Five Levels of communication: John Powell

(From : Why am I afraid to say who I am?)

Someone has aptly distinguished five levels of communication on which persons can relate to one another. Perhaps it will help our understanding of these levels to visualize a person locked inside of a prison. It is the human being, urged by an inner insistence to go out to others and yet afraid to do so.

Most of us make only a weak response to the invitation of encounter with others and our world because we feel uncomfortable exposing our nakedness as persons. Inside our prison we may be lonely and fragmented by an almost desperate need for connecting with people outside but we are afraid to take the risk since we can be rejected. Some of us are only willing to pretend this exodus out of ourselves while others somehow find the courage to go all the way out to freedom. There are various stages in between.

The fifth level represents the least willingness to communicate ourselves to others. The successive descending levels indicate greater and greater success in the adventure.

Level five: Cliché conversation.

This level represents the weakest response to the human dilemma and the lowest level of self-communication. On this level we talk in clichés such as …   “How are you?….. How is your family?…. Where have you been” We say things like: “ I like your dress very much.” “ I hope we can get together again real soon.” “ It is good to see you.”

No one is expected to give details of one’s health problems when one is asked, “How do you do?” We say, “Just fine, thank you.”

This is the non-communication of the cocktail party, the club meeting… There is no sharing of persons at all. Everyone remains safely in the isolation of his pretense, sham, sophistication.

Level four: Reporting the facts about others.

On this fourth level we do not step very far outside the prison of our loneliness into real communication because we expose almost nothing of ourselves. We remain contented to tell others what so-and-so has said or done. We offer no personal, self-revelatory commentary on these facts, but simply report them. We may seek shelter in gossip items, conversation pieces, and a little narrations about others. We give nothing of ourselves and invite nothing from others.

Level Three: My ideas and judgments.

On this level, there is some communication of my person. I am willing to take this step out of my solitary confinement. I will take the risk of telling you some of my ideas and reveal some of my judgments and decisions. My communication usually remains under strict censorship, however. As I communicate my ideas, etc. I will be watching you carefully. I want to test the temperature of the water before I leap in. I want to be sure that you will accept me with my ideas, judgments, and decisions. If you raise your eyebrow or narrow your eyes, if you yawn or look at your watch, I will probably retreat to safer ground. I will try to say tings that you want me to say, try to be what pleases you.

            Someday, perhaps, when I develop the courage and the intensity of desire to grow as a person, I will spill all of the contents of my mind and heart before you. But still you can know only a little about my person, unless I am willing to advance to he next depth level of self-communication.

Level Two: My feelings ( emotions) “ Gut level”.

Some may think that once we have revealed our ideas, judgments, and decisions, there is really not much more of our persons to share. Actually, the things that most clearly differentiate and individuate me from others , that make communication of my person a unique knowledge, are my feelings or emotions.

If I really want you to know who I am, I must tell you about my stomach (gut level) as well as my head. My ideas judgments, decisions are quite conventional. But feelings that lie under my ideas, judgments and convictions are uniquely mine. No one experiences my precise sense of frustration, labors under my fears, feels my passions.

            For example, some possible emotional reactions to the judgment, “ I think that you are intelligent” could be : ..and I am jealous,….. and I feel proud to be your friend…, and it makes me ill at ease with you,…… and I feel suspicious of you,….. and I feel inferior to you,…… and I feel impelled to imitate you,……and I feel the desire to humiliate you.

            Most of us feel others will not tolerate such honesty in communication. We would rather defend our dishonesty on the grounds that it might hurt others and rationalize our phoniness into nobility, and we settle for superficial relationships.

            Any relationship, which is to have the nature of true personal encounter, must be based on this honest, open, gut-level communication.

Level One: Peak Communication.

            All deep authentic friendships, and especially the union of those who are married, must be based on absolute openness and honesty. At times gut-level communication will be most difficult, but it is at these precise times that it is most necessary. Among close friends or between partners in marriage there will come from time to time a complete emotional and personal communion.

            In our human condition this can never be a permanent experience. There should and will be, however, moments when encounter attains perfect communication. At these times the two persons will feel an almost perfect and mutual empathy. I know that my own reactions are shared completely by my friend; my happiness or my grief is perfectly replicated in him. We are like two musical instruments playing exactly the same note, filled with and giving for the precisely the same sound. May happen in prayer too.. communion with God.

Most people are between 4 –3 above