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Sociology of the Family

Ron Hammond, Paul Cheney, Raewyn Pearsey

Chapter 06 - Communications and Connections

"You did."
"No, I didn’t."
"Yes, you did."
"No, if you remember it was you."
"Humm, you may be right."
"I told you so!"
"No, you didn’t."
"Yes, I did…"

So often arguments focus on who was right, which facts were involved, and ultimately who is to blame. These types of arguments are annoying both to have and to overhear if someone else is arguing and you are close by. Perhaps, one of the best (or worst) examples of this type of argument is found on www.Youtube.com search "Argument Clinic" and watch the Monty Python skit to see for yourself. I call these non-directional arguments, because the underlying issue is not being dealt with in the argument itself. Non-directional arguments happen for many reasons, but rarely help the couple in a supportive manner. Arguing is a quandary for many people, because they believe that arguing is a weakness, sign of trouble, or even a sin (yes, some do believe this). Marriage and family researchers have established for years that it is not the argument that is the problem. It is how the argument transpires that matters.

Directional arguments have a goal or a purpose and usually approach the issue that led to the argument in the first place. It isn’t always obvious how to argue in such a way that it accomplishes something useful for the couple. Markman et al (2001) have established a training program for how to help couples "fight for their marriages" (see Fighting for Your Marriage: Positive Steps for Preventing Divorce and Preserving a Lasting Love: ISBN0-7879-5744-5). Likewise, John Gottmann (2002) published a relationship book that focuses on strategies for healthy arguments (among other strategies) (see The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships: ISBN: 0-609-80953-9).

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The core of a healthy argument is to get to the root of the problem in such a way that both parties can be content with the outcomes. Easier said than done? Learning to argue is not rocket science. The principles that work for most people will likely work for you too. Look at Figure 1 below. Ever heard the phrase, "beat around the bush?" In this diagram, the bush is the argument. The real source of the argument comes from the root core of the problem. So often when we argue about who was right, facts, or who is to blame we waist time beating around the bush rather than getting to the real issue. The root cause is often less obvious because we don’t always know exactly what is bugging us. We simply get frustrated or concerned and start talking. If emotions and pride set in, the argument becomes non-directional and burdensome. There is a real simple paradigm on how to argue that I have developed over the years. It derives from literature on communication and problem solving. Look at Figure 2 below.

Figure 1. Getting to the Core of the Problem: The Roots
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The diagram in Figure 2 shows the same principle found in Figure 1, except the roots are where the core of the issues are found. In a sense the model in Figure 2 is like the Model in Figure 1 turned onto its right side. In Figure 2 the core of the problem lies on the left side of the "Root of Most Disagreements" and these core issues are common for most people. Our values are what we define as important, desirable, and of merit. Our beliefs are what we define as real and accept as truths in our lives. Our values, beliefs, needs, and wants are typically where most core issues originate and where most are resolved.

This is a case study from a young couple I knew. I’ll use it to walk you through each step of the model. A young couple married and were saving to eventually make a down payment on a home. She worked in the loan department of a bank and he worked construction. One Friday afternoon she came home from work. The bank had just passed their audits and she was especially tired and stressed. She opened the back door to their apartment, carrying a box of paperwork in her arms. Not know her husband had taken off his muddy work boots, she nearly tripped and fell to the floor. She sat her box down on the washing machine and looked down only to find that her best work shoes had mud on them and were now scratched.

She slipped them off thinking she would have to come back later and clean them up. On the way to the bedroom she tipped over a half-eaten bowl of sweet cereal that dampened her sock and messed up the carpet. She made it to the bedroom and dropped the box on the floor. She took off her socks and put them on the bathroom sink. She then noticed her husband’s muddy pants draped over the toilette. She suddenly realized that within less than one minute, she now has to clean his muddy boots, her muddy shoes, her sticky socks, the wet carpet, and the toilette. Just then her husband returned in the front door from their mailbox. "Honey, I’m home."

Figure 2. How to Have a Healthy Argument: the Win-Win Model

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Her husband had arrived 30 minutes earlier excited about a pay raise he’d received that day. He had showered, started eating a bowl of cereal, and darted out to get the mail. When he walked in the front door she slammed the bedroom door and locked it.

