Polyamory readiness question #4: How well can you communicate with others?
"The problem with communication ... is the illusion that it has been accomplished." ~ George Bernard Shaw com·mu·ni·cate
to convey knowledge of or information about : make known
- to transmit information, thought, or feeling so that it is satisfactorily received or understood
"Communicate, communicate, communicate" is a mantra that you will probably hear over and over again by Sage Polyamorists Everywhere (tm). The question comes up as to what qualifies as good communication, and why is it so important?
How do we communicate
There are professionals that have made lots of money off of analyzing information from studies into forms and types of human communication and transforming that data into self-help and sales strategy manuals. If you work in a corporate environment, particularly in any level of management, you probably are familiar with what I'm referring to. There's two systems of communication style identification that I'm familiar with: The Relating Style system (Aggressive, Passive, Passive-Aggressive, and Assertive) There's also the system created by Peter Bender which is based upon assertiveness and responsiveness (Driver, Analytic, Amiable, Expressive)There are other systems that you can learn about at your local bookstore or via. the internet. No style identification system is "the best". The point is to find a way where you can understand how you communicate and relate to others, and see how that is compatible with (or clashes with) that of your partners, and make adjustments accordingly.
Why good communication skills are important
Part of being polyamorousmeans knowing how to communicate your intentions effectively on a variety of "difficult topics". These include:
- Coming out to your current and/or potential partners as being polyamorous
- Negotiating relationship boundaries regarding intimacy
- Negotiating relationship boundaries regarding intimacy after they have already been set... and you found someone else that you're really attracted to
- Expressing your own thoughts and feelings, especially those involving personal insecurities
- Conflict resolution (when the shit hits the fan)
Here is a method of communication that I have found to work. It may work for you, and it may not.
Don't assume, ask: Part of effective communication is knowing your audience. It is better to find out the minefield of opinions, biases, and emotional/mental triggers before you accidentally stumble upon it through conversation. If you're trying to understand where the other person is coming from, it's helpful to get them to elaborate further.
Ask open ended questions:Open ended questions are those that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. They can be used to get someone to elaborate further on the topic they were just talking about. Some good open ended questions are:
- Why do you think/feel that way?
- What are your thoughts on ____?
- How would you feel about ____?
Repeat what they said back to them: Sometimes you hear only what you want to hear, or can misinterpret what was said. Repeating back what someone just said shows that you are trying to actively listen, and it can help to clarify something that you may not have heard fully.
When you communicate feelings and wants, leave the other person out of your statements: There is a subtle yet big difference between saying "I feel like I am not getting enough affection." and "I feel like you don't give me enough affection." The first states the desire. The latter places the blame on someone else, and can cause their internal defenses to go up. If you are upset, focus on your own wants and needs, and leave names out of it.
Speak, then check: When you are discussing things with someone else, take quick breaks to make sure that the other person understands what you are saying. Ask them if what you said makes sense, or if they have any questions at that point before continuing. Hopefully you are noticing the progression of the questions, and can guess what tomorrow's topic is going to be ;-)