To be capable is to have the skills, the abilities, which are necessary to accomplish the tasks and challenges of a relationship, and to be willing to put those skills into action. There are many skills that we need to poses, to be fully in a relationship. We will explore one of the most essential skills, communication. Our discussion of communication will show you some of the indicators of a person’s capability. In addition, these are also abilities that you can use to make your ongoing relationships more satisfying. As you read, please keep in mind these two purposes.
One communication skill is effective listening. It has two components, hearing and paying attention.
Hearing and Paying Attention
In order to listen we need to hear. In order to hear we need to pay attention, to give the gift of our attention. In order to pay attention we need to be interested. Remember, we pay attention to what we are interested in.
Part of the capacity to hear and to pay attention comes from being reasonably at peace within one’s self. To be at peace, we need to be free of, and not distracted by, the agitation of inner conflict. If we have inner turmoil, as most of us do to some degree, we can put it aside as needed. We can then pay attention to and hear what another person is communicating to us.
Does your prospective partner pay attention to you when you talk?
The Mirroring Exercise
‘Mirroring’ is an extremely useful exercise to test and to develop the skills of hearing and paying attention. To ‘mirror’ a person who is speaking, the listener repeats out loud, word for word, what the speaker is saying. The speaker must pause along the way, so that the listener can remember and repeat her words back to her. In order to successfully repeat back, the listener has to hear, pay attention and concentrate. The mirroring exercise prevents a person from focusing on his own thoughts while the other person is talking: thoughts such as, “I want to say……..,” or, “You are wrong and this is why I am right.” Mirroring is a simple technique that can be amazingly hard to do. Engaging in this form of communication helps us to develop the skills of listening.
Is your prospective partner willing to ‘mirror’ you if you teach him what mirroring is, and request that he do this for you?
Understanding and Empathy
If we are listening with interest, we try to understand what the other person is saying. Our facial expression communicates: “I want to understand you, to know you, to recognize the validity of your thoughts and your experience”. Understanding also involves, ‘being on the same page’. If we do not understand a person’s thoughts, feelings, behavior, or experience, we need to ask questions, until we do.
If we understand the other person, we can experience and demonstrate empathy. To be empathic is to know what the other person is feeling, to feel what he feels, to experience a ‘taste’ of his emotions. When empathy is successfully communicated, it results in the development of intimacy in a relationship.
Lack of Understanding: Incompatibility
If two people do not understand each other, cannot comprehend what the other person is saying, there is incompatibility. Since all relationships have normal and natural incompatibilities, we need to have a willingness and ability to address, and to work through, the incompatibilities. Without this willingness and ability, a long term relationship will be filled with unresolvable conflicts and will feel very frustrating.
Does your prospective partner seek to understand you, and express empathy?
Along with listening and understanding, comes interpreting. Interpreting involves giving meaning to what we hear. Though we are not aware of it, we are always giving meaning to what we hear. If we are aware of the fact that we add meaning to what we hear, and take responsibility for it, we can vastly improve the quality of our communication.
Often the meaning we give to what we hear causes distortions in our understanding. We are misinterpreting, which will cause miscommunications. Miscommunications can compound themselves, causing intense conflict. When misinterpreting seems to be happening, to prevent conflict, we need to use our communication skills to clarify meaning. We clarify meaning by asking questions like, “Is this what you mean?” followed by a statement of our understanding of what we have heard. We can also include mirroring as part of the process of clarifying meaning.
Is your prospective partner willing to question and understand the meaning she gives to what you say?
Occasionally we judge what we hear, that is, we put a good or bad ‘label’ onto what the other person has said. If we express our opinion about the ‘badness’ in what the other has said, we are inviting trouble. We may also try to convince the other person that what he is saying is ‘not true’. Then, if we are surprised that the other person feels insulted, we may proceed to convince her that she is ‘wrong’, and should not feel insulted. World War III has started. Once judging or convincing has occurred, we are no longer hearing or understanding, and listening has stopped.
Is your prospective partner overly judgmental, telling you how you are wrong for feeling the way you do?
Communicating in a meaningful and effective manner involves self-expression. We put our thoughts and feelings into words, and verbalize them to others. There are many barriers to self-expression. Two of the most important barriers are being unaware of what we think or feel, and excessively censoring or not censoring, our thoughts and feelings.
Lack of Awareness
At times, we simply do not know what we think, or how we feel, about a subject. As we try to formulate our thoughts or feelings we may feel confused. When this type of confusion occurs, we may make a false statement, be unable to answer a question, or behave in ways that cause more confusion and problems.
We may hide our thoughts and feelings from ourselves through suppression or repression, thus pushing them out of our awareness. Suppression is pretending that we are unaware of our thoughts and feelings. Repression is burying them deeply in our unconscious so that we do not know what we think or feel. When we suppress or repress our thoughts and feelings we are unable to express ourselves constructively.
In order for us to discover if another person is hiding his thoughts or feelings, we can look for contradictions and discrepancies between what that person says and what he actually does. If he says one thing yet does the opposite, one might assume that he may not be aware of his true thoughts or feelings. However, if we make an assumption about another person we need to ask her about, it rather than being convinced that we know ‘the truth’. (On occasion people lie to us. They promise something which they have no intention of doing. This is vastly different from not knowing what we think or feel.)
Does your prospective partner seek to be self-aware?
We see that self-knowledge is necessary for effective communication. At a deeper level, most people do not examine the beliefs and attitudes which underlie and give rise to our thoughts and feelings. If we consciously know what we think and feel, and why, we can express ourselves with clarity.
Does your prospective partner use introspection to gain self-knowledge?
Filtering and Censoring
Good communication in a relationship involves expressing, but also filtering and censoring. Filtering is deciding what to say and what not to say. We then ‘censor’, do not express our self, if we decide that what we are thinking should not be said. We do this because we want to be considerate of the other person’s feelings. However, censoring can result in withholding the expression of important thoughts and feelings. For example, we may not express our hurt or angry feelings because we are mistakenly fearful of making the other person feel hurt or angry.
On the other hand, some people are incapable of censoring, and say whatever comes to mind. This inability to filter thoughts results in unnecessarily hurting others, or prevents a person from being taken seriously. When this occurs, communication is blocked. We need to be thoughtful about our communication, while also allowing for spontaneity.
Expression of our inner selves is vital for developing mutual understanding, and leads to effective resolution of conflict. Therefore we must have the courage to face ourselves, and to communicate our thoughts and feelings to the other person even though they may become unhappy with us.
Does your prospective partner, effectively filter, censor, and have the courage to express thoughts and feelings that will make you uncomfortable?
Aware of Our Impact
Most of the time expressing ourselves, ‘talking’, comes spontaneously, but to participate fully and constructively in a relationship, we must be aware of the impact our words have on another person. Saying loving things has vastly different effects than saying hurtful things, yet people carelessly hurt each other without giving it a second thought.
Does your perspective partner consider the impact of what he or she says?
By using CIA, Capable, Interested, and Available, to analyze the possibility of a relationship with a potential partner, you are on the path to finding a partner who will enrich your life. As you are a CIA partner yourself, you create and enjoy rewarding relationships. While developing other capabilities, like loving for example, takes a lifetime, CIA points you in the right direction.