"Honey are you in there?" he asked knocking on the door.
"Leave me alone!" she yelled through the door while crying.
"Honey what’s the matter are you okay?"
"I’m fine!"
"Did I do something wrong?"
"No, I did when I married a pig!"
"A pig?"
"Yes, you live like a pig!"
"Well, well whose mother is always meddling in our marriage?"
"What?" She gasped. "Then whose uncle is in prison for life!"
"That’s it." He stomps out of the apartment and drives off.

This was a non-directional, beating around the bush, and hurtful argument. You can see what happened to them using the diagram in Figure 2. Somewhere between the muddy boots and the toilette, she felt a perceived injustice. She felt like her husband did not respect her need to keep a clean apartment. Her emotional response was anger. It happens to us all, but in this case it wasn’t controlled very well and she took the low-road in this diagram which is the combat response.

When she slammed the door and called him a pig, she was attacking him, emotionally, psychologically, and/or intellectually. By doing this she inadvertently gave him a perceived injustice. He also has values and most likely felt that his need to be respected by his wife was not met. He perceived an injustice of maltreatment, felt hurt, then also took the low road and retaliated with an attack on her mother. Had this argument continued, the vicious cycle of beating around the bush or perpetually providing each partner with a perceived injustice emotional response and combat opportunity may have continued for much longer. Notice that the core issues were never dealt with in their communication. Never in this exchange did either of them get to the needs and wants, values and beliefs involved here.

Let me give you some background information. She came from a home where her mother was an immaculate homemaker, stay-at-home mother, and artist. She and her mother prided themselves on the cleanliness and order of their homes. She married a young man whose mother cleaned up after him. He could count on one hand the number of times he cleaned his room while growing up. They chose each other! On top of that she was stressed and tired and he was jubilant from the good week at work and pay raise. Let me just say, neither of these spouses is to blame. Arguments happen to everyone and unhealthy ones will be the pattern unless they do something about it. They both had to modify their behaviors so that they could get to the core issues and support one another. To do that, they’d have to take the high road.

The high road in this model offers Problem Resolution Strategies which have been around the counseling and communications literature for many years. They’ve been researched and discussed in numerous self-help and consulting books over the last two decades. But, they do work well and offer techniques which facilitate a healthy argument and outcome. The first strategy is to negotiate a win-win solution. Every couple can find a way to work out an argument or disagreement so that the other person feels like they came out with their needs addressed and met as well. Think about it, if you always win then your partner always looses. That would make her or him a loser and who wants to be married to a loser. Figure 3 shows the diagram of how a couple forms an entity I call the "We."

A couple is simply a pair of people who identify themselves in terms of belonging together, trusting one another, and having a unique relationship, separate from all others. A "We" is close to the same thing, yet it focuses on the relationship as an entity in itself. A "We" as shown in this diagram is a married couple but can include cohabiters, or other intimate non-married couple arrangements. This is a relationship that is not intimately connected to any other relationships at the level as profoundly as they are connected to one another. A "We" is much like a vehicle (relationship) that two people purchased together. Both have to put in maintenance. Both have to care for it and treat it in such a way that it runs for a long time. Sometimes, spouses or partners attack the other in such a way that the other is harmed or damaged in their trust. A "We" is the social and emotional boundary a couple establishes when they decide to become a couple. This boundary includes only the husband and wife. It purposefully excludes the children, extended family, co-workers, and friends.

When a spouse is made to feel like the loser, then it’s like getting upset and pulling hoses lose on the engine or stabbing a tire with a screwdriver. How long can a car (relationship) last if one inflicts damage in this way? The key is to remember that together you have formed a social bond that can only be as strong as its weakest part. Many non-directional arguments weaken one or both partners and can lead to an eventual abandonment of the relationship. One simply can’t continue to make their partner a loser in arguments. At every level of trust and closeness this undermines the emotional connection and bond.

Figure 3. How the Couple Forms a "We"
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Knowing a strategy to create a win-win makes it much more likely to happen. Think about what you might need if you were the couple in the story above. What might she desire? Perhaps she’d like for him not to make messes for her. What might he desire? Perhaps he’d like for her to refrain from calling him farm animal names. So, later, after both have cooled down they may decide to talk about what happened and forgive one another. Then, they might try to answer this key question, each taking a turn to listen to the other, "What was really at the core of your concern?"

