By Bill Harley
When most of us communicate, we concentrate on our communication content—the intellectually graspable dimension of our communication transmissions to others. For example, “Good Morning”; “I like your outfit”; “I appreciate all that you do”. All three communications are intellectually graspable in terms of transmitting the dictionary definitions of the words.
However, our relational communication has a greater impact on people than does our content communication—and most of us are unaware that we are sending it out to people. Relational communication is subjective and emotional; and it surrounds all content communication like chocolate surrounds a thin mint. It conveys to the recipient answers to questions such as “How does the sender view our relationship? What does the sender think of me? What is the underlying message? What is the sender really saying about me?”
Relational communication has three key characteristics:
What you truly think, believe or feel leaks out in your relational communication—you can’t hide it. This means, in terms of the three communications in the first paragraph, that if you have negative thoughts, beliefs or feelings about the day, the outfit, or the other person, they will leak out and contradict your content communication.
Relational communication is always more important to humans than content communication. So if your content communication and relational communication are not in alignment, your relational message will overwhelm your content message in the mind of the other person.
You are communicating at the relational level 100% of the time—even saying nothing (i.e., conveying no content) to the other person is a relational message.
To be more successful in our communication at home, in our work, and in the community, we need to start managing our relational communication at least as much as we do our content communication. This means that we need to make sure our thinking, believing and feeling about people and situations we encounter are healthy—because they will leak out.
We can work on this incrementally; but to simplify the task, we can align our lives with the true purposes of life and start noticing and using the spiritual, social and intellectual growth patterns designed into life by the Creator. When we do, our relational communication automatically becomes healthy.
For example, if we are aware that one of the three ultimate purposes of our life on earth is to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization, it changes our perception about every situation and person we encounter each day. Every situation and person becomes an opportunity to strengthen connection, build community, address a need, share encouragement, or resolve a problem in a way that advances rather than impedes civilization—and to do it in our own unique way. This perspective makes our thinking, believing and feeling about ourselves, other people, and the situations in our life increasingly healthy—and our relational communication automatically gets healthier too.
As another example, when we realize that every situation and person we encounter is part of our own unique, tailor-made spiritual, social and intellectual growth curriculum delivered to us by our Creator, it changes our attitude about people and things in life that may obstruct, resist, challenge or even welcome us. We start to recognize these repeating patterns as opportunities for us and the other person to grow rather than win or lose. Also, this automatically makes our relational communication healthier because we start to think, believe and feel that all these forces—positive or negative—represent opportunities to collaboratively accelerate our growth both individually and collectively.
For a deeper exploration of these ideas and practices, see Jean’s and my first book, Now That I’m Here, What Should I Be Doing? For a deeper exploration of how to make transformative, collaborative decisions with others while maintaining healthy relational communication, see our second book, TRANSFORMED: How to Make the Decisions That Change Your Life.