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Relationships require work. Hard work. Building a relationship with your family, friends, colleagues, and your special someone takes time and effort from both ends. You cannot expect true closeness and intimacy with someone you just met or kissed a few minutes ago (hello Sleeping Beauty!). Great relationships are developed over time of shared experiences.
I think one of the reasons why many people in this world are lonely right now is because they simply can’t make time for meaningful relationships. It can be that they’re either afraid of being rejected or they just can’t make themselves let go of their busyness. Relationships are treasures that we should take care of because we cannot fully live without them.
Let’s think about our own relationships for a while.
Have you ever gotten curious as to how deep your relationship is with a person or a group? I encountered the 5 Levels of Communication while reading the book Embracing Change by Joseph F. Sica. In his book, Sica says that communication is the number one quality for keeping a healthy relationship growing better for it is the only way we can get to know each other inside and out.
Looking at my relationships through the 5 levels was revolutionary for me. It guided me in sorting out which relationships I would want to develop more, keep the way it is, and ones to treasure forever. Allow your relationships come to mind as we go through each level. Here are Joseph F. Sica’s 5 Levels of Communication with some of my insights.
It’s these kinds of conversations “How are you? How’s the weather today? I know I asked, but I only did it to state the obvious and fill the silence as I talk to you alone. I don’t want to hear anything else. Only normal acceptable politeness.”
I don’t know if you could call that a true conversation because it only stays on the surface. There is no desire for connection and being involved with the other person. We usually hear and do this while lining up at the counter, waiting for the bus, and talking to people at parties. We do this just to be social.
We usually engage in this level of communication at work. Often transactional. Just the facts are shared and there’s no room for disclosing personal information and open communication just like the first level.
Here, boundaries are set making people know that this is how far you’d go with them. This is convenient when living a fast-paced life where you need to hop from one idea to the next. “Hey boss, here’s the report on just the facts – nothing more, nothing less.”
On a daily basis, we may find that we usually go between Level One and Level Two. Superficial – only hitting the tip of the iceberg. Being in these levels is fine since we need them to interact with strangers. With your significant other and friends, you need to dive deeper .
This is where things get more exciting. You’re beginning to test the waters with another person. In this level, expressing ideas and opinions about certain topics is encouraged. We’re sharing a bit of who we are, our likes and dislikes, and keeping communication open. “Where do you want to go on vacation?” “Where do you want to eat?” “What’s your opinion on pineapples on pizza?”
On level three, it may seem like you’re already deep in conversation with a person but you would still leave parts of you guarded. If the person you’re exchanging ideas with doesn’t agree about something, you may go back to level one or level two and build things up again.
“Our feelings tell us we are alive. They aren’t either right or wrong, they simply are.”Joseph F. Sica
After testing the waters, and deemed it safe – we add our feelings to our thoughts in the conversation! On this level, we express what’s going on inside us to the other person.
We expose our ideas, convictions, dreams, values, and feelings about experiences and situations. We share what’s important to us. When reciprocated by the other person, you get to know more about each other’s character and it will be an enriching experience for both of you.
When a friend asks, “You look stressed, are you OK?” they’re engaging in level four communication. Expressing how we feel paves the way for real connection. However, sharing what we feel with another person can be frightening because if we are not taken seriously, we end up getting hurt and retreat to level one. The response and reaction of the other person determine if we would want to tell them more about ourselves.
I’m lucky to have relationships that communicate on level three and level four. It’s a blessing to be able to talk about my deepest thoughts, worries, and joys without fear of being laughed at. They even listen to things that I have left unsaid. The feeling of being understood and safe abounds these relationships.
Here, we have gone deep and really see into the person and let them see us. We give the person space to authentically be themselves, space where they can be free, a space that they can trust. We reach this communication level when we can be truly honest and open with the other person. You share the parts of you that you’ve been hiding, parts that you’re scared of, parts that are not easy to tell – becoming transparent. What’s beautiful about it is that the same openness is being returned and encouraged to go deeper.
Communication goes both ways. When someone speaks, we give our undivided attention to listen. Some relationships (family, friendships, marriages) fail because they either did not express themselves enough to be understood or didn’t listen enough with their hearts.
Building relationships take time. Observing my own relationships, some went through the five levels by stage and there were special ones that skipped two levels. I myself tend to go straight to level three or four with people. You can treat the five levels as phases or as a guide to what communication level you want to work on with another person.
It’s okay if you have relationships where your communication levels do not meet. You may have a desire in communicating on level four but the other person can only go with you on level two. This is normal. You may have to adjust with the level of communication you’re receiving or express your need for a higher level with the other person. Discernment and acceptance plays a role in determining if it’s a relationship worth keeping, let go of, or keep as it is and let it grow at its own time.
Relationships require work. Hard work. But the work is worth it because you get to see the beauty hidden in each person and allow yourself to be seen too!
I hope you learned something new by reading this article. Put your thoughts on the comments below. Which level of communication do you want to achieve in your relationships? Do you have relationships on level five? Are you struggling with a relationship that you want to go deeper into?
Joseph F Sica, Embracing Change: 10 Ways to Grow Spiritually and Emotionally. Pasay City, Philippines: Paulines, 2015