Wed, 11/13/2013 - 10:57 — Dr. Brad May

The Secret Of Successful Communication

For the purposes of this discussion, let's assume there are three universes. There's yours, mine, and the world of agreement. 

The world of agreement contains those things that have a lot of agreement - facts - and those that have less agreement - opinions. Most of the time you and I meet in the world of agreement to establish the relative truth about things. For example. "Who won the world series last year?" So that this is the universe of objective reality. And for many people it seems like the only universe. Much of what goes on that is called communication is simply sparring in the world of agreement. For example, if I think that the Dodgers are the best team in baseball, and you prefer the Yankees, we can argue all day about which team is superior. 

But in addition there's also your universe and mine. We each have our own subjective reality. And to communicate, I need to get what's so for you and you need to get what's so for me. In other words, I can get that for you the Yankees are the best team, and you can get that for me the Dodgers are superior. We thus bypass the world of agreement. 

Couple not communicating very well

Don't waste your time fighting for agreement

Unfortunately, people rarely listen to each other's subjective universes. Instead they fight for agreement. You and I can argue all night about the entertainment value of a movie - you can say it was a great movie and I can say it was a lousy movie - or I can get that for you it was good and you can get that for me it was lousy. 

This is acknowledgement, not agreement. My getting that for you it was a great movie in no way invalidates my experience of it as a lousy movie. And vice-versa. 

But since there's no way I can force you to get what's so for me, we need to arrive at a one-sided definition of communication. Thus: Communication is getting what's so for another person.

Do you recall the play or movie 'Harvey'? Harvey is an imaginary six-foot tall rabbit invented by Elwood P. Dowd. 

Let's test this new theory of communication. Suppose Elwood introduced you to some thin air at his side and said, "I'd like you meet Harvey." What would you reply?

"You're kidding!" is invalidation.

"Hi, Harvey," is agreement. (You're presumably being false to your experience.)

"That's not my experience but I get that he's there for you," is communication. 

Elwood invented Harvey in the first place probably because nobody got what he said. And if enough people got that Harvey was there for him, he probably would've had no need for him and disappeared him. 

This is not to make the world of agreement wrong. It's necessary for a certain kind of communication - the exchange of information. But too often it leads to our trying to be "right" about whatever information we're giving. 

The purpose of this has been to demonstrate that subjective communication has nothing to do with the world of agreement. You don't always have to play in that ballpark, where all the right-wrong games are. 

It's easy to check - just look at your intention. Are you getting the subjective reality of another person or trying to change his mind?

To communicate, all you need to do is get what's so for another person in his universe. 

This was an extract from 'Feeling Good About Feeling Bad: A Brief Guide To Optimistic, Practical Existentialism' by Brad May, Ph.D.

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