Communication is one of the key issues in many relationships. It doesn’t matter if this is a romantic relationship, one with family, friends or work colleagues, communication problems can happen anywhere and at any time. How often have you heard the phrase “We got our wires crossed” or “You got the wrong end of the stick”? How often do you feel misunderstood or misheard or receive a reaction which you really were not expecting?
Often effective communication is seen as a bit of a mystery whose secrets are only revealed to those successful sales people or politicians or lawyers who always seem to know what to say to get their own way. However, communication can be very easy to understand and like most things, it begins with you.
One of the key concepts in therapy is the idea that at any one moment in time, we are thinking, behaving and responding from one of three states. The first state is Parent. This is when we think, act and behave in a way we observed our parents behaving when we were younger. This may be responding with the same emotion in a specific situation, maybe saying a certain phrase, holding certain prejudices, etc. The Parent state is very powerful because, as a child, we look at our parents as being experts in the world who can never be wrong. So to a child’s mind, imitating their parents means that they will also never be wrong.
The second state is called the Child. This is when people think, act and behave in a way they did as a child. For example, they may have learnt that sulking encourages another to feel guilty and so they end up apologising. Maybe they learn to throw a tantrum when they didn’t get their own way. Maybe feelings of terror or anxiety come up if they are unsure or challenged. Any feeling, behaviour or a response learnt as a youngster falls under the Child state.
These are all examples of where the past influences our current behaviour. However the third state is known as Adult, and this refers to when we are acting appropriately to the here and now situation. Being in Adult doesn’t mean that you can’t experience emotion, however it does mean that the emotions are appropriate to the situation in hand rather than remnants from the old Parent or Child state. For example, shouting out in pain if you have just injured yourself is appropriate, however shouting at your partner because they bought the wrong type of washing liquid isn’t. The latter is much more likely to be a reaction from a Parent state.
So the ultimate key to great communication is to try and be in Adult. If you are suddenly aware of a communication issue, take a step back for a few moments and try to recognise which state you were in at the time of the difficulty. Think if it is actually appropriate to the here and now or whether it is an old relic of the past coming into play, something from you Parent or Child state. By continuing to communicate from your Adult, both in speaking and in listening, you will find that things improve dramatically. If anyone communicates to you from their Parent or Child state, try to become more aware of that pull within you to respond in kind, however try to maintain that Adult state.
Change always begins with you. Don’t expect other people to change unless you are also prepared to do the same. So next time you encounter a communication issue, try to take a step back, look at it with your Adult awareness and simply ask yourself, “What part of me was responding there, how would it sound differently if it came from my Adult and how would the other have responded to my Adult?”. You will find that thinking and responding from that Adult part of you can have truly amazing results!
You can find more information on the Parent, Adult and Child by Googling “Ego States”.