"Well, I’ve talked to you for nearly two years about how hard it is for me to feel love for you when I pick up after you and clean up your messes," She might say.

"Well, I’ve heard you and your family members call people names when they are not present, and I need for you to refrain from calling me names like that," He might say.

Then they can answer this healthy, pro-couple, and mutually nurturing question, "What can we agree upon to help us meet each other’s needs better so we can avoid arguments like this in the future?" What might be your suggestion to them in answer to that question? Before you answer let me teach you a principle of human behavior change and modification. That is, it is very difficult for humans to change their natures. It is much easier for humans to change one very specific unwanted behavior.

Knowing that, you could urge them to consider working together as a team with a reward at the end of a designated period of time. They might agree that she will not call him any farm animal names for 90 days. He in turn will make sure that his muddy boots are not in her path for 90 days. If they both live up to their end of the bargain, they might reward themselves with a weekend away together. This would not only be a win-win, but it would be realistically attainable for a young couple. It also avoids damaging the "We" while supporting it in the long run because it deals with their root core issues.

Now, some of you may feel frustrated that she didn’t negotiate a completely mess-free home. I’d argue that it’s much easier to change when the individual himself is motivated to make the change, not his spouse. It’s also a fact that we choose who we marry or pair off with and they are who they are. In most relationships it’s unfair to say to a spouse or partner that "I love you just the way you are, so let’s get married." Then later turn around and say. "I loved you the way I thought you were, but could you please change that to what I now think I want you to be?" Here are two relevant jokes:

1) How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the bulb has to really, really want to be changed.

2) What do we have in common with concrete? The older we get the more mixed up and set in our ways we become.

Truth be told, if we don’t want to change we won’t. It also gets more difficult to change the older we get. Most of us don’t want to change ourselves, especially in dramatic ways. If for whatever reason you decide to change a behavior, keep in mind these three levels of recognizing where you may be on the path to change. Let’s say you wanted to stop getting angry while driving your car on the freeway. So, you set a goal to go one month without using profanities while driving. Sure enough after a long day and busy afternoon rush hour you slip up and let the words fly. This is the first level of personal behavior change, when you catch yourself after the fact. In other words, you did it again and realized it too late.

But, you don’t give up on your goal. Next week after a long day and in the middle of a jam up of stopped traffic you start with the profanities but catch yourself mid-sentence and control your language. The second level of change is catching yourself in the middle of the act of the behavior you are trying to change. The third level is when you finally recognize which triggers set off this pattern of profanity for you. You realize that you curse more after stressful days at work and during traffic jams that slow your speed while traveling to the day care to pick up your child.

At the third level you can prepare how you will manage the stressors and thus prevent another slip up. Perhaps you might put the radio on to easy listening, decide that being late back home is acceptable even if it costs a few more dollars for day care, and/or put in a self-help tape to listen to during the delay. Either way, we can change our own behaviors if we are persistent and patient. But, rarely can we change the behaviors of others.

The second option under Figure 2, Problem Resolution Strategies number 2 is to Agree as a Gift. This is to be done only on very unique circumstances. Agreeing as a gift is risky because to do this means that you are willing to give in on something of importance at your root level. I saw this once in a couple who were building their own home. They were exhausted and burned out. One day during a normal morning start to the day. He mentioned that in the day’s schedule he wanted to go down to the brick yard and pick out the brick. He’d assumed that brick would be the best way to go. She brought up the point that she had already mentioned using stone instead of brick to him months before and had already picked out three types she really liked. To shorten this long story, they ended up in a heated argument, he moved into a hotel for two weeks, and all construction stopped.

After two weeks had passed, he called and asked her out to lunch. During lunch he expressed his sorrow for assuming that she would just go with him on the brick idea. He then offered her this olive leaf, "Let’s go down together and I’ll support whatever stone you think is best for the outside of our new home." She was surprised and asked him why he’d give in like that. "You spend more time at home with the children. You grew up in a home faced with stone, and to me, I just was trying to be efficient about getting this home built and it really didn’t matter for me as much as it does for you."

