Therapists tend to beat communication to death. I know I do; in my personal life and in session with clients. Sometimes I get the same glazed-over look from clients that I do from my three teenaged sons!
What am I missing? In an attempt to find an answer, I did a random search for a podcast on relationships. I hit the jackpot by finding The Ready Set Love Show by John Howard. Episode 2, "It's Not About Communication" caught my attention.
I wanted to argue, "Yes, of course it is about communication," but instead, decided to listen. I am not exaggerating when I tell you I think I found the missing piece!
My error is not what I have been teaching clients or trying to practice in my personal life. My error is leaving out the vital first step: establishing a connection. Although communication relies on the higher, thinking parts of the brain, Howard says our lower nervous system has to feel safe and secure before we feel connected to another person.
We live in such a fast paced world of technology and instant gratification, it is easy to forget the primitive parts of our brain still rely on instinct. Clearing the obstacles and allowing the nervous system to relax paves the way to effective communication.
Howard outlines four keys to establish connection and appease the lower nervous system:
1-Be fully present.
Eliminate distractions, sit face to face at close range. This gives the nervous system a chance to decide, "Do I like you?" "Do I feel safe?"
2-Speak the language of the nervous system.
Not just what you say but how you say it; inflection, facial expression, body language, touch. Physical closeness and eye contact communicate connection to the nervous system.
3-Learn the language of emotion.
Answer questions with emotions and feelings as opposed to simply relaying factual details or one word answers.
4-Process counts more than content.
You may be perfectly present, engaged, talking about your feelings and believe all is well. Pay attention to the other person, the process. Howard says this is where arguments start: when we miss cues from the other person that tell us they don't feel safe and connected.
This is only a brief summary of the podcast so I hope you will listen (link below) to fully comprehend the message. Before "speaking for you part" or "being impeccable with your word" or practicing any other communication skills, seek a connection first!