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Meaningful communication. (Stresslines).

Except for dyed-in-the-wool schizoids and the occasional zenophobic, most of us relish the prospect of deep connections in our closest relationships.

Comfort sets in with the sense of having a history with someone, of being known and understood, of feeling loved. It's nice to have others that we can count on among our intimates. More than the mundane interactions of simple familiarities, intimate ties provide purpose and meaning to our lives. But, meaningful relationships require meaningful communication: Clearly explaining to loved ones our concerns, our joys and sorrows, what we're thinking and feeling.

On the other hand, when we conduct business, our communication strategies often intend to serve much different purposes: Confuse the opposition, threaten an adversary, or disarm a competitor.

If we get good enough, second nature sets in. Then, we may find ourselves "conducting business" in our purely personal relationships. What a surprise when we find our loved ones confused, threatened, or disarmed. Without conscious correction, we can easily lapse into inauthentic styles of communicating that hurt rather than help.

Inauthentic Communication

Inauthentic communication arises from insecurity, anxiety, threat, or the simple attempt to put something over.

It always involves some form of disguise or defense of the vulnerable self and invariably leaves the listener in a state of confusion, upset, fear, disgust, contempt or rage.

Typically, the content of the communication (if any genuine content is intended) is lost in the jumble of words gone awry. Even the best of us may lapse into occasional versions of phony communication.

Emotional Communication

Emotional communication loses the distinction between talking about feelings (usually a worthy enterprise) and inflicting feelings on the hapless listener as an arsenic substitute for explanation (never a worthy enterprise).

If our intent is to rile somebody up, put fear into their hearts, or send them into a deep funk, we should definitely get emotional -- cry, scream, threaten, insult, and belabor the issue as though we're dealing with a criminal deserving of punishment.

Injecting communication with raw emotion typically has the effect of putting the listener on the defensive or moves the listener to counter-attack.

By thinking in advance of all the terrible things that have been done to us, we can assure that we are as out of control as possible without actually requiring a straitjacket. Then, the mutual conversing becomes a back-alley brawl with mutual effect running amok.

But, when we engage in emotional communication, we get to unload a barnyard full of unresolved effect left over from the last several thousand instances of emotional communication. If we do this frequently enough, we may qualify for an honorary doctorate from the Bobby Knight Graduate School of Brow Beating. Verbosity with animosity.

Mystical Communication

We engage in mystical communication when we have absolutely no idea what we're talking about.

Plain vanilla verbosity. Completely lacking any appreciation of Eastern philosophies, we propose unreasonable facsimiles of Zen riddles; and we labor mightily to avoid getting to the point; or, worse yet, we talk on and on, well past any point we think we might have made to the point that the point is pointless.

Beating endlessly about the bush, we leave the listener wondering what that was all about. When infants do this, we call it babbling. When we do this, we tend to purse the brow slightly as though contemplating a great mystery. If overdone, we become Zen masters of the tangential, the inconsequential, and the soon-to-be homicidal listener.


When we lecture, we really do know what we're talking about. With a vengeance. Instead of communication, however, we regard potential listeners as morons in need of instruction. Verbosity with pomposity. During lectures, we surely entertain the fantasy of a summer home on Mt. Olympus or similar lofty perches consistent with the delusion of a high and mighty status.

Lecturing provides us with a bait-and-switch substitute for communication: the intention of feeling approved, revered, worshiped and adored. Usually our listener feels like busting us in the chops.

Something really needs to be said. Let him/her start it.

Authentic Communication

When we really intend to get a message across, we don't browbeat; we don't confuse; we don't act like we know it all; and we don't avoid.

When authentic, we are heartfelt: We genuinely want someone who matters to us to understand something significant that we have to say.

For starters, if someone matters to us, we should treat them with courtesy, dignity, and respect -- even affection and love.

Second, if we have something significant to say, we should have a clear idea of what we want to say before initiating the conversation, rather than using the conversation to figure out what we want to communicate.

Third, if it needs to be said, it should be said succinctly without basketfuls of hems and haws or "you knows" mucking up the process.

In the absence of thoughts and feelings passing clearly from one mind to another, people fictionalize. When we witness confusing behavior in those we care for, we create private explanations that are always less accurate than a heartfelt and truthful revelation from the source.

Sincere communication continues to make us present to the ones we love, allays their fears and anxieties, and in so doing evolves a pattern of intimacy that itself becomes an even stronger bond of communication.

If we think we're likely to have difficulty being understood, we should just tell 'em what we're going to tell 'em; and then tell em what we told 'em.


This involves the act of knowing our minds, the labor of choosing our words carefully, and the generation of respect for the other party.

Then, we listen.

Dr. Bernard G. Suran, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and diplomat and fellow of the Academy of Clinical Psychology and the American Board of Professional Psychology. This column is published under the sponsorship of the Quality of Life and Career Committee. The committee's Web site is at The Quality of Life and Career Committee, in cooperation with the Florida State University College of Law, also has an interactive listserv titled "The Healthy Lawyer." Details and subscription information regarding the listserv can be accessed through the committee's Web site or by going directly to
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Author:Suran, Dr. Bernard G.
Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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