Communicating to Better Relationships: Part 1

by Joan Garbo

Joan GarboThe foundation for cooperative actions among people is a strong sense of relationship. The right “personality fit” usually makes this easy. But not everyone on a team, particularly large teams, always “fits” with each other. Our personality and communication styles often interfere with our feeling accepted and feeling held in high regard. As an example, some people have a communication style in which they are very direct in addressing issues and may not be focused on the listeners’ feelings. This style can be considered offensive by those who have a very indirect or subtle style of communicating, and are highly concerned with people’s feelings. When one examines the situation closely, it becomes clear that the “direct” person does not intend to offend. Conversely, when the “subtle” communicator speaks, he or she can be thought of as wimpy or indecisive or confusing, when in fact that person is focused on something that the listener is not. Neither way is good or bad, right or wrong. It is simply what is so. The important question to ask is, “How can we make this work for everyone?”

The other important aspect in relationships is to understand that everyone has their own emotional reality that may or may not be in agreement with others around them. Any two people in a situation will have different emotional realities and both are right! In order to be fulfilled and happy, people must be able to cope with the gap that often exists between their own and others’ emotional realities. They must be able, in spite of the gap, to give and receive from their fellow workers and loved ones a sufficient level of regard, acceptance, caring, approval, esteem, and respect. The way to bridge that gap is communication.

Feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are. They exist and are in constant operation to allow human beings to evaluate situations. Feelings are the internal data system based on our value hierarchy, and let us know how a situation is affecting us. When negative feelings come up, most people store them rather than express them openly. There are many reasons NOT to communicate, such as not wanting to hurt the other person’s feelings, judging the incident to be too petty, or trying to be “bigger than that”. The problem lies in the fact that stored feelings do not go away; and each time an incident occurs, it is added to the file. This storage system is arranged and cross indexed so that new data coming in triggers the emotional experience of all the similar data in the file. This is why people often “explode” over an incident that is only of minor importance. To make things worse, the emotionally charged behavior seems confusing and inappropriate to the other person, and is often not understood. The listener often judges the speaker as being “out of control” or assesses that it’s “just the way the speaker is”.

The other way accumulated negative feelings can be dealt with is for the person to withdraw from the situation. They often feel that they are misunderstood, uncared for, and/or incompetent to deal with others. This behavior limits the person’s ability to have and maintain close relationships, preventing them from experiencing the warmth, acceptance, and love that comes from being known by others.

Another consequence of storing feelings rather than expressing them is that they prevent the experience and awareness of positive feelings. An example of this is when you feel angry with someone, (or hurt, or used) your mind takes that feeling and works at justifying it, collecting other incidents and data to prove you are right. Your attention becomes focused on seeing other negative behaviors in the other person to prove your case. When your mind is thus involved, it censors perceptions of a positive nature in regard to the other person. In a similar way, the mind focuses upon perceived negative behavior of your own, and constructs elaborate fears, guilt, and preoccupations in relation to the other person.

Finally, all of the above creates fertile ground for the seeds of gossip to be sprung. Gossip becomes another way to justify your position and to accumulate agreement from others regarding your emotional reality and thus further “prove your case”.

The ultimate truth is you are left with the problem (it doesn’t clear up by itself) and with the negative impacts from not communicating.

The alternative is to express the negative feelings in a responsible and understandable way. The goal is to communicate your emotional reality in a way that is constructive and without malicious intent. It is a way of deepening one’s relationships when it is done with the utmost respect for the emotional reality of the other person. What a person feels is an integral part of his or her identity and sharing those feelings requires an atmosphere of trust and integrity.

Having behaviors and attitudes that others will find disagreeable is part of being alive and being human. No one has cornered the market on perfection; nor would we be likely to agree on a definition of perfection! We value relationships in terms of how they serve to nurture and sustain us in our personal goals and value systems. Being self-righteous in our actions and opinions not only thwarts our relationship with others, but also ends up being self-destructive.

If we are open and responsible in our expression of our emotional reality, we will nurture the same in others, as well as attract people who can nurture and support us. We will be able to experience being known and understood, and at the same time, we will provide caring constructive criticism necessary for personal growth and development.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Communicating to Better Relationship, when Joan discusses Clearing the Path for Open Communication.


About the Author

Equipping all levels—from the novice to the seasoned professional—with the best tools of the trade, Joan Garbo has been a national consultant, trainer, and public speaker since 1978. She has applied her extensive training and experience in language development to communication and relationships in the workplace. For the past 25 years, Joan has specialized in consulting and training business owners and their employees in effective communication skills, team-building, executive coaching, and how these impact customer service. Joan is dedicated to supporting professionals in creating work environments that are nurturing, productive, and prosperous to management, employees, and clients. Joan can be reached by by e-mail at, phone at (631) 608-2979. Joan Garbo Consultants, 19 Glen Lane, Copiague NY 11726.

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