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Using Communication to Create Partnership

Recently, during a weekend away with two dear friends, I was reminded of the importance of [effective] communication in partnership and the value of communication as partnership. These friends happen to be in a committed, long-term relationship, and I found myself serving as their relationship coach in a moment of disconnection and miscommunication.

We’re all professional coaches and no strangers to working through our shit in front of one another, but this instance opened deep wounds and re-exposed some long-held patterns for both of them. This was not the first time I had witnessed such a breakdown between them, but it was the first time I had been asked to support as a coach and not a friend. It was morning, and we were coming out of a group meditation session on the patio. I had gone inside for another cup of coffee, and when I returned, the energy in the space had turned

cold and icy, stagnant. I found my friends rehashing an incident from the day before. These folks were not my two friends, but people I immediately recognized as their survival mechanisms, loud and proud and ready to be right. Both were backed into their proverbial corners and rearing to fight it out in a verbal cage match to the death. I sat and listened, trying not to engage but feeling one of my survival mechanisms wanting to come out and play – Nickipedia is always right and can “fix” any situation when he’s uncomfortable. After a few minutes of heated verbal volleys, one of my friends invited me to support the conversation. Their aware selves were asking for some objective reflection or coaching, but I know their survival mechanisms were really asking for someone to tag into the match. Nickipedia got out of the ring, and Coach Nick took over as referee.

When working with couples or groups, the goal is to get everyone on the same page, moving forward together with a shared understanding and vision, and working through impasses as they arise. But that can be difficult when the parties involved are in defense mode. They shut down and become myopic – only seeing and hearing what they want to. As I listened to my friends express what they needed at the moment, it occurred to me that they were both asking for the same thing – partnership. However, the issue was that they both had different ideas of how to be and do partnership, and their survival mechanisms kept them from hearing what the other was saying. They were asking for the same thing but had very different ideas of how to get there.

As a coach, my job was not to give my friends a path forward but rather to help them create awareness and break patterns that kept them from moving forward. When I reflected that they were asking for the same thing, but neither could hear it, the conversation shifted. The energy in the room began the thaw, and I could see them physically de-armoring. They could start to hear one another and find a mutual understanding of what they both needed. They began to find partnership again by grounding in the essence of who they are, expressing themselves from that essence, and connecting with each other’s essences.

We often think of communication as a signal (message) and receiver, and sometimes this is expanded to images of a feedback loop. Our goal is to impart meaning and understanding to one another. What if we used better communication as an access point to do partnership and as an access point to being partnership? Not just romantically, but in all relationships.

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