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.
The 5 Levels of Communication
Level One: Could Care Less (Superficial Small Talk)
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.
Level Two: Keep It Simple (Facts and Information)
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 .
Level Three: Tell Me More (Ideas and Opinions)
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.
Level Four: Going Deeper (Feelings and Emotions)
“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.
Level Five: Right On (Intimacy and Transparency)
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.
Relationships take time to grow
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
A thought struck me with all this pandemic crisis going on. Let me re-frame what’s happening at this angle. What if, right now, as we are staying home we are being resuscitated and we’re experiencing a very gentle near-death experience. Where us being resuscitated means choosing between living a new and better life after the crisis or just go back to the same old uneventful life we’ve had before. It’s like a reboot for a 2nd chance in life!
I’ve been battling with my own thoughts these past few days and been attempting to clean the clutter inside my mental space. It’s hard work because you have to submit yourself to the process of taking things out of the closets and cupboards of your mind and see if what you have pulled out still serves you well and contribute to you being a better version of yourself.
It’s like spring cleaning but instead of taking things out, you take out memories, habits, weaknesses, flaws, joys, triumphs and etc. and see if they are still helping you grow. Otherwise, you have to decide whether to throw them away or not. It’s not an easy process. Because like spring cleaning you will encounter stuff that is unmistakable “clutter” that has served you well in the past but it’s of no use to you now, something hard to let go, but you must. Throw the garbage out.
Restlessness and discontent about where I am right now have been one of my driving forces to move forward. There is a lot of resistance that needs to be slain so I can keep on moving. Resistance is a b**ch (saying it as it is!). It tells you to go back down in comfort and not do anything to take a step towards your fullest potential. I don’t want to just survive, I want to fully live! I want to make my dreams reality, I want to make better choices for myself, and I want to spend more time with people I love. The one thing I fear most after the lockdown here gets lifted is that I will stay the same, that nothing has changed within me even just a little.
When discontent makes you restless – move. When you are not satisfied with where you are – move. When you’re not happy – move. When you’re stuck – move. Even if it looks like nothing is happening you still did something – you moved.
You know, I consider this restlessness, discontent, and fear a blessing because it tells me where I want to go and who I want to become. I now know who I want myself to be. And I’m going to spend my 2nd life moving towards it. I want to make a little ripple that can change the world and make the most of what life has in store for me, not only surviving but fully living. For when we fully live our lives the breaths we take for granted gain more meaning because in fully living, we give more of ourselves to the world that is striving to survive.
How is your mental space? Does it need a spring cleaning? Are you just surviving or are you fully living?
Many people would not believe me if I told them that I’m an introvert. If I didn’t know myself well enough I wouldn’t believe it either! Haha! How is that dude who can speak energetically on stage, strike random conversations with strangers, and sing with total abandon be an introvert? I know, I’m surprised myself!
From grade school going to high school I was well-known for being that gentle, quiet, and sometimes quirky kid in the corner. It was the perfect place where I wouldn’t draw attention to myself. Speaking in front of the class terrified me so much that I would involuntarily shake in my seat (It’s a miracle I didn’t pee my pants!). I only have select friends growing up so when they’re off to somewhere else I’m left with my rich inner world to keep me company. Being alone does not bother me much. My weekend activities would usually rotate around reading books, playing video games, and building amazing chair forts. Being alone is great because you can just be yourself around yourself without worry.
“Aww, you’re so shy! Do you want cake?” or “Vin, meet Mark, you can be friends with him!” were some of the things that the friends and colleagues of my parents would say to me when I was a kid to get me out of my shell. Did I get some of that cake? OH YES, I DID! – Was I able to make friends with Mark? Only for a while.
Getting to know myself was easier for me than letting my walls down and giving others an opportunity to get to know me. I craved something deeper. I didn’t realize back then that the more I kept to myself, the more isolated I became, and loneliness would get to me as I am always stuck in my head. My teachers warned my parents that my behavior could be an early sign of depression. I didn’t know how to make sense of that back then. Connecting with others was a real struggle for me.
