actually happened.
2) Fears and Fantasies Our judgements /opinions /thoughts and ideas around what happened.
3) Feelings Our Feeling about what happened.
4) Fortress Our Boundary – what wasn’t/isn’t ok with us.
5) Forward From Here What we Want from the other person in order to move forward.
It takes a lot of practice to communicate effectively in this new way. I’ll talk more about using this model in the next four posts.
If you would like further reading about the Five Fields Authentic Communication model you can email me to order a copy of my booklet The Five Fields Framework – creating authentic, vibrant and healing relationships. These cost £12 plus postage. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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