I once read a story about a bridge under construction where neither of the sides communicated with the other concerning their engineering and meeting point. When they got to the center, where both sides should have connected so the bridge could be functional, they were off by several yards, making the bridge and the project a complete failure.
This story is a perfect metaphor of the types of breakdowns couples have in relating to each other. A bridge should be a crossing point and connection of two sides, but often, like the bridge in the story, couples end up completely missing each other.
When couples come to my counseling office, I can predict ninety percent of the time what they’re going to say: “We can’t communicate.” For whatever reason, they’re missing each other on the issues. Often it’s not that they’re not talking—it’s that they’re simply doing a poor job of implementing good communication skills.
In this series of blog posts, I’m going to share 3 communication skills that I teach other therapists to help them authentically connect with people. When practiced regularly by couples, they produce mind-blowing conversations. These 3 tips will help you and your partner go deeper and authentically communicate with each other.
The quality of your presence matters.
I realize using the term “be present” could sound cliché, but let me explain what I mean. Dr. Bruce Perry, a renowned psychiatrist and child development expert, once said that the social abilities of today’s 16-year-olds are at the level of development of past generations’ nine-year-olds due to their obsession with computer screens, phone screens, iPad screens, and hours of video game play.
My intention is not to knock technology. Like Napoleon’s brother Kip Dynamite, I sing its praises too. But all you have to do is take a look around the next time you go out to eat and notice the people who are sitting together with their faces buried in a screen, completely ignoring each other’s presence. What this suggests is that we’re behind on our skill of authentic connection. Let that sink in.
What Dr. Perry is saying is that more than ever before, we have a paradox occurring. We’re more connected with people around the world than ever before on a shallow level through social media, but we’re not truly connecting on deeper intimate levels and have less skill to do so.
Being present, therefore, looks different. It’s the act of giving someone your full attention, which includes using body language cues, such as making eye contact, facing the person, and showing gestures of understanding like nodding.
The bottom line is that the quality of our presence in communication matters.
The next 2 blogs will address increasing our skill of being present with people. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you’re being honest with yourself, are you fully engaged when you communicate with others, or do you struggle with being distracted? How would your spouse rate your quality of presence? Leave a comment below!