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Sunday, December 8, 2019


There is the story of the little girl who was the only child at the Christmas dinner table full of adults. All of a sudden, she blurts out "pass the damn salt!" You can image that this got a swift and quick response from mom, dad plus looks of disapproval from aunts, uncles and grandparents (although I am sure there was at least one adult stifling their laughter). She was quickly taken from the table, reprimanded and put in time out. Only later that evening did they realized the recorder had been left on and captured the table talk. The little girl could be heard politely asking for the salt ten times before she blurted out, "Pass the Damn Salt!"

Listening and effective communication becomes even more central as we navigate multiple expectations during this time of year. This season of serial holidays creates opportunities for joy, fun and play. But unfulfilled expectations quite often enter the mix.

Communication happens on a playing field that includes much more than the content of our words. Many of you have probably witnessed a person saying they are not angry as they stand across from you with their jaw and fists clenched.

  • Who hasn't shown up for a party on time only to discover that the stated time really means things don't get going for another hour and a half!

  • Have you ever communicated with the intention of getting closer to someone only to be rebuffed for being too smothering?

  • Maybe you made a suggestion to change up the holiday tradition and bumped into, "that's not the way we do things around here!"

In my early training as a therapist, I encountered the concept of Communication Domains at The Kantor Family Institute (Kantor and Lehr “Inside The Family). They researched healthy families and concluded that the goal of all interactions could be categorized within three areas of Power/Action, Connection and Meaning.

Three Different Goals of Communication and Interaction

Meaning (Head) – communication seeks to deal with issues of identity and provide a framework for understanding reality. The playing field is thought, beliefs, values, vision and purpose. Jesus statement in his Sermon on the Mount “You are the salt of the earth…” is a statement to his audience about their identity, value and purpose. As a child, whenever I heard my father say "that is not how the Carpenter's behave," (not only did I know I was in trouble) but it was also a road map for our families values and identity.

Action (Power) – seeks movement and focuses on “how things get done.” It isn't necessarily about having power over someone (although it can be). Whenever folk are talking about who is going to do what, when is it going to happen and how will it done; the goal is about power and action.

When I started driving the family car at age 16, Dad had a rule that the driver was responsible for the car. That meant if a passenger left the door open when I was driving, I had to go back out and close the door. When I was a senior in High School, Dad drove us home after playing tennis. He parked the old Chrysler on the curb and we walked into the house together. Dad noticed I had left my car door open. "Greg, go shut your door. You left it open." Standing in front of the doorway, I looked down at the car way down at the bottom of the hill and then at my father and said, "Dad, you remember the rule? The driver is responsible for the car." He just looked and me - smiled and I went down to close the door. We both had a good laugh later at the exchange. Sometimes power and action gets communicated non verbally!

Connection (Heart) – the target of communication is to seek nurture, caring, belonging and intimacy. The playing field is around feelings, sensations, providing and receiving caring interactions. If you aren't familiar with Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages, I suggest you go over to this link and read my summary. Love Languages is ways we communicate our affection and love. click here for Love Languages

I think this can be hard for many folk. Asking directly for more connection, requires you to be vulnerable and risk rejection (which can trigger many past experienced of failed attempts).

In my own experience and as a therapist, I have observed that people have their own unique preference. They are usually more comfortable in one of the three domains over the others. This is also true for families and organizations. They each tend to have a preferred interaction domain.

Communication Domains is a helpful concept for understanding you own communication dynamics at work, home or within all relationship organizations. It is helpful for managing differences and conflict. When one person is targeting connection and the other is focused on getting things done (power) we have a "crossed purpose" communication. Recognizing that can make a big difference in creating a course correction in how you communicate.

My hope for you all is that in the mad rush to get stuff done, there is time to really listen, connect with loved ones and find deeper meaning in you traditions and rituals.
Many Blessings!

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