They both then talked about how tired and worn out they had become and how dangerous building a home can be to a marital relationship. In this case, he offered to agree as a gift. It wasn’t a negotiation for future authority to decide on a home trait. It was an unattached gift. I urge my students to do this rarely so that one avoids becoming the martyr in the relationship. Martyrs always give in and find themselves unhappy with the direction of the relationship. The "We" is strong because of many negotiations which ensure that both parties can have their core issues addressed while meeting the needs of the other.

Problem Resolution Strategy 3 is to simply learn to live with differences in a relationship. Most couples do have irreconcilable differences in their marriage or relationship. Most couples realize that each is an individual and each has uniqueness that they bring to the "We" which make it what it is in terms of richness and viability. I often have students who express concern to me about this strategy. They hold the belief that their partner should change because their happiness may depend upon it. Many studies suggest that individuals are as happy as they chose to be, regardless of the changing that does or does not transpire in their relationship. Happiness is a conscious choice and exists when the individual persists in feeling happy even in difficult circumstances (See Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl various editions).

Finally, Problem Resolution Strategy 4 is to simply change yourself. If you came from a home where a clean home reflected upon your self-worth, where a clean home meant a happy home, and where a clean home meant that you and your mother were close, and then you married a guy who never did housework, why should he have to change? He might over the years learn to share the housework responsibilities. But, in the reality of things it might be easier to redefine the meaning of a clean home to yourself than to ask another individual to be something else in an attempt to accommodate your current tastes.

This model in Figure 2 is a useful way of understanding where arguments come from and how they might be best managed in such a way that the "We" is ultimately nurtured because the root issues are addressed by one another. One last suggestion in having a healthy argument, remember that no all issues are created equally. I use a blood metaphor to illustrate this to my students (I know it’s kind of gross, but bare with me).

Some arguments originate from a disease level in one of the partner’s personalities. I call these the Leukemia’s of arguments. They stem from an underlying medical condition that requires professional intervention. Any of the following personality disorders might lead a couple to professional counseling: Borderline, Narcissistic, Histrionic, or 7 others are very difficult to live with and can undermine the "We" if not treated professionally (Search Personality disorders on the Internet for more information and criteria). Just like Leukemia, if professional help is not sought after, the relationship will suffer and might die.

Then there are the day-to-day arguments that are very common during the first 3 years. I call these the blood cell arguments because we make and lose millions of blood cells over the course of a year. How to squeeze the tooth paste tube, how to cook an omelet, and how to drive to a destination are common issues of these arguments, especially among newlyweds. These arguments can be useful in the sense that they give the couple practice in having healthy arguments.

Practice is important especially if the couple has massive bleeding arguments. These can threaten the very life of the relationship if unchecked. These occur when the very core values, beliefs, needs, and wants of a spouse are at stake. For example, the belief that marital sexuality should be exclusive to the couple is a deeply held belief that most couples respect. But when an extramarital affair does occur, the "We" has been damaged and it takes a tremendous amount of concerted effort to repair trust.

I have a few more thoughts about arguments to help bring things all together. First, have arguments when you need to do so. Focus on the issues at hand and how to create a win-win outcome. Second, don’t let others into the boundaries of your "We." An argument should be just between each partner, not the aunt, uncle, parents, children, friends, etc. Third, let the professionals give you some training on how to argue in healthier ways. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when thousands of studies have been published on relationships. Self-help books and seminars can be very useful. And fourth, treat your relationship the same way you’d treat a nice car. Care for it, perform preventative maintenance, and avoid the tendency to ignore it, neglect it, or damage it.

Family Scientists have borrowed from the physics literature a concept called entropy which is roughly defined as the principle that matter tends to decay and reduce toward its simplest parts. For example, a new car if parked in a field and ignored would eventually decay and rot. A planted garden if left unmaintained would be overrun with weeds, pests, and yield low if any crop. Marital Entropy is the principle that if a marriage does not receive preventative maintenance and upgrades it will move towards decay and break down.

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Couples soon realize that marriage is not constant bliss and that it often requires much work, experience more stability and strength when they nurture their marriage. They treat their marriage like a nice car and become committed to preventing breakdowns rather than waiting to repair them. These couples read and study experts like: Gottman, Cherlin, Markman, Popenoe, and others who have focused their research on how to care for the marriage, acknowledging the propensity relationships have to decay if unattended.

