ipc2Enjoy empowering Interpersonal communication

I have come across some excellent religious who are committed in their ministry and are very prayerful, but they find it difficult to work together with others. Others who collaborate in the mission find it exhausting to team up with them. They are good souls with a generous heart to do service to others. But lack of healthy communication skills impoverish their ability to give their best in ministry.

In the formation of missionaries theoretical learning should be complemented by life enhancing skills of good communication and team work. It will help the theological insights and philosophical wisdom gathered in the class room to find relational channels to reach out to the people. This article attempts to present a few practical tips about communicating messages effectively.

Let us start with a conversation between two co-workers in a mission:

Clara: Do we have to go for the staff meeting today:

Mary: Why? Does it bother you?

Clara: Oh it is all just the same every time. I don’t know.

Mary: Did something happen last time?

Clara:   It is nothing. Sometime the meeting is interesting. But I don’t know. And today Fr. Mark is running the show.

Mary: You don’t like how Mark is animating the meeting?

Clara: He is alright. Well, he does not care about what we think. Forget it. Let us start, if we are going.

In this communication Mary is not sure what Clara is going through and Mary is not able to respond to the needs of Clara.

We need to learn how to make clear and complete statements about our inner experience, if we want to be empowering in our interpersonal communication.

The four components of an experience

There has been many interesting studies on improving communication skills. Most of them insist on clarity in understanding and communicating what is going on in oneself and others in the context of a mutual relationship. Confusion in communication creates calamity in a relationship. Let us look at the four components of an experience:

  1. your observations
  2. thoughts,
  3. feelings
  4. needs.

Recall a recent touching experience of yours. It will contain the facts observed, your evaluation of what is observed, your feelings in relation to it and the underlying need that is implied.

Expressing clearly these different components helps to build relationships. Each of these elements calls for a different style of expression and often requires its own vocabulary.

1. Observations (What happened)

It is the language of reporting what is observed. It is reporting what your senses tell you. There are no speculations, inferences or conclusions. Everything is simple fact. For example:

  • I read in the newspaper the magnitude of the earthquake that took place in Italy.
  • I broke a glass this morning.
  • It was a very hot day when I reached Rome in August.

In the case of Clara if she was to talk about her observations, she would have said about the meetings running overtime, Mark is shouting at members for differences of opinion, not discussing about the picnic with the group etc.

2. Thoughts (evaluations, opinions, judgements)

Thoughts are conclusions, inferences drawn from what you have observed, heard or read. they are attempts to synthesize your observations so that you can see what is going on and understand why and how events occur. They may also be value judgments, beliefs, opinions and theories etc. eg.

  • Generosity is important for happy religious life. (belief)
  • I think the present form of religious life is giving way to something new. (theory)
  • She must be afraid of the Director. She stands behind the group during meetings (inference)
  • Coco cola is the best soft drink available (opinion)
  • You are wrong to stop speaking to her (value judgment)

If Clara were to express her thoughts, she might say that Mark was bossy and dominating. He deliberately avoids facing the important issues and treating others like kids.

3. Feelings

It is the difficult part of communication. Some People don’t want to hear what you feel. How you feel is large part of what makes you unique and special. Shared feelings are building blocks of intimacy. If others know what angers, frightens, or pleases you, they have greater empathy and understanding and more willing to modify their behaviour to meet your needs. Eg.

  • I missed Fr. Tom and felt a real loss when he left for the missions in the North.
  • I feel very anxious when I am alone at home.
  • I feel so overwhelmed when I see you after so many years. I feel this incredible rush of affection.
  • I feel stunned and a little angry when I saw many mistakes in your report.

Clara might say that she was bored at the meetings and felt angry to Mark. She might also say that she is worried and annoyed when she thinks important events are planned without being consulted.

4. Needs

Only you know what you want. But you may expect your friends and family to know what you want. “If you loved me, you would know what is wrong”. Since you feel bad to ask for anything, your needs are often expressed with some anger or resentment. If you don’t express your needs in your relationship, you are likely to accumulate frustrations and resentments which eventually ruin the relationship. Relationships can accommodate, change or grow when both people can clearly and supportively express what they need. For example:

  • Can you be home before seven. I would like to go for a movie.
  • I am tired. Will you do the cleaning today.
  • Could you come over to my office for half an hour. We could prepare that list.

Clara might want her free time to be respected. She might want to be made part of the decision making process on matters that require her collaboration.

