Dialing In For Deeper, More Meaningful Relationships
Susan Knight - SGP Columnist | Our society is increasingly characterized by conflict, loneliness, and isolation. But with improved communication, we can improve our relationships with one another.
Society on a whole is strained. At a macro level, increased polarization is wreaking havoc, evidenced by sociopolitical conflict and hostility. Attacks, insults, and animosity are rampant, while connection and understanding are in short supply. At a micro level, millions of people are suffering from loneliness due to a lack of deep, meaningful connections.
Better communication would go a long way to ease these issues and bring people together. But what exactly should we be doing to improve our communication, so we can ultimately improve our relationships with one another at both a societal and individual level?
We definitely don’t need more debate — two sides squaring off, each determined to prove their side is right and the other is wrong. By definition, debate results in a winner and a loser; and we know a win-lose communication dynamic leads to hostility and resentment, driving people further apart.
The nature of debate compels both sides to dig their heels in as they defend their respective points of view, and therein lies the problem: if you’re firmly rooted in your spot over there, and I’m glued to my spot over here, we eliminate any chance of meeting somewhere in the middle. Hardly a recipe for improved communication!
What about discussion, where we agree to share our viewpoints politely and respectfully, without condemning the other side or trying to prove them wrong? While discussion is far less adversarial than debate, it still has its limits. It’s comparable to living in a neighbourhood where people are polite to one another, but barely know one other. Everyone co-exists peacefully, but beyond the exchange of pleasantries, there are no deeper connections.
What if, in addition to each of us expressing our own viewpoint in a discussion, we also try to understand the other person’s viewpoint? What if we aim to not only share our views politely and respectfully, but also to learn from the other side? What if we enter into communication with an attitude of openness and receptiveness?
This is what dialogue looks like. It doesn’t mean we abandon our own beliefs, values, and opinions as soon as we’re presented with an alternative; or that we’re compelled to adopt any and every alternative offered. But we’re open to the possibility our own take on a situation may be flawed in some way. Therefore, we make an effort to understand the message being conveyed through the words being spoken. We’re open to considering new information received, willing to acknowledge legitimate points raised, and willing to admit when we’re wrong.
Dialogue has the potential to be transformative in several ways. As we explore our differences, we uncover similarities; and increased understanding enables us to view others more charitably. In addition, we often gain insight into ourselves. But dialogue tends to be an intellectual exercise, and while it has enormous value in the public sphere, it often falls short on a personal level. So how do we move beyond civil communication on an intellectual level and start connecting at a deeper, more meaningful level?
We show up with a desire to truly get to know one another. We show up with a desire to find out who the other person really is and how they came to be that way. We’re interested in finding out what matters to them and what motivates them. We show up caring not just about our own wellbeing, but about theirs as well. We invest in the relationship over time, allowing trust and ease to build gradually. This is dialing in, where interest, caring, trust, and time allow for meaningful connections to be made. We’re not just sharing ideas, we’re sharing ourselves.
Dialing in to one another is how we chip away at the widespread loneliness engulfing so many people at an individual level. And it’s how we lay the groundwork for genuine, good-faith, meaningful exchanges that foster a sense of connectedness at a societal level. It most certainly isn’t win-lose, nor is it mere pleasantries or detached intellectual exchanges. Dialed in communication leads to people feeling seen and heard, validated and valuable, accepted and cared for. Ultimately, it leads to people feeling deeply connected to one another.
Debate. Discussion. Dialogue. Dialing in. Better communication requires a willingness to move across that spectrum as we engage with one another. At times, it’s natural and effortless. Other times, it’s more challenging. It often requires learning new skills and refining those skills over time. And yes, at some point, it involves risk and vulnerability. But if better communication can move us away from the societal division and individual isolation we’re experiencing, and lead us toward closer, deeper, more meaningful relationships, it’s worth putting in the work.
About the Author:| SGP Featured Writer | http://skfreelance.com
Susan is certified health and wellness coach, focusing on personal growth and inner wellness. She was a regular contributor to Social Work Today Magazine and is now a featured Health & Wellness Columnist for SGP.