There are some basic principles that apply to communication with others which can be of use to you. It is very important to know what you feel and say what you mean to say. It sounds simple but people are not always connected to their inner issues. Our issues lie deep within us. Often we just see the tip of them, like we might only see the tip of an ice berg. Some of us are strangers to them while others are very aware of what the issue is. When an argument arises, you might ask yourself these self-awareness questions: how it happened, what lead up to it, and what was at stake for you? This helps many to get to their underlying issue.

Not only is it difficult for some of us to know what our issues are, but many of us have had relationships end painfully or with hurt feelings on both sides. These past hurts may inhibit open communication in current relationships. Figure 4 shows some of the painful arrows that threaten to cause harm to trust in our current relationships. Some of us grow up feeling shamed and worthless. This sometimes makes us feel extremely sensitive to how others evaluate us and can make it very difficult for us to want to open up and show others what we believe are flaws.

All of us have vulnerabilities in our lives. We tend to cover them up and hide them for fear of them being exposed. Interestingly, when we find that when we get to know someone we really care about and they accept our vulnerabilities, it is a sign of love that often supports a decision to pair off together. There are some of us who don’t ever want to experience conflict. Conflict avoidant people tend to work extra hard to avoid conflict with others and often sacrifice the needed attention to issues that is required for a relationship to last. I met a 72 year old man who had been married to a conflict avoidant wife for 25 years. "She never complained. She always did whatever I wanted. I couldn’t get her opinion on a matter much less an argument over something." She eventually left him, stating she was unhappy.

Each of us has painful experiences that are difficult to deal with. Sometimes we suppress them and bury them in the back of our mind. Sometimes we deny they even transpired. Sometimes we take these issues from our past and lay them onto our current relationships or project them onto our current partner. In all three of these cases, the root core issue is difficult to access, yet still plays an important part of our daily interactions. Fear is very destructive to relationships. Fear is like a loud speaker of an emotion that can drown out reason and other emotions that pertain to our relationships. It is easy to respond to and often hard to understand.

An older friend of mine once said, "Don’t take counsel from your fears." He was correct. Fear is like a super hot pepper. Our other emotions are like thoughts and are more subtle like a grape. It is very difficult to taste a grape while simultaneously chewing on a hot pepper. Fears come from past hurts and pains. Rarely do they guide us in rationally effective ways. It’s estimated that 90 percent of what we fear never happens. If the 10 percent does occur most of us can turn to others for support and get through it. Fear can shut open communication completely off. Manage your fears or they will manage you.

Figure 4. Inhibitions to Open Communications and Trusts
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We all know that there is someone better than us out there in most aspects of what we offer our partners. Feeling inadequate is normal. It is often the case that spouses can unite together to help one or both deal with their inadequacies. In this way a weakness can become a communication strength that allows the couple to untie against the frailties they each bring to the relationship.

There are gender differences in how we communicate. Sometimes these filter our current communication efforts to the point that healthy communication is avoided in the name of doing what most women or men would do in the situation. I’m a huge fan of self-help books. But, I warn students to be very careful about those claiming to know what "all men" or "all women" are like. Figure 5 shows a comparison of a sociologist’s and a psychologist’s take on gender differences in communications.

When I go over this figure with my students in class they typically say that they know someone like that or they themselves communicate like that. I quickly point out to them that they may have a trait that fits them the way Gray or Tannen says it would regardless of their being male or female. Gray puts our genetic biological traits which stem from XX or XY at the core of why we talk and converse the way we do. He claims that we are built from the molecule up to be a predictable type of communicator. Many in his field criticize his conclusions and especially his claim that men and women may be a difference species from one another.

Figure 5. Comparison of Two Gender Communication Self-Help Paradigms.
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Tannen talks about how we are socialized or raised by those around us. To her it’s about what we learn to expect from ourselves in the role of males or females that shapes how we communicate. The research she presents allows us to see how men are raised aware of their place in society. They are constantly aware that someone around them is bigger, stronger, faster, richer, etc. They know their place and work hard not to have someone of higher status put them down. Tannen claims that this approach to relationships—avoiding being put down and being very aware of status issues—is why many men refrain from opening up in conversation. Opening up puts them at risk of being put down.

