MORE THAN WORDS

Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf

To be understood is a basic human desire. To know how to effectively listen and convey understanding is a key element in expressing love and care. Illuminating this principle, philosopher Paul Tillich once remarked that the first duty of love is to listen. Listening becomes especially important when we realize that as people we come together in community. A characteristic of genuine community is that conflicts and tensions are addressed, or communicated, in ways that enhance closeness and mutual understanding. According to psychologist Rollo May, “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” In this chapter we will examine communication principles and strategies that facilitate deeper connection on a spiritual level. These principles and techniques are effective for anyone interested in high-level interpersonal living.

Studies have shown that in expressing our feelings and attitudes, only about 7 percent of what we communicate is conveyed through words. About 38 percent of communication is paralinguistic, referring to certain qualities of our voice such as tone, emphasis, volume, inflection and pitch. Think about the vastly different paralinguistic behavior of saying “How are you doing?” as a social formality, compared with “How are you doing?” expressed to a person who is dear to us, whom we have not seen for many years.

Research has indicated that about 55 percent of communication regarding feelings and attitudes is non-verbal, meaning not related to our voice in any way. There have been studies with college students and their teachers in which the students knew they were part of the experiment and the professors were unaware they were being studied. During a lecture the students were instructed to exhibit classic elements of what is known as attending behavior. These include sitting squarely, in open-body position, leaning forward slightly and making comfortable eye contact. The result was that the professors would speak spontaneously, make eye contact and be animated in their motions. At a certain cue the students would switch to poor non-verbal attending behavior. The teachers’ demeanor changed, becoming stiff. They began speaking in a monotone, looking down and reading from their notes. Although we may not be conscious of it, our non-verbal behavior affects others in a profound way.

The term psychotherapy derives from two Greek words: psyche, indicating the self or soul; and therapeia, meaning to attend to. To be a therapeutic influence for someone entails attending with our entire being, including our consciousness, words, tone, body language, and facial expressions. The physical aspects of proper attending behavior can be summed up as SOLE.

Sitting squarely

Open-body position

Leaning forward slightly

Eye contact

If we want to attend to someone, essentially we want to convey sincere interest, respect and caring, so that the person feels valued. Elements of SOLE are helpful in communicating this. Of course, in practical application we should consider circumstances such as culture. The meaning of eye contact between genders, or a particular body space, may contain varying messages across different cultures. Or perhaps we may be speaking on the phone, or in

a car, where constituents of standard good attending are not practical. However, when it is practically appropriate, applying SOLE will usually enhance mutual trust in communication.

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