HOW TO SPEAK YOUR SPOUSE'S LANGUAGE
--By H. Norman Wright
COMMUNICATION & A FOREIGN LANGUAGE
Have you ever traveled in a foreign country? There are two types of travellers: The coloniser & the immigrant. The coloniser wants to visit another country, but sees it from his own perspective instead of experiencing it from the inhabitant's point of view. As he enters the country he looks for signs in his own language & seeks out people who speak his own tongue. He endeavors to find the familiar & fails to venture into uncharted territory. He doesn't branch out & learn any words in this foreign language. In fact, this traveller becomes irritated when he can't read signs for the bathroom or understand the menu. Instead of asking for help or learning a few helpful phrases, he becomes upset. He is dependent on others from his own country, who can interpret for him & guide him around. When he talks to local residents, he approaches them in his own language, & they either respond with puzzlement or say a few words they have learned & point him in some direction. Our traveller ends up creating an unpleasant experience for himself & can't wait to get back to familiar territory. He returns home with the attitude that the people of that country are not very friendly. They weren't interested or helpful. If they had been, they would have provided messages in his language & learned his language in order to help tourism.
Quite often colonising nations do this. They transport their own language, customs, & monetary system to another country & force the people there to become like them.
The immigrant traveller is quite different. He is somewhat of an adventurer. In advance he prepares for his trip by orienting himself to this foreign culture. He reads books about the culture, customs, & history of the country & attempts to learn everyday phrases of this new language. In order to be able to converse with the native population, he may even take a class in their language before he leaves. When he arrives at his destination, he is eager to discover all he can. He looks for historical sites, tries all the new foods, reads as much as he can in the language of the country, & uses his newly formed verbal skills where possible. He may even enjoy living with a family of that country for awhile in order to fully capture the flavor of this new world.
As the immigrant attempts to speak this new language, the people respond in a helpful manner. They help him pronounce strange words. Often, if they are adept in the traveller's language, they will begin to speak it in order to make him more comfortable. They seem delighted that this person has made an attempt to learn their language, & they can both laugh at some of his mispronunciations. When the immigrant returns home, he is bursting with enthusiasm & stories of his experiences. He says the people there were so friendly & open & interesting. They were delightful!
But wait a minute! Both the coloniser & the immigrant went to the same country & encountered the same people. Why the difference in response? Very simple. The immigrant was willing to learn about the culture of the people & learn to speak their language. As he attempted to speak the way they did, the people responded positively to his attempts & tried to make it easier for him by speaking his language in return.
If you really want to communicate, initially don't put the responsibility on the other person to understand you. Reach out & attempt to understand the other person first, & that will free him up to respond to you!
THE POWER OF LISTENING
The best communicators do not rely upon their mouths; instead they rely upon their eyes & their ears! That's right--the outstanding communicators are those who listen. Sure, that makes sense, but what about eyes? Yes, I meant eyes too, because you listen as much with your eyes as you do with your ears (or you should!).
My son Matthew taught me to listen with my eyes. I had no other option. Even today as he nears the age of 20, my profoundly mentally retarded boy still knows just a few words, & even those have little or no meaning. But he is also a tremendous gift from God, because his presence has changed our lives. We have learned so much from him.
When Matthew lived at home, he couldn't communicate his needs. He would grab our hands & place them on his head or rub his head against us to show us that something was wrong. We learned to read his body movements & his eyes to help us communicate with him. In time I found that I had also begun to listen to my clients with my eyes & hear what they could not put into words. I was becoming a total listener! You can become a total listener as well.
You communicate nonverbally in two different ways. One is with your body movements, such as gestures, your posture, & your facial expression. The second way in which nonverbals communicate is in spatial relationship. How much distance you put between yourself & others conveys a definite message.
Did you know that your nonverbals make up 55% of your message when you are in face-to-face conversation with another person?
In order to hear the message the other person sends you nonverbally, you need to listen with your eyes. Then you can make any adjustments needed in order to communicate better with that person. If someone nods her head while you talk to her, she could be saying, "I understand," "I agree," or, "Go on." If she raises her eyebrows, she could be saying, "I don't know about that," or, "I didn't know that." If she looks puzzled, perhaps you need to give more clarification.
We also communicate by the distance we stand or sit from another person. You've probably experienced the situation when you have had an argument with a family member & that person has moved & sat as far away from you as possible. Or a young couple in love has a spat, & she moves to the other side of the couch instead of sitting on his lap.
Intimate distance is quite close, usually six to 18 inches from the other person's body. This is the distance used by close friends, those in love, & children hanging onto their friends or parents.
Personal distance runs from one-&-a-half to two-&-a-half feet & is a very comfortable distance for conversation. You can talk to friends or strangers at this distance at a social gathering & feel at ease.
Social distance is four to seven feet. We use this in talking with clients or perhaps someone trying to sell us something or fix something for us. Supervisors, managers, or company presidents use a greater distance to convey their position of importance. Often they will also sit, while the other person stands, to convey their position.
Public distance is 12 to 20 feet & is used for formal gatherings. Little intimacy is indicated at this distance.
SPEAK THE OTHER PERSON'S LANGUAGE
One Tuesday afternoon I waited for my next clients, a young couple I had never met who were coming in for their first session of premarital counselling.
After the preliminary introductions, Jan, Bill & I plunged into our topics. This young, alert, & eager couple wanted to build a marriage that would last, that would be fulfilling for both of them, & that would reflect their Christian commitment.
About halfway into the session, I paused, looked at them, & told them, "I think it's about time to drop a time bomb on you, before we go any further. I just want you to remember," I continued, "that person next to you is a foreigner. You are going to be marrying a foreigner!" They were shocked!