To Tannen women are raised in the context of relationships. They spend much of their lives reinforcing and strengthening relationships with friends and family. They are aware that informal rules guide their relationships and they put a great deal of effort into how to maintain good relationships so that they don’t find themselves socially isolated from others. This is why women tend to maintain more relationships than men and why men and women struggle to connect. Women approach the conversation with an effort to connect and maintain the relationship while men approach it trying to gain status or not be put at risks.

Notice the Author’s note (that’s me) at the bottom of Figure 5. To me, the real value of any gender self-help communication book is not that it identifies what all women or all men will say—that never happens because there is no generalized pattern of communication that all men or women fit into. So, I urge everyone to read and enrich their understanding of how relationships work and how to communicate better. But, I also offer this advice: The Author’s ultimate value of self-help gender communications books: expand your understanding enough to see that your spouse or friend may simply be different from you and not wrong, mean, or uncooperative. They can’t give you all the answers to all your troubles or cures

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When two people communicate they share a certain degree of power during the conversation. The Conflict Theory tells us that power is more often than not distributed unevenly. When we carry on conversations we sometimes find ourselves having more or less power in the conversation. The Principle of Least Interest simply states that the partner who is least interested has the most power. In other words if you really want the relationship to work more than the other person, you have less power. If the other person wants the relationship to work more than you do, then you have more power. When relationships form, power changes hands from time to time depending on the nuances of the day-to-day interactions of the couple. Typically, women assume more responsibility for relationship maintenance in heterosexual couple’s interactions.

Another crucial part of communication is the ability to communicate at the non-verbal level. Non-verbal and verbal communication are essential for truly understanding one another. Non-verbal communication includes: touch, gestures, facial expression, eye contact, distance, and overall body positioning. Touch is an essential part of the human experience. For the most part, women are very clear on which types of touch they give and receive. Women have cultural permission to be more affectionate with one another in the US. Men typically refrain from touching other men in heterosexual contexts (except in sports). Men touch women more than other men. Interestingly, comparing male to female newborns, most males enjoy their mothers’ physical closeness while the females enjoy the social interactions. Men have difficulties in distinguishing the varieties of touch and its intended purpose.

Gestures vary between cultures. You’ve heard the phrase "talking with your hands." This is common in various parts of the US among hearing individuals. Hands are moved in conjunction with words to emphasize and illustrate the point being shared. Deaf persons also communicate with a common form of non-verbal language called American Sign Language. Many parents teach ASL to their smaller children because toddlers can learn signs long before they can verbally articulate words. Gestures reinforce verbal messages and can be very useful in understanding a person’s intended message.

Eye contact is an extremely important aspect of communication. Making eye contact is difficult for some because the eyes truly do tell on the state of one’s emotions. I teach my students a trick to test another person to see if he or she is really making eye contact. It goes like this, while talking to them change your facial expression dramatically mid-sentence then change it back again. If the other person’s expression changes or they talk about it to you, then they were probably sharing interactive eye contact. If not then they may be faking eye contact. The most common form of faking eye contact is the eye brow or forehead stare. Men are especially guilty of this because they are trying to communicate and as Tannen pointed out also trying not to be vulnerable. Eye contact can be learned and with the right person it may even be easier for men and women who often avoid making eye contact.

The average person in main stream US society needs about 30-36 inches of space between him or her and another person. Strangers keep this distance where possible. Intimates close the gap to the point where they are very close side-by-side, touching at the hip, legs, etc. When people argue they often increase the distance. When people are being formally introduced to another they often maintain it. We not only want about 3 feet distance between us and others, we also want people to stay about that far away from our desk, doors, and even vehicles. This is in part why elevators are so uncomfortable; they don’t give us our 3 feet of space. Closing that distance with a stranger can be viewed as an act of aggression.

