The Politics of Communication: Avoiding the Trap of Relationship Partisanship

by Belinda Munoz on November 15, 2010


It’s been said that much of humanity’s struggles result not from our inherent flaws but from our inability to communicate effectively. We bungle the expression of our thoughts and intentions and as a result, we wage wars, we become estranged from our relatives and we fracture our bond with old friends. Our flaws can be forgiven. Our communication, on the other hand, if flawed, must first be deciphered before we’re granted a reprieve.

While it may sound overly simplistic, there is at least a trace of truth in this. When we communicate, we do our best to choose our words carefully, match them with appropriate non-verbal cues and hope that the person on the other side grasps our intention. Sometimes, it works. Our relationships continue to thrive bringing warmth, comfort and a sense of stability to our days.

Sometimes, however, our best just ain’t good enough. Our hearts may be in the right place. Our words may be carefully selected. Our tone may be evenly calibrated. Still, the message becomes garbled from sender to receiver that it takes an army of spin doctors to unscramble the sincerity from the unintended connotation in our messaging.

A bit like American politics, a whole other beast from which I borrow a few terms to illustrate a few communication styles. (Please note that these terms don’t correlate with their political definition.)

The Verbally Conservative — This is the person in the relationship who doesn’t speak as often as the other person. The VC listens, or appears to listen well, however, may respond with one word answers or a simple nod. At times, the VC dislikes repeating oneself and often assumes certain thoughts, intentions and emotions are understood.

Pro: Very easygoing and would never embarrass anyone at a party
Con: Difficult to know what their emotions truly are

The Verbally Liberal — The VL speaks one’s mind with little prodding and is generally easy to understand. The VL is upbeat, outgoing and happy overall, that is, until there is a reason to be unhappy. And when there is a reason to be unhappy, the VL lets you know about it.

Pro: Very articulate and does not require deciphering
Con: Overly articulate at times when you’d rather sleep

The Blue Dog Communicator — The BDC speaks just the right amount with reasonable non-verbal cues and appears to be on the same wavelength as you. You believe the BDC shares your same vibe. That is, until the time comes for follow up. Example: You may be under the impression, based on past conversations, that the BDC is as big a Steve Carrell fan as you, but when you invite the BDC to see Carrell’s latest film, the BDC hems and haws.

Pro: Generally makes you feel right at home
Con: Can make you feel like the awesome conversation you thought for sure had with a BDC was really with a Martian

The Independent Communicator — A wild card. The IC weighs the facts according to one’s own set of experiences, expectations and biases.

Pro: Unpredictable
Con: Unpredictable

The Progressive Non-verbalist — The PNV is all about emotions. Meaning and nuance are important to the PNV. Facts are secondary to what the PNV considers to be the true currency of successful relationships — big smiles, belly laughs and bear hugs.

Pro: Very forgiving and loving
Con: Words alone won’t convince the PNV

The Centrist Mediator — The CM is available to settle any dispute between any combination of the above.

Pro: Very practical; expert negotiator
Con: May be too ready to compromise

Great. I bet some of you are thinking who needs more labels that we didn’t pick for ourselves, right?

And how in the world is communication similar to politics?

Other than how convoluted things get when the message is misunderstood, or twisted or not heard, they’re not so similar at all. In our relationships, labels are easier to shed and partisanship is not often a factor. If we can remember that communication is an important means of strengthening our relationship with others, we try a little harder. We make room for mistakes (ours and theirs). We allow ourselves to meet the other person where they are. We give them the benefit of the doubt. Not so in politics.

What is your communication style?
How do you know for sure you’re hearing someone?
How do you ensure that your message gets across effectively?

Image by B Rosen

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Aging Mommy November 15, 2010 at 5:37 am

My biggest problem is finding it hard to articulate the tough stuff – so I simmer and seethe and then the whole house of cards falls down. I do not know how to fix this and right now for example it is a big issue with one particular person.


2 Belinda Munoz November 15, 2010 at 12:26 pm

It’s a drag to have to address a sticking point. I can’t say that I always do when I need to, but the times that I have, my anticipation would have a way of blowing things out of proportion. The resulting conversation never ends up to be so dramatic…at least not that I can remember ; )


3 Tessa November 15, 2010 at 10:46 am

I think I’m a VL….and there are definitely those times when my husband would rather sleep! Awesome post!


4 Belinda Munoz November 15, 2010 at 12:27 pm

I think I’m a VL, too. Luckily, my husband falls asleep easily.


5 Eva @ EvaEvolving November 15, 2010 at 11:15 am

Belinda, I love this! So clever, and so accurate. In my household, I’m the verbally liberal and Husband is verbally conservative – which often makes for some tension. But as verbally liberal as I think I am, my father-in-law is even more liberal. There are times we have to beg him for a time out!


6 Belinda Munoz November 15, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Your father-in-law and my little guy have something in common!


7 Giulietta Nardone November 15, 2010 at 11:41 am

Hi Belinda,

Communication can be hard because we often don’t say what we really mean or mean what we say. Basically, we bring a lot of baggage to the conversation. And from a small child onward, honesty in the verbal department is not encouraged. I know everyone talks about honesty, but promoting it is a different beast because folks keep saying we’ll “hurt” each other if we say the truth — so we dance around it and dance into others dancing around it — and things never settle.

Hmm. Me as communicator. I’m very expressive, if not borderline theatrical at times. Put me in front of a town meeting trying to save something and you’ll hear me speaking with gobs of passion — it just flows. That said, it can be hard to turn off. I actually took a listening class for 6 weeks about 15 years ago, to learn how to listen. Even with that class, I find it takes a lot of concentration to stay in the moment of a conversation. Listening is another skill not actively promoted.

Fun! G.


8 Belinda Munoz November 15, 2010 at 12:30 pm

I love the idea of a listening class. You’re right, it’s not taught in schools. It’s somehow assumed that those who have ears know how to listen. Not always true…


9 Sara Healy November 15, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Belinda — LOL I loved this post and I did laugh out loud:~) I could see lots of people I know in your creative categories. It always nice when you run across a post, like this creative one…there’s lots of sense amidst a lot of fun:~)

I, myself, fit the the VL pretty well and my boyfriend can attest to the cons of this style of communicating. He’s a combination IC, VL and CM, at least that’s what I think.

Thank you for this post:~)


10 ayala November 15, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Belinda, awesome post. I think I am a VL, too. Luckily,my husband falls asleep easily ! In politics whatever the politicians say , seem to follow them through the length of their careers!


11 Daisy Gentry December 23, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Belinda, awesome post. I think I am a VL, too. Luckily,my husband falls asleep easily ! In politics whatever the politicians say , seem to follow them through the length of their careers!


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