The Toolbox Starter Kit: Tool Four


Tool #4: Communication residuals are reflective.

When a communication cycle breaks down, both people come away with a distortion of their relationship. This distortion is caused by the residuals left from an incomplete communication cycle. (In truth, the distortion is more than cause; the distortion is the residual.) If we look closely at the distortion, we can see the two viewpoints are equal but exact opposites. The residual becomes a perfect mirror, both sides see a reflection of the problem and they blame it on the other. It's like two sides of the exact same coin. After you spend some time looking at this tool, you can use it to predict what the other person must be thinking, based on where the residual was created in the communication cycle. Unfortunately, from one side of the relationship, you can't know exactly where the residual is located in the cycle. Still, this tool is useful knowledge that can help you identify and dig up a residual, and complete the communication cycle.

Meaningful examples of this are hard to create on paper. When a misunderstanding takes place, it often goes by with only one person noticing the loss. It is only after many misunderstandings have occurred, that the pressure builds for a confrontation to take place. It is usually so difficult to confront someone that anger is used to justify the confrontation, and often survival instincts are activated that further interfere with communication.

Having thus described the tool, what makes it work? For me, the root understanding is that it really takes two responsible people to communicate. If one is not being responsible, he or she has no choice but to use blame to put it on the "other." Blame causes future communication to break down. In reality, you can only speak authoritatively, at best, about yourself. You can infer and use logic to speak about others, but when you do this, you lower your sense of certainty, and you lower your involvement with others. You start to disconnect from reality.

Instead of this book being thorough, scholarly, and very long, I would rather keep it general, short, and thought provoking. The focus of this guide book is your survival. That allows me to take short cuts with my completeness; so, with that spirit, let me throw things at you, for you to munch on.

Lemma #4: Communication takes place between equals.

Communication has a content, and a context. It has information (content), and a general background (context) that allows that information to make sense. Communication is more than just the words spoken. It has, in a sense, a "spin". The spin depends upon the difference between where the talker is coming from, and where the listener is coming from. In other words, the difference is in the context between the two people. If I know that a person is a used car salesman, and that he owns a car, and he knows I am a dentist, and I need a car, but know nothing about cars, he can put quite a spin on the communications. If I am not very careful, I can get wiped out. This guy seems very friendly. He sounds like a close friend. He laughs at all my jokes, and seems to be a very good listener. The friendlier I allow myself to become, the more he salivates. If you are to become a survivor into the next century, you must see through this one.

For the past three years, I have had trouble recognizing spin. I own a four-unit apartment, and I live in apartment one and rent out the other three. For the previous 10 years, I lived in Maryland, 600 miles away, and I paid an agency to collect the rent. So, three years ago, I decided to collect my own rent. For the first year, it was like being a well liked mayor in a small town. Everybody loved me, they acted so nice, and it felt so good. Then people started to get behind in their rent payments, and I was "flexible." It got worse and worse, and I just became more flexible. I wanted to be loved and I could give them another chance. After all, I already had a debt to coax out of them. After three years, I have spoiled all three tenants, and each now owes me at least 6 months rent! If it were just one tenant, I could say it was his or her fault; but, with 100%, I discovered it to be my fault. Being the landlord is just another job, people act nice because you control where they live. Because the relationship between landlord and tenant is not equal, there is a lot of spin, and to become a survivor you must recognize the trap and not fall into it.

Lemma #4 is a guide to let you recognize spin and try to minimize its harmful effects. You don't have to be exactly equal, since no-one is; we all have different experiences; that is not what is meant here. Actually, the word "equal" could be replaced by the words "people who are equivalent," except the resulting expression would seem awkward. The important concept here is to be open to possible differences in people’s contexts as they are attempting to communicate with each other. When there are large apparent context differences, steps should be taken to minimize those differences. In many cases, there can be symbolic gestures, like handshakes, or jokes, which can effectively reduce some of these differences.

Continue: With the mind and clearing it out.

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