Finally, body positioning can be very insightful to a person’s disposition. You’ve probably already heard about the body positions that close other people out: there is the folding of the arms across the chest; the crossing of one’s legs, and the turning oneself around offering the back rather than the front to another person. I often show photographs to my students to see how well they can pick up on non-verbals. Look at Figure 6 to see a photo montage of pictures taken over the last 10 years. Look at these aspects of non-verbal communication as you consider what is happening in each photo: touch, gestures, facial expression, eye contact, distance, and overall body positioning.

In Photo 1, you can see 4 persons. Any guesses as to what’s going on? You can certainly observe their friendship with their body spacing (very close), touch, facial expressions, and body positioning. These are 4 students that presented a paper in Ypsilanti, Michigan at the annual conference of the Association for Applied and Clinical Sociologists. This was taken right after their presentation ended. You can see their closeness, relief, and friendship developed here. Photo 2 is a married couple in Nepal. They were traveling to a small village to bring medical nursing care to some locals. She’s the nurse and he’s her husband. Their distance in the photo indicates cultural differences between Nepal and the US.

Photo 3 is another student of mine who went to a conference in Florida to present a paper. Her husband surprised her with a birthday present of an hour in a tank with live dolphins. No need to guess how she feels toward this one. Photo 4 is a picture of a professor and his two students during our semi-annual poster symposium at UVU. Notice the facial expressions and body positioning—appropriate between a professor and his students.

Figure 6. Photo Montage of Non-Verbal Communications
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Photo 5 was taken by a student of mine who leads tri-annual expeditions of our UVU students down to an orphanage in Mexico. He takes them on a 3 day blitz of travel and service. In this picture the orphans gather closely around him and climb on him for fatherly affection and interaction. Even though he visits only 3 times a year they’ve come to see him as a parental figure. Photo 6 was taken in a studio. How does he feel toward her? He’s looking at her, she’s not looking back. Any guess who might have the most power in this relationship?

Photo 7 was taken during a volunteering experience my students and I took to help serve 400 meals in 90 minutes in the local soup kitchen, Jacksonville, Florida. Almost all of the volunteers there were strangers who took their lunch break to do something good for someone else. Can you guess the general mood of the volunteers from this photo? Something about doing for others brings a sense of peace and happiness. Finally, Photo 8 contains a picture of three of our six children. The oldest is in the blue shirt and saying goodbye to his sister and brother who were leaving for an extended service mission February, 2009. In all of these photos, non-verbal analysis would give you an idea, but not the entirety of the context of what is going on. Learning to use and understand non-verbal messages and communication enhances most relationships.

In fact therapists use verbals and non-verbals to assess both mood and affect. Mood is one’s state of emotional being and is typically detected by the words and patterns of speaking a person uses. Affect is one’s emotion or current feeling and is judged by a person’s non-verbal messages. Moods and affects don’t always coincide such as the case when one of my students came in and informed me that she had been sexually assaulted. I asked her to sit down for a few minutes and focused her attention on how she was doing at the moment. I walked with her over to the campus counseling center and she visited with a crisis therapist.

For weeks she came by for a few updates and eventually I noticed that her facial expression had changed. There was something incongruent about her mood and affect when she visited with me. You see, without knowing it she smiled every time she visited me, even though running mascara down an extremely distraught facial expression she smiled when she told me of the assault. She smiled as she updated me about her recovery. Her smiling while she revealed this terrible assault to me was incongruent between mood and affect.

I asked her to sit with me for a few minutes one day then said, "You may not have known it but every time you told me these tragic things that had happened, you smiled. You’re not smiling today. What changed?" She told me that her therapist eventually brought up the smiling issue. She had learned something about herself. From the beginning, she had wanted to tell me about what had happened, but simultaneously wanted me not to worry about her. Her forced smile was an effort to manage my emotions and still let me in on her tragic experience. That revelation about her, answered my question of why she struggled so diligently to smile in the face of horrific circumstances.

We’ve included one assessment to help you understand how gender might shape your communication patterns.

Gender Talk Patterns

This assessment will help you compare your talking patterns to some of the gender communication ideas presented in contemporary self-help books. Think about your own communication patterns as you consider each item. Listening, speaking, and non verbal communication may vary a certain degree with different people in your relationships. Nevertheless, patterns can be identified for you by using this assessment. Consult the key after having finished the entire assessment.

