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Communicating & Connecting in Relationships

After analyzing the many cases of troubled relationship he faced and helped to remedy over his many years as a pastor, Dr. Jim Peterson comes to the conclusion that According to Dr. Peterson, the lack of communication is the reason behind all troubled relationship in society as well as one’s harmony with oneself. The way to improve oneself as well as one’s relationship to society is to improve one’s skills in communication, which would mean to enhance one’s ability to play the role of the talker as well as the listener. Dr. Peterson states that miscommunication often ensues from our confusion of these roles.

Dr. Peterson brings in a unique theory in understanding the problem of failed communication, which he names the ‘flat brain theory’. Basically, it is an explanation of why our emotions often come in the way of our rational understanding of one’s problem, thus diminishing our effectiveness as listeners. Dr. Peterson talks of the three main regions of our physical body – the stomach, the heart and the brain. He states that emotion often resides in the stomach, while the power to analyze facts and come to conclusion resides in the brain.

After feeling the emotion in the stomach, and analyzing it through the brain, the heart must take priority and provide a conclusion that is both loving and kind. However, if an individual is unable to make these differences clear, then the emotion in the stomach extends to include the heart, and finally the brain, effectively ‘flattening’ it and thus making it unable to take decisions. Usually, once such a flat brain is attained, the self gets into an immediate defense mechanism, making him aggressive, as Peterson considers ‘defense and attack are identical’.

In order to find the mechanism that makes communication difficult, Peterson elaborates: The same is true for relationships. Defending ourselves by hitting Flat-Brain in the stomach increases F-B’s pain, which flattens the brain even more and activates another round of defense/attack. And the dance goes on’ (Peterson 2007, 34) The above formulation thus makes clear that the trick to good listening is thus to bring out an effective division between these three faculties. This leads us to Dr. Peterson’s next theory on how to achieve it effectively in the field of ‘practical communication’, which is the introduction of the ‘talker-listener card’.

This card clearly delineates the work of the talker and the listener. The talker side of the card clearly reminds the participant of the role of the talker, which reads: I am bothered. I own my thoughts. Then it goes on accomplish the task of talking without judging, labeling, or accusing. Similarly, the listener has his role cut out, which is to remain calm enough to hear, and to constantly remind the participant that as a listener, he does not owe the problem. The goals here are to provide safety, understanding and clarification. The things to be avoided include agreeing, disagreeing, advising or defending.

You! This book reached my hand at a critical moment of my life, and I must say, has purported to bring about a change in my life in a very positive way. As a youngster I was often impatient with people, confused, and that often affected the way I dealt with people around me. The fact that I did not have a great respect for religion in general and the Church in particular at that point of time did not help matters. However, determined to bring about a change in my life, I consulted a friend of mine who belonged to a Christian community of my locality. He was the one who referred the book to me.

He said it was the fruit of Dr. Peterson’s long service as a pastor where he had the opportunity to counsel, help and bring about a change in many distraught lives as a professional psychiatric can only dream of. That was not to discredit Dr. Peterson’s psychiatric acumen in any way. I read the book in conjunction with my friend who prescribed it, and I believe that the joint reading sessions helped us more than any single reading possibly could. The effectiveness was heightened because the book involved the ‘talking-listening call card’ system which was necessarily participatory and interactive.

So, I and my friend took roles of the talker and the listener, carefully following the strictures of the calling card kept between us, that played the role of a detached referee. Soon I found out that I was able to carry out the first part of his formulation, the ‘flat brain’ out of the way to a great degree. My brain was able to think independently of my stomach, and my heart could channelize that very easily to what at that point seemed like the best solution. I did not almost automatically jump to defense like my earlier days.

Being less defensive, I was more open to suggestion, and was better listener. After successful sessions with my friend, I was in a position to apply it to other relationships in society. Finally, I could use it within myself, dividing myself into a talker and a listener to clear inner turmoil and confusions. The overall enhancement of communication helped me to become a better, more kind and compassionate human being. Look! The fact that better communication is a key to better relationship is not the most novel idea in Dr. Peterson’s book.

In fact, this idea appears to be as old as human civilization itself. From earliest philosophers, to pastors and ministers of the church, to the modern psychiatric, all harp on this same basic concept – that of using better communication for improving relationships. As a result, when I first heard the title itself, it did not strike me as a book that would offer me something that I never came across before, or would be particularly new. In fact, it was nothing new. But what was new was the imaginative and creative breadth of Dr. Peterson’s, and that is precisely what made the book so effective.

The creative breakdown of the various parts of the human mind, and their roles in communication to different body parts, was something novel. Once schematized in this manner, it became much easier for everyone to understand the working of one’s inner emotions by locating them, and then by locating them, in isolating them, and in isolating them, improving communication. The methodology of the ‘Talker-Listener’ is also a beautifully imaginative way of bringing about this detachment and inner isolation, so that one faculty does not interfere with the other.

The best thing about the book is that is does not believe in mere theorizing. Psychology is replete with works that have formulated almost everything that is spoken in this book in an overtly theoretical way. However, there is absolutely no way in which that can be applied to day to day life, without the help of an expert in psychology, and often with disastrous results. On the other end of the spectrum, lie the numerous self-help books which are often ineffective collections of pop psychology and motivational talks with equally minimal practical application.

This book follows a method, but the method is always tested by practicability. The number of imaginary situations presented at the end of the book to show the applicability of the technique is also a great help for new readers and practitioners of this art. Do! This book, though primarily written to meet the requirements of psychotherapy and consultancy, has found application in fields far removed from practical psycho-analysis. Its range encompasses a wide variety of human application in the social field, including those of development of social skills, soft skills as well as communication skills.

Communication is integral in the modern world, and its reach is far more widespread than the immediate members of ones social circle. Communication techniques and improved interpersonal relations find wide application in the business and the corporate field, as a result of which there is a proliferation of communication specialists. The success of this book in dealing with interpersonal problems and in developing and repairing relationships is well attested. However, the book holds a great promise, and is indeed being applied to, fields that are purely business oriented.

Its wide scope attests to the quality and practical effectiveness of the theories propounded here. Being a book with its onus on the practical application of counseling theories, the best justice to the book is to put it to practical use in the enhancement of the lives of as many individuals as possible. That would be in two ways. The first is to introduce more and more people to this book as a tool to mend and enhance personal relationships, particularly individuals who are already suffering from some troubled relationship in some sphere of their lives.

However, since the book can sometime pose difficulties to individuals not in the habit of regular reading, the methodologies of the book can be employed. Participation in the initial stages also helps to help them get an understanding of the methods described here. From there on, it can be assumed that the concerned individuals can help themselves. All in all, I would like the book to bring about a change in as many lives as possible, as it has mine. Bibliography Peterson, Jim. Why Don’t we Listen Better? : Communicating & Connecting in Relationships, James C. Peterson, 2007

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