Saturday, September 26, 2009

Effective Communication Requires Compassion - Part III in a Series

In reading the book, “How to Improve Your Marriage without Talking about it” by Pat Love and Steve Stosny, I have learned some invaluable tools to improving communication. The tools have been helpful in my marriage, but are also applicable to other relationships – co-workers, children, friends and family.

First, I learned that fear and shame are the driving factors in most conversations that are not of a positive nature. When in a conversation, recognizing and respecting the other person’s fears or shame will go a long way in improving communication.

Read Part I here

Second, I learned that while recognizing and respecting someone’s fear or shame can improve communication, actually talking about it will often times create anger, resentment, barriers and/or silence. In order to reconnect with someone you have had a communication disconnection from, you need to focus on your own core values and make sure that you are being true to exactly what is most important to you.

Read Part II here

Remaining true to our core values is a vital step in communication improvement. Until you have a good handle on focusing on your own actions, judging your own efforts and behavior, you will be unable to “deepen your understanding” of someone else’s perspective.

The next step in improving your communication is compassion. Some people confuse sympathy, empathy and compassion.

Sympathy is as if to say, “I’m really sorry you are going through this. If there is anything I can do to ease your pain, please let me know.”

Empathy is to have shared in a similar experience thus resulting in a deeper understanding and ability to aid in the healing process – even so far as making suggestions for steps towards healing.

Compassion is a general feeling of care and concern for someone important to you. This care and concern leads to a desire to understand this person’s pain and ultimately a willingness to do whatever it takes to help him or her.

Until we have compassion for someone else’s fear or shame, we cannot work to improve the circumstances or situation that caused the fear or shame in the first place.

A Real Life Example

I recently had a friend who had no problem very bluntly telling me exactly what the problems are in my life. And even though there was some truth in her stinging observations regarding my marriage, my job, my personality, my mentality, my Christianity, my parenting skills, and my relationship with family, we were unable to devise any solutions to said problems, because her observations lacked compassion.

She had no concern for my feelings or respect for me as an individual or understanding of how or why I got in to certain predicaments in the first place. Because she was unwilling to understand my perspective, because she was so focused on proving me wrong, I created a barrier. I stopped hearing her rambling about what I needed to do to “fix my life,” and spent my time with her being thankful that I was not her. Instead of there being a mutual respect for our differences, an appreciation for our separate set of experiences, instead of there being a sensitivity to our individualities, our different temperaments, and our different vulnerabilities, I was only willing to put up with whatever she had to say, hold in how I really felt, change the subject as soon as possible, and avoid it for the remainder of our time together. Sound like communication you have had?

Marriage Application

The same insensitivity to individuality happens in marriage. “The very intensity of love, when it exists without high levels of compassion, seems to make us merge with each other; we begin to assume that our loved ones see the world exactly the way we do. This obscures what they actually feel, how they think, and, in large part, who they really are. They become merely a source of emotion for us, rather than separate persons in their own right. If they make us feel good, we put them on a pedestal. If they make us feel bad by not seeing the world the way we do, we feel betrayed. (See pages 114-115)”

On page 108, the authors break it down very simply:
• If you are a woman and you’re feeling resentful, angry, anxious or afraid, and your partner is not helping, he is trying to avoid feeling shame. Your anxiety = his sense of inadequacy or failure.
• If you are a man and your feeling resentful, angry, sulky or withdrawn, and your partner is not helping, she is feeling anxious. Your irritation = her fear.

It is at this point when a woman typically would try to talk about the issue. Unfortunately, when we are hurt, our language part of the brain is lacking blood. Instead of working together to solve a problem we “fumble for the right words or use the wrong words and express something different” than what we mean. We ask to be valued, appreciated cherished, but we are actually causing our partner to feel inadequate, like a failure.

In these situations, the authors suggest that rather than talking about the issue, we make a nonverbal attempt to reconnect to our partners. “If one person makes a genuine gesture of connection, the other partner will feel the impact even if he or she does not reciprocate at the moment…Even if your partner does not respond in your preferred manner, making a gesture of connection will connect you to your core values and raise the compassion level in the relationship…when the two of your feel connected, you can easily solve the problem. (See page 109.)”

Compassion makes us better people in all areas of life. When we expand beyond the limitations of our own experiences, we open ourselves up to opportunities to improve our self-value. We can help people we care about manage their vulnerabilities rather than use them as weapons for our personal gain.

Compassion in communication may require you to be kind to someone who is not being kind to you. But if your marriage is full of arguments, bickering, insults and communication breakdowns, why not be true to who you are and extend compassion to the person you have chosen to spend your life with? If your working relationship with someone is full of sideways barbs, undermining, and an unwillingness to work as a team, why not be true to who you are and extend compassion to a person you are stuck working with?


  1. Once again, very informative. You brought up some good points and a different perspective that I hadn't really considered. I could see how this would apply to other relationships too. However, I can only imagine how difficult it will be to attempt to make a non verbal gesture of connection.
    (p.s. I hope that I wasn't the friend that you were talking about! As the saying goes, you have 2 ears and 1 mouth, use accordingly. I do try!)

  2. Whenever make up sex won't work for your non verbal gesture, I recommend presenting them with a Mountain Dew ;)

    You were totally NOT the friend. But I know if you ever met her, you'd rip her face off!