  1. T/F. I keep my feelings locked up inside
  2. T/F. I rarely speak in a way that makes me vulnerable to a put down
  3. T/F. I see my relationships in the context of competition not connection
  4. T/F. It is a Adog eat dog@ world out there
  5. T/F. You=ve got to work hard not to be put down
  6. T/F. I hate asking for directions when I=m lost
  7. T/F. I know where I belong in the overall ranking at work
  8. T/F. I don=t really know what to say in a group
  9. T/F. I like to know the news so that I can sound informed about things
  10. T/F. I need serious down time to recoup each day
  11. T/F. I am like a warrior of sorts in my every day life
  12. T/F. Women talk dramatically different from men
  13. T/F. I use my hands when I talk for making gestures
  14. T/F. Men talk differently because their brains work differently from the Awoman brain@
  15. T/F. I like to offer advice so I can fix things for others
  16. T/F. I like to talk a lot
  17. T/F. I rarely speak in a way that makes me stand out among my friends
  18. T/F. I see my relationships in the context of connection not competition
  19. T/F. It=s a world of relationships out there
  20. T/F. You=ve got to work hard not to be socially isolated or disconnected from friends
  21. T/F. It=s easy for me to ask for directions
  22. T/F. I speak in a way that makes me equal to others (not superior) in my relationships
  23. T/F. I keep track of my relationships to ensure that they are going well
  24. T/F. I like to hear another=s problems and offer similar stories that happened to me
  25. T/F. It=s cool when you know someone well enough that they know what you are thinking
  26. T/F. In general, women keep relationships going
  27. T/F. Men talk dramatically different from women
  28. T/F. You have to constantly be on guard because men touch you so much
  29. T/F. I can know how a man feels by simply looking at his facial expressions & body position
  30. T/F. I like to offer solutions that worked for me or my friend, it shows that I care

Key:

Questions 1-15 are True=T. These 15 questions represent the typical male patterns of communicating (at least as portrayed in current self-help literature.

Questions 16-30 are True=T. These next 15 questions represent the typical female patterns of communicating. How many true answers did you have in each of these sections:1-15___16-30___?

If you marked true in both of these sections then you are probably more like the average person-that is using a variety of communication patterns which overlap the stereotypes of Amen talk & women talk.@ The underlying value of self-help books on how men and women talk differently is not that all men talk one way and all women another. Rather, the value is found in learning patterns of how people talk in general, and learning to see those patterns in the men and women you communicate with. They also help us to see that our significant others may simply be different in their communication, as opposed to mean, stubborn, or unsupportive. How does this apply in your relationships? Have someone you interact with regularly take the Partner, Family Member, Friend Version of this assessment then talk about it after you both have finished.

Additional Reading

Search the keywords and names in your Internet browser

  • Three Elements of Great Communication. Time. 2013 SOURCE
  • Effective Interpersonal Communication Strategies. Live Strong. 2014. (New) SOURCE
  • Parent/Child Communication. Education.com. 2014 SOURCE
  • Learning to Communicate. Focus on the Family. 2014 SOURCE
  • How to Communicate to Save Your Marriage. Wiki How. 5 Communication Tools That Saved My Habits of Effective Communicators: Being Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak and Slow to Become Angry. (Pepperdine University, Boone Center for the Family. 2014 SOURCE
  • How to Communicate to Save Your Marriage. Wiki How. (New) 5 Communication Tools That Saved My Marriage. Family Life. 2014. SOURCE
  • How to Communicate to Save Your Marriage. Wiki How. http://www.wikihow.com/Communicate-to-Save-Your-Marriage Effective Communication Skills: "I" Messages and Beyond. 2012. Utah State University SOURCE
  • Effective Communication Skills: Resolving Conflicts. 2012. Utah State University SOURCE
  • Corporate Training Website on Active Listening SOURCE
  • Active Listening-A Skill That Everyone Should Master SOURCE
  • Active listening SOURCE
  • Families Take Charge: Talking with Your Spouse SOURCE
  • Is Your Marriage Relationship Functioning at Full Potential? SOURCE
  • Learning Languages of Love in Marriage SOURCE
  • Listening--With Your Heart as Well as Your Ears SOURCE
  • Making the Most of Your Marriage SOURCE

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