Communication is central to who we are as humans and how we connect with and relate to each other, both personally and in our work in the world. “The Haven Communication Model” is one of the tools we use to improve our communication skills. It starts by slowing down and getting curious about those we’re engaging with; noticing where we’re making assumptions or getting triggered and considering how we might choose something different. Originally developed by Bennet Wong and Jock McKeen at the Haven Institute, this model is at the core of our communication and conflict resolutions work. It’s also at the heart of Dynamic Dialogue, a course Jane co-leads at the Haven with Cathy McNally and Jennifer Hilton, that digs deeper into how we can communicate in challenging situations and relationships when it really matters.
On the one hand the Model is simply a description of what goes on when people try to communicate. It supports learning to approach our communications with each other more consciously, more self-responsibly, and with more awareness of our choices. It also offers us the opportunity to deepen and enrich our relationships. A two-hour coaching session can give a couple wanting to improve their communications the basics to take away and practice. A day-long session, with a commitment to practice, can shift the communication effectiveness of a work team or board table. For more information contact us and if you’re curious to learn more, read on..
Communication – Breaking Down the Parts – One of the circles in the diagram above contains the word “perceptions”. Every moment, we take in information through our senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, taste – thousands of data items. This sensory input, visual images that could be captured by a camera or sounds on a recording, has no meaning until we “interpret” it (next circle). As humans, we are making meaning in this way all the time – usually instantaneously. Based on our interpretations we experience “feelings” (next circle), which can be simplified as either ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. One way our feelings can be differentiated from our interpretations is that we feel them in our bodies, and can get in touch with them more easily if we allow ourselves to breathe. We often give our feelings various names (like sad or mad). This can sometimes get in the way of clear communications because another person’s of “sad” may actually be quite different from yours. A good place to start in naming and communicating feelings, is checking inside to see if I feel “open or closed”, “warmer or cooler”, or “closer or more distant”. In fact, until I’ve told you about my sensory perceptions, my interpretations and my feelings in relation to you, and checked out my story about you with you, I haven’t communicated at all – it’s just my story. If I don’t ask you and check my interpretation, I’ll never know if it matches your story or not. (And of course, you’ll be making interpretations about what you perceive about me at the same time, and you might want to check them out as well.)
A simple example: ..if I see that my partner’s eyes are red and sore-looking, I will interpret what I see, based in part on my context (see diagram), and may believe that my partner has been crying because he or she is upset about something I said or did – perhaps because we had a fight the day before. Believing that, I might feel ‘cool’ or ‘distant’, either in remembering how I behaved yesterday, or because I believe my partner ‘should get over it!’ This interpretation and my associated feeling may affect the rest of our evening together. But what if, rather than being unhappy, my partner is having contact lens problems? Or perhaps he or she having feelings about something unrelated to me. My interpretation – a reasonable one based on my context and the information I had at the time – may not fit with my partner’s reality at all. If I don’t ask and check my interpretation, I may never know. One evening of missing each other because of an unchecked interpretation may not be a big deal, but it is really easy to have most of life work this way.
Unchecked assumptions can quickly pile up and get us into difficulty. By not checking out our interpretations, we also miss out on getting to know and understand the important people in our lives, as well as on learning more about ourselves. Unchecked assumptions can also lead to conflict between individuals, within communities and organizations, even to international conflicts between nations. By learning to check out our interpretations and staying curious – not jumping immediately to arguments about who’s ‘right’ and who’s ‘wrong’ – we can take a huge step in expanding our worlds to include others’ realities. With practice we can learn to better accept and express our thoughts and feelings – and to understand those of others – even in tense, high stakes situations. We can formulate our intentions more clearly, make choices about what we do next that are congruent with our values, and get clear on our boundaries and bottom lines. This takes practice. Sometimes it is still going to be messy, AND learning to use the Communication Model and other communication and conflict resolution tools can have huge implications for our relationships and the effectiveness of our work in the world. If your group or organization is interested in a day-long workshop on communication and conflict resolution skill-building, contact me. (See more on conflict resolution below.)
Communication Model description adapted from The Haven Institute (www.haven.ca). Authorship 1992 Wong and McKeen.
Communication Coaching for Couples and Groups
If you are a part of a couple or working in a group where you are having difficulty communicating with each other, learning to use the Communication Model together can often clear up mistaken assumptions and misunderstandings and get you back on track. This is something you can learn in couples coaching sessions or in a facilitated session around a board room table. Attending a five-day Come Alive Program at the Haven or a Couples Alive Program is also a great way to learn how to use the Model, and a few times a year you will find Jane, or other members of the Resilience Matters team, there as a part of the facilitation team.
For those who have already participated in a Come Alive or Couples Alive, Jane also offer Staying Alive sessions in the Cowichan Valley for anyone interested in deepening self-awareness, practicing personal and interpersonal skills, communication, self-compassion, and self-expression, as well as further exploring the ideas presented at The Haven. Groups are usually six to seven participants. Sessions are currently by donation, with a suggested donation of $20 per session and an intention of not making limited income or resources a barrier to participation. Contact me about the next scheduled series of Staying Alive sessions.
If there is more serious conflict brewing, or you just want to get better at the everyday conflicts that arise, I can support you in learning to use a framework for doing “Clearings” with each other, in both interpersonal and professional settings. You can learn to address conflict in a boundaried and self-responsible way, come to clearer understandings with each other and find ways to move forward or ways to move on with clarity. In working with conflict, I use tools and approaches from the Haven, from the Process Institute and from Virgina Satir’s and Maria Gomori’s Family Systems work, including breath and body-centred approaches to move energy, overcome resistance and gain clarity. I believe that, if we are willing to stay curious and really share what is up for each of us, conflict is a potential energy source that can often release more passion and creativity in both our personal and professional relationships.
In addition to working one-on-one and facilitating groups with a focus on improving communication, Jane has a background as a writer and editor and enjoys assisting organizations with clear and accessible communications. I have researched and presented papers at two international congresses of the International Confederation of Midwives, done extensive international literature reviews on the cost-effectiveness of midwifery care in preparation for the Association of Ontario Midwives’ first negotiations with the Ontario Ministry of Health and on the safety of the midwifery model of practice. I’ve published articles in the Proceedings of the 21st and the 23rd International Congresses of the International Confederation of Midwives, and in the journals Health Law in Canada and the Canadian Medical Association Journal, as well as created website content, social media content and published in the popular press. Editing and communication work for non-profits doing good work in the world is what I most enjoy these days.
Contact me to learn more. firstname.lastname@example.org