I laughed a bit & said, "Well, this comes as a shock to most couples, & I share this with almost everyone I work with now. You & Jan are similar. But you were both raised in different homes with different parents, siblings, experiences, & in effect a different culture. You may eat the same types of foods, but they were prepared differently. You have different customs, different rituals in your families, different beliefs & values, & you each learned a different language. If you want to have the kind of marriage you have described to me, your biggest task is going to be to learn about the other person's culture, to develop the flexibility to be comfortable with either set of customs, & above all, to learn your partner's language so that you can speak it!"
Jan said softly, "You mean, Bill & I, even though we've gone together for three years, still need to learn more about communication & how we talk with each other? Hmmmm. You know, I have felt that way at times. On occasion I've sensed that Bill & I were sort of out of touch with each other, even though we had done a lot of talking & sharing. We would talk & talk, & at the time we each seemed to grasp what the other person was sharing, but later it felt as if we hadn't talked at all. He didn't catch what I had said. Other times he has a difficult time understanding me. And I don't understand why."
I said, "It's important that we learn not only to speak the same language, but also to make sure we mean the same thing with our words. I have run into so many couples who get irritated & upset in their marriages because of such a simple matter as having different definitions for their words. You know, two people can speak Spanish & not mean the same thing. Two people can speak German & not mean the same thing. We're sitting here speaking English & using some of the same words, but we might have different meanings for them. Your experiences in life, your mind-set, what you intend can give meaning to your words. My wife might ask, "Could we stop at the store for a minute on the way home, Norm? I'll just be a minute." I might take the word minute literally, but I had better not, because years of experience have taught me we're talking about 15 to 20 minutes!" Jan & Bill grinned & nodded their heads.
"Bill, has Jan ever said, `Bill, could I talk to you for a minute about something?' & you said yes, assuming she meant a minute, but you're still discussing the issue 30 minutes later?" They both looked amazed, & Bill spoke up quickly.
"Tuesday night. That very thing happened Tuesday night. Jan wondered why I was getting uptight."
Jan broke in with, "Well, it was important. Did it matter how long it went on? You agreed we needed to talk about it, & I had felt that way for some time."
Bill responded, "Oh, no, it was all right. I just figured it'd be short, since you said a minute."
Jan replied with a bit more feeling, "But many times I feel you have set a time limit on our conversations. I almost sense that you're impatient & want to get to the bottom line. You don't want to hear all my reasons or feelings. In fact, I wish you would share more details with me. I wear a new outfit & ask you how it looks, & all you say is, `It looks fine.' Can't you tell me any more about how you feel about it?"
Bill looked at me & rolled his eyes upward & then turned to Jan & said loudly, "But I said it looked fine. What else do you want to hear?"
I interrupted Bill & said, "On a scale of zero to ten, with zero meaning it looks terrible--like it's out of the rag pile--& a ten meaning it's super--it's outstanding--where does the word fine fall?"
Bill said, "Oh, it's somewhere between an eight & a ten."
Jan looked surprised & blurted out, "How would I know that? That's the first I've heard that `fine' had any meaning at all!"
"This is what I mean," I interrupted, "when I say you need to define your words. Bill, if you couldn't use the word `fine' & had to give a three-line description of the dress Jan is wearing, what would you say?"
Bill thought a few seconds & then said, "Well, I like it. The colour looks good. The dress looks like you, & I like some of the detail around the waist. It fits well & I like the curves. It just seems to look like you. And the style is flashy."
I turned to Jan, "How do you feel about Bill's response?"
She smiled. "That really feels good. He really seemed to notice, & I enjoyed hearing his description."
Bill jumped in & said, "Well, I could do that, but when I'm with some of my other friends & we say `fine,' we know what we mean."
"I can understand that, Bill," I countered. "When you're with them you speak the same language, but when you're with Jan, you need to speak her language. She wants more detail, more description, more adjectives. That's what registers with her. This is a good example of what I mean by speaking the other person's language. Now that we're talking about it, which one of you tends to give more detail when you talk?" I looked back & forth between Bill & Jan & both of them pointed at Jan & laughed.
"I'm the detail person," Jan said. "Quite often Bill asks me to get to the point & give him the bottom line so he understands what I'm talking about. I just want to make sure that he's going to grasp what I'm sharing. I've always given a lot of detail & feelings, but sometimes it's as if he doesn't hear my feelings. He ignores them."
Bill replied, "I don't ignore what you are saying. I do see what you are getting at, but I don't always know what to do with those feelings. It's not that I always mind the detail, but I wish you would focus on the bottom line first, instead of going around the barn several times & then telling me what you're talking about. I like it straightforward & to the point."
"Bill," I said, "you're asking Jan to condense some of the details a bit & identify the bottom line right at the start. That helps you focus on her conversation better. Is that accurate?" He nodded. "That also means, Bill, since Jan enjoys detail, that when you share with her, you will give her more detail than you do now." Bill nodded.
"Now, does my statement about marrying a foreigner make more sense to you?" They both smiled & said, "Yes, definitely!"
We use the word "rapport" when we talk about establishing relationships with other people, & in the field of counselling, we are encouraged to establish rapport with the client as soon as possible. Rapport has been defined as "a relationship marked by harmony, conformity, accord, or affinity." It reflects a relationship that has agreement or likeness or similarity.
No matter whom you meet in life, you will find that you have both differences with & similarities to that individual. Which do you emphasise? If you choose to emphasise your differences, you'll find it more difficult to establish rapport. If you emphasise what you have in common, you will be drawn closer more quickly. Look for your common ground!