Revealing & Concealing our Thoughts, Ideas, Feelings & Needs

Chapter One: Levels of Communications*

Revealing & Concealing our Thoughts, Ideas, Feelings & Needs

How do we share in conversations, given the different levels of communications we need to engage in? What are the examples of levels of communications, and types of conversations we may see?

1. Acknowledgement: “Hi!” or “Hello!” when you see another person. No specific information is shared, opinions revealed, but rather simple acknowledgement of the other person. This is a neutral start to a conversation. Although a smile or frown by tip the conversational tone to follow.

2. Sharing information: “What time is it?” or “When do you start serving dinner?” would be questions at the #2 level of communications in which the responder would share information, but withhold opinions. This is also the realm of ‘polite conversation’, where the parties involved carefully share information, but are careful not to offend or reveal too much about themselves or their opinions.

3. Sharing opinions: “I really didn’t like the way I was treated” or “Soccer is my favorite sport”. Some opinions, such as your favorite color, are simple to share, and they rarely will offend or upset other people. But when it comes to politics, religion, foreign affairs, or sex, these are the types of conversations in which ‘sharing opinions’ can get us into trouble. It is in these times of sharing opinions that we can also make or break friendships. In other words, until we begin to share opinions (reveal), others cannot understand us fully. Sharing opinions will reveal the person, and agreement or disagreement in the conversation will follow.

4. Sharing feelings: “I feel hurt because you withheld that information from me”, or “It is hard to for me to understand your feelings when we haven’t spoken about the problem with each other”. These are examples of how we share feelings, and step (carefully) into the area of interpersonal communications revolving around our feelings. Some of us never share their feelings on this level with others. Some of us have tried this level of intimate communications, only to be hurt by the person we hoped to connect with. But whether we share feelings with others or not, we have an emotional keel in which feelings play a major role in how we communicate or don’t communicate.

5. Sharing needs: This would seem so simple, but how to share our needs, “I need to feel loved by you”, or “I need some rest now, but would be willing go on a walk with your later”, can be the most significant challenge in our conversations. These are needs that we struggle to share, but rarely feel comfortable in doing so. Why is this? Feelings of rejection, failures of being loved are at the bedrock emotions. Revealing our needs exposes our weaknesses and dependence on others. For many, our needs are never spoken, and these concealed needs are likely go unmet for years. We expect others to ‘guess’ what those personal needs are. Most of the time, others guess wrong. But if we can learn to share our feelings and needs, a whole new world of intimate conversations and opportunities for mutual needs to be met, will open up.

Why is “sharing feelings” or “sharing needs” so difficult for most of us, while a select few people have mastered the art of intimate conversations? So many factors, including our emotional intelligence, birth order, previous relationships, suppressed feelings, personality, and interpersonal communications skills, enter into the dynamics of intimate communications. Unfortunately, emotional scarring from the past can require professional counseling before we are prepared emotionally to move into these conversations. Most of us have several fears that we dread, and we will keep very quiet in conversations or avoid them all together, if we sense these fears. Research has shown that a primary fear is the ‘fear of rejection’ or not being accepted by others. Another is fear of failure, particularly in front of others. This is also known as shame. And another fear is of not being included, or the fear of being an outcast, especially with people you want to be liked by. Clearly we have many other fears, but most of them are related to these basic fears. Thus, our inability to communicate at an intimate level (what are our ‘real’ needs and feelings) gets caught up in the ‘fear factor’ of being rejected by others, or not be loved or liked by those we desperately want a relationship with.

How to resolve this challenge? Books, poems, movies and plays have been written in an attempt to address the complexity of the interaction between people. Because of the universal challenge this presents, we want to be careful not to boil down ways to resolve these timeless interpersonal issues into a simple formula. This simplistic approach may underestimate the complex issues we face.

To grow and mature, we need to take a risk in our interpersonal relationships. To be vulnerable, is to be human. Sure, we may have our heart broken or ego wounded. However, that is a risk that is required in authentic conversations. If we never share our feelings or needs, especially with those who we love (or seek to love), we will be trapped in the world of polite conversations. In the world of polite conversations, your needs or feelings remain inside and unspoken, and thus, your intimate needs are rarely met or attended to by others (or yourself).

We may want to start with simple needs and ‘safe’ feelings, before we lay the most critical emotional needs or fears on the table of conversation. Sometimes, it can be disarming to just ask, “What do you need?” or “How are you feeling about this?” to the other person. These questions give them a signal that is OK to talk at a more intimate level. But be very careful, because when a person is sharing their feelings or communicating their needs, it is a sacred time in interpersonal relationships, and if you fail to be trustworthy or support the other person, this type of communications my never occur with that person again.

Some of the tools you may want to use in your quest for better conversations are books on “Emotional Intelligence”, Fierce Conversations (Susan Scott), The DNA of Relationships*, (Gary Smalley), and the “Skillful Discussion” protocol. One of the best conversational tools is “focused listening” to others on a “one-on-one” basis, in an environment of trust and mutual respect.

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