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Communicating Effectively (Part I)


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In today’s world, thankfully, we are blessed with the proliferation of material discussing the importance of effective communication in maintaining healthy and productive relationships. We are inundated with articles, books, lectures and workshops all with the express purpose of making this point clear. And while most of us understand what is meant by communication, how many of us reflect on the actual process involved in getting across the message we are attempting to convey? More importantly, what exact message is the recipient receiving (i.e., hearing, understanding) and how does s/he interpret the information?

The answer to these can be found in certain presuppositions (assumptions/givens) of NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming. NLP is a set of principles and strategies that focuses on the details of how we communicate (externally and internally); how we process, store and recall this communication; and how we can change and empower this communication to achieve the results and goals we want.

In this series we will walk through the process of communication, as a means of helping us understand how we affect one another’s current or future behaviors through our verbal communication or our lack of it. This awareness can help us become more adaptable (flexible) in our communication thereby giving us more choice and opportunities to enhance our relationships.

So how does one become a more flexible communicator?

Webster defines communication asa process by which there is an interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs; something imparted, interchanged, or transmitted. Wikipedia adds: The information is enclosed in a package (message) and is channeled and imparted by a sender to a receiver via some medium (i.e., auditory, such as speech or tone of voice; non-verbal, such as body language or eye contact). The receiver then decodes the message and gives the sender feedback. However – and here is the big however — the receiver’s feedback will be based on how “s/he” perceives the message from the sender. It may not necessarily match the sender’s true intention of the message.

In order to become a more flexible communicator, first we must recognize that each of us perceives the world through our own five senses (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, taste and smell). We use these perceptions, in conjunction with our personal life’s experiences, values, opinions and beliefs, to build an internal representation of the world around us, otherwise known as our “maps” or maps of the world. * Keeping in mind that each person’s map is different (mine differs from yours and vice versa), when we communicate, we do so based on our [own] subjective maps.

Have you ever been at the receiving end of the following expressions, spoken either as a declarative statement, such as: “It’s only a joke!” or in a question format: “Can’t you take a joke?” If the sender’s intention is to make a joke and you respond by starting to cry, the intended meaning (sharing some fun) and your actual perceived meaning (crying) are very different. As a matter of fact, it may not even be what the communicator says, but how s/he says it that triggers your response. Then the question becomes which of the meanings holds more credibility? And the answer is, neither. There is no right or wrong. However, there is the reality: crying is the “real” meaning of the communication.

The meaning of our communication is not what we think it means. Rather, it is in the response we get from the receiver of our communication. This is what is meant by the NLP presupposition: the meaning of the communication is the response it elicits.

Here is an interesting illustration.

Since the beginning of their marriage, Zev had been bringing home a beautiful selection of flowers for his wife, Rebbeca, in honor of Shabbos. In response to his thoughtfulness, Rebecca would express gratitude and communicate a plethora of kind words upon receiving the flower arrangement. As time passed and their family size increased, Erev Shabbos entailed a mad rush, especially in the winter months when Shabbos began early. Along with the hassles and her overwhelming feeling, Rebecca’s usual pleasant words of appreciation for the gift of flowers had begun to wane. Eventually, they were not forthcoming.

At the other end of the relationship, after a few months of noticing Rebecca’s change in behavior, Zev stopped bringing home flowers. And since Rebecca had been intensely consumed with “life” on Erev Shabbos, she had not noticed the absence of the flowers until after candle lighting, when the atmosphere was a bit calmer. Without communicating her thoughts or feelings, Rebecca would just sit on the couch, feeling hurt at not having received her weekly gift. Within a short period of time, her feelings gave rise to a new belief, that her husband had stopped loving her.

The meaning of their communication were the responses they were eliciting.

As soon as Rebecca stopped responding with gratitude, Zev’s interpretation of his wife’s behavior was, “my wife doesn’t appreciate my efforts.” And without communication and clarification by either of them, Zev’s behavior corresponded to his hurt feelings; he stopped bringing flowers to his wife. In turn, his new behavior also elicited feelings on the part of his wife. Rebecca felt slighted and upset that her husband had stopped bringing her flowers. Again, rather than each of them communicating their thoughts and feelings, or gaining clarification as to that which was behind their respective behaviors, both Zev and Rebecca assigned meaning to each other’s behavior, interpretations that were not rooted in any truths. The result was an air of negativity in their relationship.

If we are to become more flexible and effective communicators, it is up to us (the sender of the communication) to take responsibility for how our verbal and non-verbal communication are “perceived” by the receiver, whether the communication is face-to-face, over the phone, by email or in writing. Obviously we cannot “directly” change the way our message is perceived. However, if we pay close attention to the response, we will get feedback on how our well “intended” communication was received. If it was not received as it was intended, we can change our approach.

As this segment comes to a close, I leave you to ponder the following three NLP principles that relate to flexibility in communication and behavior.

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