Previously I distinguished Challenging, Difficult and Toxic Conversations within that article I mentioned the importance of learning to distinguish between Controlling and Cooperative Communication. Doing so is the first step in managing any level of difficult conversation. It is also the first step for improving your own communication style and thereby quality of life.
First it is important to understand that all our communication is designed for us to achieve something we want. That is what communication is about. We want, food, connection, information, a task performed. We communicate with others to achieve our desire, fulfil a need. There is nothing wrong with this. It is why we communicate.
At the same time there are different mindsets and intentions behind how we go about achieving our goal fulfilment. How we communicate. These different mindsets and intentions have contrasting impacts on those involved in each communication interaction.
Controlling Communication creates harm, psychological, social and physical. In addition it damages organisations and productivity within them.
Alternatively Cooperative Communication builds trust, supportive relationships, life satisfaction, physical and mental health and mutual satisfaction and productivity.
Controlling Communication is the communication style that is dominant in our society. It is what most of us have been taught. It is foundational to the hierarchical system that promotes a shortage of resources and means we have winners and losers. Some individuals get what they want. Others compromise to settle with less than they want. Others still simply go without, either by choice or by fear or a sense of helplessness induced by actual or perceived threats.
In the worst case Controlling Communication is designed for the perpetrator to achieve their desired out come with no regard to anyone else’s needs or desires. Others are simple tools to be used. In the best case the individuals involved don’t know better communication strategies to achieve their desire. They accept this is how it is, despite wishing there was a better way. While in between we have those who may or may not know better strategies, but are living in fear that stimulates self-protective measures that result in the use of controlling strategies.
It is unfortunate that Controlling Communication is what most of us have learnt and use on day-to-day bases. It is having a negative impact on our lives, it can be seen in the increase in violence as well harm to our mental and physical health.
Due to the recognition of the harm of controlling communication especially in the forms of bullying, harassment, manipulation and verbal abuse these strategies are accepted as inappropriate. This is the first step in communication transformation and a wonderful thing. However breaking the pattern of this communication style is still a challenge. It is seen almost everywhere, at schools, our work and in our homes. Often the strategies are so dominant they are accepted as ‘normal’ and thus continue.
Controlling Communication is any communication where force is used, where someone is going for his or her outcome without regard for others desires and needs and or, there is an element of a lack of choice. The idea that we must do this or that, that we have no choice is frequently accepted in our society. All too often it is more because we are well trained than it is the actuality. We all have more choice than we realise. Though admittedly our choices are not always easy to see, let alone enact.
Cooperative Communication is when everyone’s needs and desires are put on the table and considered. Compromises are avoided big time. Everyone matters and there is a belief it is possible for all to achieve their desire. This can take creativity to find a suitable outcome or even acknowledgement that there is a mismatch, a mismatch simple means moving on to another potential source for fulfilment of the desire.
As Cooperative Communication is new for many of us, this means we need to learn new strategies and develop the skills in their use. Fortunately there is increasing research demonstrating more effective communication strategies, showing a path forward. If you desire to have more fulfilling relationships, more life satisfaction, health, wellbeing and productivity it is time to consider developing your skills in Cooperative Communication strategies.
Recommended reading. The first book I read on the topic and a great introduction to the difference between controlling and cooperative communication.
Evans, P 1996 The Verbally Abusive Relationship Adams Media Corporation Holbrook Massachusetts