Years ago, I took an intensive family therapy course, which involved me (the learning family therapist) being observed through a two-way mirror, while simultaneously being a therapist for a family and receiving verbal input through an earbud. Communication was, of course, a big issue for family therapists, who needed to communicate clearly themselves and also help family members improve their communication. This was the objective of their method of teaching.
One of our instructors asked us to think of “communication” like this: “Communication is the ability to take the idea or picture you have in your own brain and move it over into someone else’s brain with the least change or distortion possible.”
Think about that challenge! Think about the effort that can be required to do that. Think about how difficult it is to communicate effectively enough for others to get precisely what we are saying to them. Consider, if others share something they heard from you, how accurately they share what you believe you actually said. I’ve been witness to people quoting words I have written in my book, believing they are saying my words, yet quoting me incorrectly. Communication can be difficult and is challenging!
Let’s consider four things that can make communication easier and better. They include:
- The DESC Method
- Assigning responsibility for getting the message across
- Pilot Communication
- Wrapping Communication in Love
The D.E.S.C. Method
It’s very challenging to bring up issues when we’re unhappy or upset. Sharon and Gordon Bower, authors of Asserting Yourself, offered our world the D.E.S.C. method, which makes communication under both ordinary and difficult circumstances easier and more effective. Whenever you have something to communicate, follow these steps, using no more than three sentences for any of the 5 steps:
- Describe. Describe exactly what has happened, without judgment or embellishment. “I was sitting here when you came in and said….”
- Express. Express the emotions you felt in the incident you just described. “When you said that, I felt hurt.” If you say, “When you said that I felt that….” you are
sharing thoughts, not emotions. Usually “I felt that…is followed by ‘you.’” Instead, say “I felt….followed by an emotion.”
- Specify. Next, share what you want instead, stated in specific and positive terms. “What I would like next time is for you to give me a hug and ask if I’m ready for feedback before you tell me what’s on your mind.”
- Consequences. Tell the other person the positive things that can result from them cooperating with your request. “If you will do that, I’ll be more open to hearing what you want to tell me; and we will have a closer relationship.”
- Plus a Step—Ask. Will you do that? Remember that everyone has the right to say “no.” Ask for what you want, remembering the other person’s right to decline your request. If your request is declined, you get to decide what you want to do next.
I invite you to experiment with the D.E.S.C. method daily for three weeks. Keep track of how it works for you. It’s a simple formula, which eventually can become habitual for you and makes communication so much easier for you and those with whom you communicate. As an example, I once had a communication with someone who had asked me to do something that he wanted very much, but I declined. In responding, I used the D.E.S.C. method. The man wrote me saying “I’m disappointed you turned me down. But I want to thank you for such a thoughtful reply!”
Assigning responsibility for getting the message across
Do you know that in some cultures the responsibility for making sure someone has correctly and completely heard your communication is assigned to the speaker, and in other cultures that responsibility goes to the receiver? Which rule do you and those with whom you communicate follow? To avoid miscommunication, decide for yourself to take responsibility—as much as you can—for making sure the other person hears your message.
Sometimes airlines allow passengers to listen in to the communication between the pilot of their plane and the control tower. Have you ever listened to such a conversation? It goes something like this.
Pilot: “Tower, permission requested to take off on runway 5. Over.”
Tower: “Copy, Flight XYZ. You are cleared for takeoff on runway 5, then bearing 39 degrees right. Over.”
Pilot: “Roger, Tower. Taking off on runway 5, followed by bearing 39 degrees right. Over.”
Notice that what is happening is that the receiver of the communication repeats to the other party what has been said before adding their own next part of the communication. When this is done, there is much less chance of missed or mis-communication. It’s a fun game to play with children, partners or friends, too. Challenge yourself to repeat to that person what you believe they said to you. The rule is they will listen and allow you to keep going only if you repeat their message accurately!
Wrapping Communication in Love
My husband and I went for couples’ therapy, working with psychiatrist Dr. Seymour Boorstein, husband of Spirituality and Mindfulness Teacher Sylvia Boorstein. In our first session, Dr. Boorstein gave us a challenge which I’ve never heard from any therapist before or since.
See if you can say what you need to say to your spouse in a way that you know they will love to hear what you say!
I offer Dr. Boorstein’s challenge to you. Especially for those you love and live closely with, can you deliver all your communications in a way that you know they will love to hear what you say?
It’s much easier said than done, yet certainly worth the effort.
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Ilene Dillon, MSW, has dedicated her life to helping people resolve personal challenges once and for all, then design life to be what they want it to be. A Transformation Specialist, she has worked 50 years as a psychotherapist and 15 years as a coach. She is a global speaker, Amazon International Best-selling author (The Wellness Universe Guide to Complete Self-Care, Volumes 1 and 2), podcast guest, and plans to give her first TEDx speech (on Anger) later this year. Ilene is also the author of Emotions in Motion: Mastering Life’s Built-in Navigation System and End Manipulation: Stop Being Jerked Around by Toxic, Energy-draining People. With her little dog, Pi, Ilene lives and travels full-time throughout North America in her RV, writing, teaching, and speaking along the way.