BY J.P. HOGAN
A key element in any relationship, personal or professional, is the capability and willingness to communicate openly. But how often do we experience a breakdown in communication because one or more of the participants holds back from fully expressing his or her ideas for fear of offending or fear of pushback? Here is a process you can put in place that enables open communications within all your relationships. We call it Creating Safe Space.
Create Safe Space: Effective communication is founded on a sense of trust and confidence among the participants that fosters the free exchange of thoughts, feelings and ideas. It is essential that the partners create an environment that will enable open communications by:
• Eliminating the use of words such as “better” and “should” from the dialogue. These words come loaded with judgment, and judgment can generate feelings of guilt and close peoples’ minds to a greater realm of possibilities.
• Speaking from experience rather than giving advice. As individual human beings with our own minds and our own unique experiences, we can’t possibly presume to understand another person’s experience well enough to assume that our own life lessons will apply. We can share our experiences, and tell others what worked for us, without telling them what to do or how to feel.
• Listening to understand the other’s point of view. So often, we proceed into conversations with the intent to be heard, but there’s usually more to be gained from hearing.
• Respecting others’ points of view. We need not agree with one another all the time, but using conversations to argue or persuade creates an atmosphere that is toxic to sharing. Accept that you’re not likely to make a person change his or her values to match yours. It’s better to value the richness those differences can bring to the relationship.
• Not allowing a discussion to become a “my way or the highway” argument.
• Be open to new ideas. Be willing to compromise.
Establish Boundaries: Reinforce the safe space by establishing boundaries for discussion. Come to a mutual agreement that it’s okay to remind one another if anyone’s words or actions are straying from the safe space. Remember that it is OK to ask for help and to identify what you want. Always be courteous but leave nothing left unsaid.
Formalize the Dialogue: Find a tool that will help you prepare for and conduct the conversation and use it regularly. Tools such as the Five Minute Check-In (available as a free download from imatter.squarespace.com/tools) can help increase the probability that the important issues and ideas are addressed. Also, set a regular time for communication and honor the schedule. Using the tool and honoring the schedule helps you establish a ritual that keeps communications open. Make no mistake, keeping communications alive and well in any relationship takes work and tools facilitate that work.
If you find these practices are valuable to you, I suggest taking the time to review them and practice them regularly. Building and sustaining an effective communications process within your relationships requires constant attention. But, with honest effort and a dedication to creating and honoring safe space, communication within your relationships will improve substantially.