To anyone who works with code, “==” means “equivalent to.” When coding, programmers can use “==” to make one thing the same as another.
communication == relationships
Communication and relationships are essentially the same thing. How you communicate with someone and your relationship with them flow so directly into one another, and mutually shape one another, that in essence they are the same.
Communication makes your relationships what they are.
This may or may not initially seem controversial. Nobody would disagree that communication and relationships go hand in hand. Popular relationship advice dictates that “communication is key.” This is true, albeit a clichéd way to talk about communication.
Communication is key. But what does that mean?
Most people see communication as one aspect of a relationship — rather than the process that creates the relationship itself. I realize this is an abstract point, but this difference is essential to truly understanding how communication is impacting your life and how to communicate better.
Communication isn’t some endpoint or achievement that you can ever get exactly right. There’s no magic communication formula where if you get things exactly a certain way, that your wildest successes and dreams will be realized: your marriage will get better, that presentation at work will go perfectly, your kids will magically accept every word of your advice, you’ll be able to pick up that person at the bar. Communication doesn’t work like that.
Pap advice alluding to this idea of perfecting communication as an outcome is all over the internet. Most communication advice starts and ends here. For example, 6 Surprising Ways To Communicate Better With Your Partner, 3 Communication Tricks To Be More Likable, 10 Steps To Improve Your Workplace Communication Skills, and so on.
Articles like this are usually far too simplistic, implying that you’ll be able to solve all your communication problems if you only correctly combine the right behaviors. This is a pervasive, incorrect, and dangerous idea about how communication works. Communicating well isn’t just a collection of tips and tricks. It’s not a box to tick. It’s not an arrival point. It is a process and it’s ongoing.
And it’s the process that is not one aspect of the relationship — it is the relationship itself.
Try a thought exercise to illustrate the point.
Think of a relationship you have with one person. Choose whoever you like but I’d encourage you to pick someone you enjoy spending time with. Keep only your relationship with that person in mind as you do the following:
Take a moment and reflect on that relationship. Think of it in your head. What has been its history and its meaning in your life? What’s the context and background of that relationship? How does that relationship make you feel? How would you describe that relationship? What are your key feelings? What events happened in that relationship that resulted in you describing it as you do? Hopefully good thoughts and pleasant words come to mind.
Now ask yourself, where did that relationship come from?
When you get down to it, the answer is conversations, talking, communicating, nonverbal behavior, and interactions. Call it whatever you want, but it’s communication. You can form relationships over emojis, slick comments, and pictures on Tinder just as you can in a face-to-face conversation at your local place of worship or as you can by striking up a conversation with someone in your sophomore history class. Sure the forms are different, but it’s all communication.
Relationships come from somewhere. They come from us talking to one another. Relationships are spoken and acted and behaved into reality. Our relationships are the products of us communicating, which in turn shapes how we communicate. Our relationships with others are what they are because of how we have communicated together.
All relationships are like this.
What any relationship is and where it has ended up is so because of how you and the other person have interacted up until that point. Friendships, for example, are what they are because of how you’ve communicated in those relationships over time.
I’m lucky to have a wide range of different people that I call “friends.” I’m also liberal with the word friend because I’m American. I have friends from lots of places due to where I’ve lived and the jobs I’ve had. Certain friendships have waxed and waned over the course of my life. Others burned out quickly. A few friendships have endured, though they may or may not have always been a constant in my life. One of my oldest friends, Tim, is a relationship that has had periods of intensity and separation over the years. I was quite close with Tim for many years in high school and college but we didn’t really see or contact each other much for a period of 6 or 7 years until we reconnected. That gap in our relationship was a gap in communication; we fell out of touch, and the relationship went into hibernation until we reconnected and began communicating again.
Those relationships, whatever they are, are the product of all the conversations and interactions of those relationships. All the things shared. All the conversations had. All the things done together.
There aren’t ways to get that exactly right. Communication happens and relationships get formed from it.
This is a radical position which goes against a lot of the popular thinking about communication, especially that of psychology and business which view communication as just a set of skills that can be manipulated to certain ends and achievements.
It is the processes of communicating that create our relationships.
When seen this way, it becomes easier to see how communication penetrates nearly every aspect of human life.
Communication isn’t one-way, or two-way, or merely transactional. Communication constitutes relationships. New fresh conversations are layered on top of the old fossilized ones underneath. It is only through recognizing communication as what creates relationships that we can understand how to harness the potential of communication’s power to remake relationships in positive ways. How you communicate is your relationship. If you change your communication, you’ll change the relationship.