Please Note! I will be out on maternity leave from late July to late October. While I am out, you can reach out to Rose Murrin, LICSW, for any of your needs through Kesher. Please don't hesitate to call her at 401.331.1244 or email her at email@example.com. I look forward to connecting with you when I return!
Communication is an essential part of our relationships as human beings. How we connect with others plays a significant role in everything from romantic relationships to parent-child relationships to incidental interactions throughout our day. A miscommunication or a challenging exchange can have a major impact on our moods and how we interact with others as our day progresses. Have you ever started the day in a disagreement with a partner or child and then later found yourself in conflict with others at work or at the grocery store? It can be difficult to shake the effects of communication gone awry. Research has even found that negative communication patterns are more linked to divorce than commitment levels, personality traits, or stressful events1. How, then, can we set ourselves up for more effective communication experiences?
I have discovered valuable communication lessons in my experiences both as a social worker and a martial artist. One of the basic tenets of social work practice is to 'start where the client is'; meaning that, in these communications it is important to approach an issue from the perspective of a person's own needs and desires and not my own agenda, no matter how helpful I feel it might be. That is not to say that I never offer a new perspective; that is far from the case. However, in starting from where the other person is, I am then able to better understand their needs and thoughts and have a more useful idea of how to convey a new perspective to them.
Believe it or not, this same dynamic is reflected in my martial arts practice of Aikido! Aikido is based on blending with another person's physical energy and then redirecting that energy. We first tune into where our partner is in the moment, truly understanding their intentions and movements in the interaction. Since it is a martial art, fundamentally their intention is to attack or do harm. In conversation, we often feel that another person's words are an attack on us as well. How we respond to that attack impacts the outcome of the interaction. If we attack back, avoid or ignore, or freeze physically in Aikido - or verbally in conversation - the results are often undesirable. Instead, what if we attempt to blend and redirect in our communication as is done in Aikido?
By starting where the other person is, we can understand their perspective and the needs they are trying to meet through a particular communication. Their needs may be very different from your needs in the interaction, but it is likely that their intent is grounded in a basic human need to which you can relate. The practice of "Nonviolent Communication" posits that we are all trying to "honor universal values and needs"- such as connection, well-being, honesty, and autonomy. Tuning into these needs can help us find where we might agree or overlap in our intentions in an otherwise difficult conversation. Once this blending occurs, we are better able to redirect that conversation to also include our own needs, perspective, and intentions. In Aikido, this results in both partners having a positive experience, even though the attacker may not have ended up where they originally expected to go. Such efforts can lead to better outcomes for both people in difficult conversations as well! Blending and redirecting can bring a different perspective to everything from an insensitive comment from a passerby to an intense disagreement between you and your partner.
It is difficult to start from a place of understanding or agreement when you are in a disagreement! Just like anything, it takes practice. Stay calm, tune in, listen, and try to understand the other person's perspective. When you start where the other person is, you can more effectively move the conversation to where you would like it to go.
If you have some challenging conversations in your life you would like support in navigating in a new way, please reach out! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401.338.8301.
1Lavner, J. A., & Bradbury, T. N. (2012). Why do even satisfied newlyweds eventually go on to divorce? Journal of Family Psychology,26(1), 1-10.
2Center for Nonviolent Communication: A Global Organization. (n.d.). Retrieved June 09, 2017, from https://www.cnvc.org/
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Amy Small, LICSW, is the new Kesher social worker at the synagogue. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and currently active at Congregation Agudas Achim, Temple Torat Yisrael, Temple Am David, Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Beth Sholom. Amy may be reached at email@example.com or