Doing business requires finesse in communicating with your clients. Similar skills and strategies can be applied to your relationship with your spouse.
Byron’s life-long career has been as an advisor to large companies on their strategic directions. As an outsider to the company trying to help its leaders make difficult decisions on their business strategy, he deals with difficult issues complicated by competing personal interests.
Invariably, the advice involves change and moving outside the conventions of ‘business as usual.’ Often, this requires his clients to make changes with which they are personally uncomfortable; no matter how clear the need for change, this is always confronting.
Helping people to see the need for change and embrace it, especially when it is uncertain and often not in their personal interest, is a finely-tuned skill.
The hard-won insight he developed over the years is that we need to not only be clear in our message, but also know when the person, or team, is ready and able to hear it. Saying the same thing again and again, or saying it louder, is never effective in getting through; people can’t receive what they are not open to hearing.
Change is hard
It’s the same in marriage; we all know insistent repetition or more emphatic delivery will rarely be effective in getting our message across. But what are the alternatives?
Effective communication on ‘big things’ — be it a new direction for the company or something important on which we, as a couple, need to be aligned in our relationship — has a purpose beyond just ‘information transfer’; it is seeking to initiate a response and to effect change.
For couples, these are discussions that seek to influence in love the choices and behaviour of the other. As such, these conversations need to convey an understanding of my inner emotions and needs and why I am seeking a change either in the other person’s behaviour or in the situation. To achieve this requires three things.
Knowledge of Self
Firstly, a clear awareness of myself. Without true self-awareness, our message will be confused. Self-awareness must precede genuine self-revelation of our emotions and needs. Without this, the reason for change is unclear, which in turn can be confusing or even seem unreasonable.
Knowledge of the Other
Secondly, we need an awareness of the other. This includes understanding their internal drivers as well as practical things like whether they are able to give us their full attention right now.
Whether it’s business or marriage, it’s really hard for people to hear what they are not ready to hear. This is not just about picking a time when they are not distracted in the moment – which can be easily addressed by rescheduling the conversation.
What is harder is to understand whether they are personally able to absorb what is being said or deal with what is being proposed. If not, no matter how clearly our words are spoken, their capacity to receive the message is limited.
This is always a challenge. It takes time and effort to really know each other, something many couples neglect in their relationship.
It’s also necessary in business. Byron invests in the people he serves and builds a personal relationship with them, getting to know their strengths and vulnerabilities. This allows him to factor this knowledge into the strategy he develops for his clients.
Thirdly, speaking with respect. If we want our message to be received, we need to express it clearly and considerately without anger or thinly veiled accusations. It needs to be deliberate, considered and hence, self-regulated; its aim is to build understanding and in doing so create a connection that invites entry into dialogue.
Unregulated self-expression comes from either a misunderstanding of how to communicate well, or from an understandable, but nonetheless unhelpful, a personal place of hurt or frustration. Strong unprocessed emotions generally lead to a loss of self-control which is neither good for ourselves, nor our ‘target’.
Being able to speak honestly, truly honestly, with each other as husband and wife is essential in marriage; the trick is how. Unregulated self-expression is not the way. It may feel good in the moment for me to do, but it is never good for the other or our relationship.
Adapting the Business Lessons
Byron’s business communications are optimised for efficiency as appropriate with fact-based discussions and he has learnt the skills for this circumstance. Objective data allows him to make the case for change in order to maximise business performance. He can deliver the message with rational arguments to support his opinion.
In our marriage, the goal is different — to maximise our unity — and so the basis of communication is different. In marriage, the key ingredient for our communication is based on sharing our inner life as we work together towards deeper marital intimacy and greater personal holiness.
Objective data and rational arguments still have a place, but developing emotional communion takes priority in a marriage. This takes self-awareness, other-centredness, and self-discipline.
So next time we think we want to “tell it like it is” or think it’s our ‘right’ to be able to say whatever we want to our spouse… think again. Are we lining up to abuse the other (intentionally or otherwise) or to connect for unity?
It really is our choice and we do actually have one. We rightly expect it from others in our lives — why not each other in our marriage?
Originally published at SmartLoving. Photo by Tim Douglas.