Leadership : How Communication Can Help You Reinvigorate Your Relationships

Duncan Miles worked in the UK Public Service Sector, as Head of Learning and Development within the Office for National Statistics. More recently Duncan is Director of Inspire Training and Consultancy Limited.

See www.inspiretraining.net

Our really good relationships can be distinguished from those less effective ones by the quality of the communication that takes place within them. In a good relationship both parties are committed to telling the ‘truth’, and have agreed upon goals for the relationship. These goals need not be the same although they should not be completely opposite to each other. The goals are developed through discussion and should be regularly reappraised.

Telling the Truth

What does telling the ‘truth’ mean? Truth is about talking about your perceptions and your experiences, not the ABSOLUTE truth - because no one knows it.

There are 2 very important distinctions to consider in respect to ‘Truth’.
1. Truth versus accuracy - you can tell the truth, and not be accurate and you can be accurate, and not tell the truth. This is all about our intentions. For example, if someone asks me the time and I reply by saying it is 10.00 am, my intention is to be helpful and as accurate as possible, even though the actual time may be something other than 10.00. Perhaps my watch is wrong, a clock might be wrong, or maybe I’m simply making the best guess possible. I am telling the truth and not being accurate.

As for being accurate and not telling the truth, this is all about the lack of full disclosure or being economical with the truth. If someone asks me my opinion about another person I could simply focus on the negative aspects of their performance and still be accurate. However, my intention was to deceive the person I was talking to by not disclosing the positive aspects of their performance. By only partly disclosing the information, I am still being accurate, yet not telling the ‘truth’. In other words I would be telling a lie.

2. Truth and relationships - Just because you tell people the truth does not mean they will like it or thank you for it! If your intention is not full disclosure, then it is a lie.

Personal power in relationships comes from an absolute commitment to tell the truth. When you tell the truth, nobody is wrong. If someone is wrong, you are not telling the truth. Remember, when in doubt, tell the truth. When not in doubt, tell the truth.

Why Energy Can Be Lost In a Relationship

You may have found yourself in a situation where you are sitting in a restaurant, club, pub or some other social event and as you look around you can see couples of a certain age just sitting opposite each other. They are not talking to each other, they simply appear to be going through the motions and tolerating each others’ company.

The chances are that they have slowly grown apart and for a number of months or years have simply decided not to talk about their individual needs and goals for their relationship. In other words a large number of ‘withheld communications’ have built up.

Each time we withhold a communication from someone we create an incompletion. These in turn drain energy from us and from within our relationships. Here is a simple example. Imagine you have written out a ‘to do’ list at the start of the day. By the end of the day you have been unable to cross off any of the tasks or jobs that you had listed down. In fact you have added a few more to the list. The chances are that you may feel quite de-motivated, stressed and drained of energy. In other words each of these in-completions has drained your energy.

Consider, on the other hand though that by the end of the day over 50% of the tasks have been completed and removed from the list. The chances are that each of these completions will have created a positive energy within you, driving you on towards achieving further tasks. The completions have actually increased your energy levels. There is a belief that completions can help increase the levels of endorphins and T-cells in the body.

The same applies for each conversation or communication that we withhold. So why do we allow ourselves to withhold them? Let us explore some of the reasons.
Structure of a Withheld Communication (an incompletion)

Justifications are the most common reason for withheld communications. For example we may think that we or the other person cannot change; the discussion may cause more harm than good; it might be difficult and cause pain, ours or theirs or both; it will not work; it will be upsetting; it is not important, not the right time, not my business; it will make things worse; they will not listen etc.  Often these justifications are the reasons for our “telling a white lie.”

Underneath these justifications there are 2 possible fears.  Either or both might be present.  Firstly, the other person will go away physically, emotionally, or both. Secondly, the other person will do or say something so that you will decide that you must go away physically, emotionally, or both.

It is easy for a critical mass of withheld communications to stack up and form a barrier in the relationship.  A barrier to: interest, respect, affinity, contribution, and willingness to tell the truth. Some talk about this as “falling out of love.”

The cost of maintaining a withheld communication is very high. It can limit your spontaneity, energy and general aliveness.  Withheld communications act as in-completions draining energy and preventing any further conversations that might help remove the withheld communications.

There are payoffs for maintaining the withheld communications. You get to manage your fears and anxieties and you get to be right about your justifications. 

There is an assumption behind every withheld communication. That is that the other person is not big enough to handle the communication responsibly.  The question to ask is, “To what thoughts are you committed?” Remember that this is a discussion of responsible communication within the context of a relationship, not a license to abuse another person with your judgments. 

The quality of all of our relationships can be measured by the quality of the conversations that take place within them.

Copyright 2007 Duncan Miles

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