Individuals communicate with other individuals. The various psychological parts of an individual - described so well by the Internal Family Systems model - communicate with each other. Individuals communicate with their families, communities and nations. Various families communicate with other families. Nations communicate with other nations and with the citizens embedded within them. At every level of human systems, there is a constant flow of communication amongst the parts of each system and between each system and the other systems to which it relates.
This ceaseless flow takes place in the form of nearly infinite verbal and non-verbal messages that are sent both consciously and unconsciously. Messages that build trust, connection and understanding can help move us toward health and sustainability. Messages that increase fear and conflict can move us toward greater dysfunction and suffering.
Unfortunately, since most of us developed within an imbalanced, hierarchical, power-based culture, we have internalized methods of communication that tend to reinforce the polarizing defense mechanisms associated with such a social structure. Challenging discussions often lead to bitter confrontation or are avoided out of fear and discomfort, ensuring the continuation of longstanding, simmering ill feelings that destroy the potential for deeper connection in relationships. Luckily, however we don't have to continue unconsciously perpetuating such an arrangement in our lives, relationships and institutions through our habitual communication. We can learn new ways.
There are various fields that can teach us a great deal about improving our communication skills in terms of both speaking and listening. Informed by these fields, we can enhance our ability to share our experiences, thoughts, feelings and needs with others in ways that they can understand and to compassionately draw out the experiences, thoughts, feelings and needs of others. Moreover, we can learn how to more often do all of this in a way that generates safety and lays the groundwork for resolving conflict and finding win-win solutions. These are the crucial capacities that can help us more effectively approach that tense conversation with a loved one, that negotiation with a co-worker or boss or even the diplomatic meeting between our nation and a bitter foe.
No amount of skill in communicating will eliminate all conflict. Even many of the most compassionate fields that teach communication skills recognize that sometimes we must employ forceful or evasive measures to protect ourselves or others in the face of intractable, destructive disagreements. But by applying optimal methods in how we speak with and relate to others, we can improve our odds of discovering mutually satisfying arrangements that best meet the needs of all or most of the parties involved, saving more aggressive or divisive protective measures as a last resort. In a world that is increasingly globalized and interconnected, we can't afford not to learn and employ these forms of communication in our personal lives, families, cultures, and nations.
Some of the most important and helpful fields that offer specific methods for improving our communication skills are: