You Cannot Not Communicate
A political figure refuses to comment on a current news story in which he is involved.. In the hope of avoiding a scuffle with her parents, a teenager, who has broken curfew, quietly opens up the front door. As she makes a mad dash to her room, she tries to avoid being noticed and questioned. In both situations, a lack of communication may be perceived as failure on the part of the individual to take responsibility for his/her actions, and/or an admission of guilt. In such cases when the person does not say yes, the message being conveyed to others can be perceived as noby default, and vice versa.
While we may not necessarily think about it or believe it to be true, we are “always” communicating. When we do not reply to a question, when we refuse to take part in a discussion, when we remove ourselves physically from an interaction or when we slam a door behind us, we are still communicating a message as our body language, sounds and behaviors do the “speaking.” This is what is meant by the NLP presupposition, you cannot not communicate.
Consider what happens when a communicator does not speak words to us, nor do we have any clarity of the experience or his/her behavior. Still, we do receive a message based on “our” observation of the experience or the behavior. What a powerful, yet inaccurate means of acquiring information. Now, as the observer, we are headed into a task. We will access a host of resources in order to help us develop a conclusion, including looking to our own thoughts, feelings, judgments, biases and life experiences, and utilizing them to provide us with a meaning to our observation. While these interpretations are, in fact, our reality, they can easily lead us to create beliefs which are not necessarily rooted in any truth. In the final analysis, such beliefs potentially can lead us to behaviors that fuel negativity and conflict while also hindering relationships in our lives.
In fact, for those who relate better to processing visually, the above idea can be viewed in terms of the following equation:
lack of verbal communication/clarity + observation + interpretation + belief =
As a way to bring more depth and understanding to this point, let us look to our ancestors in Bereishis (Genesis) and take note of their experiences in three different instances.
Picture the first scenario: Abraham has just expelled Yishmael and Hagar from his home at a point, according to the medrash, when Yishmael was weak with a high fever. Rashi comments that Abraham provided them with minimal provisions (i.e., no gold or silver; only bread and water). And his reasoning was spiritual: he did not wish to enable Yishmael to continue living a life of tarbus ra-ah (evil behavior).
Moving forward…When, in the wilderness, their supplies ran out, Hagar threw her son under a tree and left him there to die of thirst. Her reckoning was rooted in a belief, a belief which was based on a recent experience to which she had ascribed meaning: “If Abraham expelled Yishmael from his home with limited provisions, ‘it must mean’ he hates his son. Why else would a father do such a despicable act? And if his father does not care about him, then why should I? Let Abraham take care of him!” At that point, Hagar’s intention was to abandon her son and look for another husband. (Note: For more detailed information, see the Meam Loez on Vayera 21:15-16.)
The outcome was negative, and Hagar was admonished by the Torah for displaying a poor character trait.
In a second illustration, a youthful Joseph noticed specific behaviors associated with his brothers. He saw them eating that which he considered aiver min hachai (flesh from a living animal). He also saw them fraternizing with the local girls. Giving his own interpretation to these observations, he brought back accusations about his brothers to his father.
Of course having the advantage of reading the medrash, we are provided with logical and solid reasons to help explain the behaviors of the brothers. On the other hand, Joseph was not privy to that information. He lacked clarity as to the status of his brothers. Were they considered Bnei Yisrael and therefore obligated to observe the Torah’s Laws? Or were they viewed as Bnei Noach (Noahide) and therefore bound exclusively to the Seven Noahide Laws? As to the second observation, of fraternizing with the local girls, yes, the brothers were speaking to the womenfolk. However, it was within the context of a business relationship; they were buying and selling goods. (Note: For more detailed information, see the Meam Loez on Vayeshev 37:2.)
Once again, the outcome in both these observations was negative. As we know from the medrash, the reports that Joseph presented to his father were a contributing factor to the ensuing jealousy and hatred the brothers felt toward him.
In the final scenario, we fast forward to the period when Joseph is Viceroy of Egypt, and his brothers are aware of his true identity.
When Joseph and his brothers were on the way to bury their father in Canaan, Joseph had stopped off at a location near Shechem. It was the site of the pit into which Joseph had been thrown years back. Being unaware of the reason for this stopover, and without any communication on Joseph’s part, the brothers’ observation led them to interpret the experience in their own way. When the brothers noticed Joseph staring into the pit, they instinctively perceived this behavior as part of a vendetta, “believing” that he was stirring up within him hatred toward them. Perhaps he was preparing to take revenge now that their father was gone.
Again, due to a lack of communication, the brothers were unaware of Joseph’s true intentions. The reason for his stopping at the pit was in order to recite a blessing for the miracle Hashem had performed for him at this location years before (“Blessed is He who performed a miracle for me in this place”).
Ironically, that same belief manifested itself a second time.
Upon their return to Egypt, after having buried their father, the brothers noticed that Joseph’s behavior toward them had changed. He had stopped dining with them on a regular basis; however, he had not communicated his intentions. With no concrete information available, and relying exclusively on their observation, the brothers assigned meaning to Joseph’s behavior. And that interpretation stemmed from the same belief they held earlier, that Joseph might be harboring hatred toward them because of their past action, of throwing him into the pit.
Once again, there was an intention behind the behavior. The medrash (Breishis Rabbah 108) explains that Jacob’s death marked the beginning of the slavery. And Joseph was concerned that if he showed favoritism to his brothers, the Egyptian hatred would increase, thereby endangering their lives. However, Joseph did not communicate to his brothers these political considerations. Since they were not privy to the information, the brothers interpreted his apparent rebuff (rejection) as a signal that he might want to take revenge on them. (Note: For more detailed information, see Meam Loez on Vayechi 50:15.)
As these examples demonstrate, in any interaction, when there is a lack of communication and/or clarification with regard to behavior, the observer will be left with nothing more than his own devices with which to interpret the communicator’s message.
So where does that leave us?
In order to be an effective communicator, it is vital for us to take note of such instances when communication is lacking or unclear, and the part “we” take in assigning meaning to our observations and interpretations. While some schools of communication say that both parties in a communication take 50% (each) of the onus for their communication, NLP suggests that we shoot a little higher and take 100% responsibility.
In the final analysis, if we wish to upgrade our communication, it is equally important to take responsibility for that which we convey when communication is lacking as we do when we verbally communicate. If that were the case, I wonder how our lives would be different!
In the next segment on Communicating Effectively, our focus will be Rapport: Establishing and Maintaining It.
Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching, and is an NLP Master Practitioner. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org