Chapter One (cont’d)
Only those who value and understand themselves can value and understand others. Only those who can communicate honestly with themselves can communicate honestly with others.
These are both the traits of a powerful person. And unless you become a powerful person who values what is going on in your heart, your experience with communication is guaranteed to be an endless sequence of misunderstandings and being misunderstood.
Powerless people communicate out of the fear of truth, and they primarily do it in one of three styles—passive communication, aggressive communication, or passive-aggressive communication.
As you’ll see, each of these styles traces back to false core beliefs about the value of what is inside a person. Worse, they cultivate fear and destroy connection because they provide a way for people not to tell the truth.
Passive communicators attempt to convince the world that everyone else is more important than they are. Their core belief is, “You matter and I don’t.” When faced with a joint decision in a relationship, the passive person insists that the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and needs matter more. If they believe that their feelings, thoughts, and needs are being disrespected, they will simply try to absorb it and move on. Passive communicators say things like, “Oh whatever you want. No, that’s okay. No, that didn’t hurt. No, I’m fine. No, I know you were just upset. No, I don’t need to talk about this anymore. I’m good. No, I don’t care where we go—wherever you want! I’m fine. No, I’m great.” Passive people justify devaluing themselves by painting themselves as long-suffering, patient servants who keep the peace and don’t ever make problems. They think it’s right to have no needs or requirements. In reality, they are lying cowards. If I am a passive communicator, then I will lie because I am afraid of what you will do if you find out that I have needs.
I’m afraid of being punished for telling the truth. I’m afraid of communicating what’s going on with me, because I’m afraid you’ll think I’m a bad person, or that I’m selfish. Somehow, I actually believe that it is noble to hide myself from the relationship. But I am only feeding my own anxiety by ensuring that you will never know the truth inside me. You will never be dealing with the real me. You will always be dealing with the facade. And of course, the passive approach, being a lie, is impossible to maintain in the long term. The bitterness that grows by absorbing other people’s selfishness will ultimately make passive people more miserable than scared, and so they will take action. They will stop being passive and will probably end the relationship so that their needs will finally be met. The problem is that the passive people have been just as selfish as the ones toward whom they’re bitter. They devalued their own needs, not out of a desire to benefit the other person, but out of self-protection. I know two sisters. One lent the other a moderate sum of money. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, months turned into years, and still the one sister did not pay back the sum of money. The sister who loaned the money—the ultimate passive communicator— was inwardly seething, but she never confronted her sister about it. She wanted to maintain peace. She abhorred confrontation, and since she didn’t “need” the money, she did not feel that her need to be repaid was valuable enough to be addressed. Nevertheless, by year seven, she couldn’t take it anymore and decided that she would just sue her sister. There is little peace in the family now. Hurt has skyrocketed on both sides, and connection might be irreparably damaged. This is not healthy communication.
The aggressive communicator is like a T-Rex. His or her core belief is, “I matter. You don’t!” Aggressive communicators know how to get what they want. They are large and in charge because they are the biggest, loudest, scariest one in the room. If we were to line up a communication food chain, the aggressive communicator would be the Trex at the top, and the passive communicator would be a goat cowering at the bottom. The craziest thing happens, though—the T-Rex and the goat end up in a relationship together! How in the world does this happen? Simple. They both agree on something: the T-Rex matters and the goat doesn’t. What a pair! This communication dynamic sends anxiety through the roof, because the unequal value and power balance entirely eliminates intimacy. It can only be a relationship of survival. The T-Rex will get what he needs by taking it and the goat will get what she needs by giving away body parts to the T-Rex. In the end, the goat will no longer exist, and the T-Rex will still be hungry. Both are motivated by fear and selfishness, and both are powerless.
The passive–aggressive communication style is the most sophisticated, and therefore the most devious of the fear-based communication styles. It is the worst of being passive and the worst of being aggressive. The passive-aggressive communicator’s core belief is: “You matter… No, not really!” They manipulate and control others through active deceit and subtle-but-deadly forms of punishment. To your face they say, “Oh, whatever you need, absolutely.” Then, after your little disagreement, they head outside and key your car. The passive-aggressive communicator is famous for sarcastic innuendos, veiled threats, the manipulative use of Scriptures, judgments that come in the form of counsel, and withholding love.
I describe a passive-aggressive communicator as a “chocolate-covered dragon.” Sometimes women are attracted to men who appear charming and romantic, flatter them incessantly, and who are just plain too good to be true. It’s not until women get into deeper relationships with these passiveaggressive men that they learn that they are actually chocolate-covered dragons. Once the “nice” facade is gone, they become vicious manipulators who discount these women’s thoughts and feelings. They are often jealous of anything the women do that doesn’t revolve around them.
The core belief of an assertive communicators is, “You matter and so do I.”
So if these are the communication styles that grow out of being powerless and afraid of the truth, what communication style grows out of being powerful and loving the truth? The answer is assertive communication. The core belief of an assertive communicators is, “You matter and so do I. My thoughts, feelings, and needs matter, and so do yours.”
Assertive communicators refuse to have relationships or conversations where both people do not have a high, equal value. They are not afraid to show the other person what is happening inside them.
Because they value what is inside them, they take the time and effort to understand their thoughts, feelings, and needs, and to find words to express them clearly and honestly. This process enhances their ability to value and understand what another person communicates to them about his or her own heart. This is the core value of honor and mutual respect. This is the value assertive communicators project as they interact. Assertive communicators are unafraid of being powerful and letting other people be powerful within a relationship or a conversation. In fact, they insist on having two powerful people in every conversation.
They refuse to give in to the temptation to turn into a T-Rex, a chocolate-covered dragon, or a goat, and they confront other people if they see them slipping into those roles. A powerful assertive communicator responds to a passive person with, “What are you going to do about that?” They respond to an aggressive person with, “I can only talk with you when you decide to be respectful.” And they respond to a passive-aggressive person with, “We can talk later when you choose to be responsible and tell me what is really going on.”
In other words, they are able to set consistent boundaries around a conversation so that it stays respectful, and they require both participants to equally participate in pursuing the goal of the conversation.