Sunday, December 2, 2007

Insights on Communication

Communication can be slippery, messy, unpredictable and often times difficult, especially when dealing with conflict, differences of opinion or our own feelings and vulnerability. And when different cultures come into contact with one another communication can be even more difficult.

It can be very scary when interacting with someone whose style of communication is so different from our own that we literally may feel like running away, shutting down internally or just not wanting to deal, and very understandably so. But something I try to remind myself is that there are cycles in all aspects of our lives, including how we process our feelings and how we communicate; if we slowly allow ourselves to learn, pay attention to and try to understand our own style of communication as well as the other's (whether from a different culture or not) then we can slowly begin to find some peace within ourselves. The important thing is to not shut down entirely and as a result not communicate but rather to try to communicate gently.

Thich Nhat Hanh has beautiful ideas of communicating with our loved ones. He suggests to communicate once the intense negative feelings inside us have passed, to speak from a point of view of how we feel in reaction to how someone has acted or what someone has said. Instead of saying, "You made me feel stupid," say "I felt stupid when you said...." I believe that by in engaging in dialog we should be able to come to a deeper understanding of why someone did or said something and it can give them an opportunity to see how they've affected us and hopefully explain themselves. Of course we're human and we make mistakes. Or we just not going to like everyone all the time nor are we 'perfect' so we have to remember that we can sometimes hurt others just as they've hurt us.

And it may take time for us to be ready to admit we've done wrong (I know I have my sometimes long process) but the important thing is to recognize within ourselves our process so that we can begin to be mindful of our own feelings and how we affect others instead of ignoring or pushing these things away.I see even in my own family the intense impact of how different personal and cultural communication styles can create conflict, cause confusion and fuel other unresolved personal dynamics. I've been guilty of being the cause to some of this but I have also felt the impact of these dynamics. I have had to turn inward and not communicate because of extremely intense feeling I've had towards friends and family until I could internally calm myself - but I know that I mustn't ignore the feelings or pretend their gone - that communicating with the other is an important step. But I also recognize the importance of not wallowing in my feelings to the point that I won't let them go. Again, we have to become completely familiar with our own process and accept our own process, but we MUST process our feelings. A lack of process, is not a process.

So, back to cultural influences. I found the excerpt below interesting, informative and insightful. It's by Michelle LeBaron and if you like what she has to say you can read more at

Culture is an essential part of conflict and conflict resolution. Cultures are like underground rivers that run through our lives and relationships, giving us messages that shape our perceptions, attributions, judgments, and ideas of self and other. Though cultures are powerful, they are often unconscious, influencing conflict and attempts to resolve conflict in imperceptible ways.

Cultures are more than language, dress, and food customs. Cultural groups may share race, ethnicity, or nationality, but they also arise from cleavages of generation, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, ability and disability, political and religious affiliation, language, and gender -- to name only a few.

Two things are essential to remember about cultures: they are always changing, and they relate to the symbolic dimension of life. The symbolic dimension is the place where we are constantly making meaning and enacting our identities. Cultural messages from the groups we belong to give us information about what is meaningful or important, and who we are in the world and in relation to others -- our identities.

Cultural messages, simply, are what everyone in a group knows that outsiders do not know. They are the water fish swim in, unaware of its effect on their vision. They are a series of lenses that shape what we see and don't see, how we perceive and interpret, and where we draw boundaries. In shaping our values, cultures contain starting points and currencies[1]. Starting points are those places it is natural to begin, whether with individual or group concerns, with the big picture or particularities. Currencies are those things we care about that influence and shape our interactions with others.

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