Whole and contaminated messages

 Whole messages include all four kinds of expressions. Good relationships thrive on whole messages. Your friends can’t know the real you unless you share all your experiences. When you leave something out, it is called partial message. It creates confusion and distrust. They sense something is missing but don’t know what. Judgments untempered by your feelings and hopes turn them off. They resist hearing anger that does not include your story of frustration and hurt. They are suspicious of conclusions without supporting observations. They are uncomfortable with demands growing from unexpressed feelings and assumptions. Of course, not every relationship requires whole messages. Eg. with your Gardner.

            Contamination takes place when your messages are mixed or mislabeled. You may contaminate feelings, thoughts and needs when you say for example, “You are always interested to do your own thing”. Contaminated message can be confusing and alienating. For example:    

A superior to a community member working in a school, “You are worried only about your school”. (You are not sharing the work of the community).

Contamination of messages happen when you confuse an evaluation for an observation. For example, “you are lazy” is actually an evaluation, but presented as if it is a fact about the other person. The observation could be that the person was absent for a community task on a particular day.

Tips for healthy communication of messages

  1. Message should be direct. knowing when something needs to be said. Indirectness may cost you very emotionally. Sometimes people try to communicating by hinting, telling a third party hoping that the target person will eventually get the message. Speak to the person directly if you want him/her to get the message. Address your own fears before you communicate a difficult message.
  1. Message should be immediate: Delaying communication may make matters worse. Your anger may smolder and your frustrated need may become a       chronic irritant. Often it may take passive aggressive forms. Sometimes it may be gunny sacked to a point where a small event triggers violent reactions. A slight criticism may be answered with megatons of grips and resentments.ipc5
  1. Message should be clear: A clear message is a complete and accurate reflection of your thoughts, feelings, needs and observations. Some people are afraid to say what they mean. They speak in muddy, theoretical jargon. Some tips for staying clear. For example, some superiors correct the community by giving long exhortations from the constitutions, instead of clearly stating what he want to say. Don’t ask questions when you need to make a statement: Why do you bring these files here?” may mean, “These files are to be handed over to the office”.
  2.   Keep your message congruent: The content, tone of voice and body language should fit together. While congratulating someone, your tone, face and words should reflect pleasure. It is incongruent if you thank you with a frown. Congruence promotes clarity and understanding.
  3. Avoid double message: It is like kicking the dog and petting at the same time. It occurs when you say two contradictory things at once. One message undercuts the other. Eg. Superior to a member who wants to go for a picnic, “You may do what you like, I have nothing against it, but remember, you are responsible before God for what you do you’re your time and money”.
  4. Be clear about your wants and feelings. Hinting about your feelings and needs may seem safer than stating them clearly. Eg. mother to daughter, ”I hope you visit grandma this week”. This may look straightforward, it covers the guilt and anxiety she feels about grandma’s loneliness. She worries about grandma’s health and without explaining any of this, makes her daughter to make frequent visits.
  5.  Distinguish between observation and thoughts. Separate what you see and hear from your thoughts. For example, it is better to say, “I see the lights on all night yesterday” than “you are careless about the use of lights”.
  6. Focus on one thing at a time. Stick with one topic at hand.
  7. Messages should be straight. In a straight message the stated purpose is the same as the real message. Hidden agendas destroy intimacy. Hidden agendas urged by feelings of inadequacy and poor self-esteem. To protect yourself you may create an image. Then the stated purpose is different from the hidden agenda. Eg. Discussing the failures of your companions may have an agenda of       showing how clever you are.       Being straight means that you tell the truth by stating your needs and feelings. If you lie to save your face, you may end up alienated from even close friends.
  8. Messages should be supportive: You want the other to be able to hear you without getting blown away. If you want to hurt your listener, the following will work well for you:
  • Using labels. Stupid, selfish, evil, mean, lazy, worthless,
  •  Sarcasm
  •  Dragging up the past.
  •  Negative comparisons. Why aren’t you generous like your brother.
  •  Judgmental ‘you’ messages. You don’t love me anymore”.
  • Threats. Eg. threat to move out, to quit.

Supportive communication avoid ‘win/lose’ and ’right /wrong’ games. The question is do I want to win or do I ant to communicate? Do I want to be right or do I want mutual understanding.


Good relationships are sustained by mutually empowering communications. Many problems in community life and family arise out of contaminated and partial communications which accumulate suspicions and frustrations rather than building trust and mutual confidence. Life in community and team work in ministry become enjoyable when healthy communication takes place between people.

 – Prepared by Mathew cmf

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