Life loses its meaning without other people.
As human beings, we are not only rational beings but emotional ones as well. We become fully alive when we have shared experiences with each other and being able to experience feelings such as pain, joy, sadness, grief, hope, and love are some of life’s greatest gifts. Death could mean being void of all these things.
Connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. True connection with others will not happen if you want to remain hidden. Coming out of your hiding place can be terrifying because it makes you vulnerable to whatever you’re hiding from and telling them the truth of where you are – “I’m here! I’m scared but I’m here! I’m here!”
Vulnerability is not a weakness. Brené Brown, in her book Daring Greatly says “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness… Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.” The more we share, the more we connect, in reverse, the more we withhold ourselves from others, the more we disconnect.
The journey of unhiding was difficult for me. To let other people in and at the same time giving them a part of yourself, being vulnerable in sharing my story. The most challenging part about it was finding the right safe people to share it with. The path of vulnerability led me to find a home in a community whose members has the capacity to be patient with me when I’m in hiding, meet me where I am and even run after me when I’ve gone away, accept my flaws as they are, and love me fully especially at times when I don’t feel worthy of love.
They would listen not only to the perfect version of my story that I have carefully crafted to hide behind but also to the unedited, raw, and messy story of my struggle. I was provided with a free space where I can recreate myself, make mistakes, and breathe until I can finally stand on my own. It took many years of hard work but whatever disconnect I was in, turned into multiple lines of connection I didn’t expect to have.
Create a Space
I was at a wedding reception when my phone rang in my pocket. I immediately went outside the banquet hall to receive a call that would shake up my life.
“Hello Kalvin, the leaders have been discerning this at length” ate Kathy (we dearly call her “ate” /ah-te/ – older sister) said, “We’d like to invite you to be part of the core as the Connect Ministry Head.”
“What? Connect Ministry? Me? Are you serious?” I replied in disbelief, thinking it was a joke as I heard her laugh at my reaction at the other end of the line. After getting over the initial moment of shock, I told her I needed to think about it.
I said yes. Even if I felt like I wasn’t the right fit, and even if I didn’t see myself functioning properly in that role, I went for it because I trusted the people who saw it in me. From being the disconnected one who found a safe place, a home; Now, I’m the one trying to bring people home, making a room for them, and creating a free space where they can nest in and grow.
Creating space can be hard work, it takes a sincere welcoming heart, an openness to change, and eyes that see beyond imperfection. Starting out can be a little uncomfortable as you allow others to become fully alive by being themselves even if it gets gross and stinky sometimes. Letting people take their garbage out by helping them tell their stories and share their experiences. Sharing your space is a great gift especially when you finally see them begin to stand on their own.
When you create a space for someone, oftentimes, they will create a space for you too. Sometimes people will just pass by and some special few will make a home there forever. The hardest but necessary thing when letting people in is to accept and know that there will come a time that you will have to let them go so they can grow. If we hold on for too long or too tight we end up imprisoning them rather than creating a free space for them to live. The same applies for you too.
We are all invited to create spaces for connection. The world we’re living in now is in so much disconnect even if there are so many advances in social media where the attempts at bridging gaps ends up building more gaps. There’s a current trend where many people are content to be in hiding afraid of wanting to be found or seen because they don’t want to be labelled soft, different, weak.
The world needs you, the real you. The world needs your story of struggle, joy, sadness, grief, hope, and love – this is what makes us human, this is what makes us strong and it binds us together. Are you in hiding? Are you searching for a safe space? Or are you the one leading people home? We are all invited to create spaces for connection so we can fully live.
For my first post, my heartfelt gratitude goes out to:
“Forest lady / editor / friend forever” for believing in me more than I believed in myself.
“Friend wearing a scratched silver watch” for giving me the right amount of nudge to get me started.
Art (c) Grant Snider [http://www.incidentalcomics.com/]
You’re welcome to stay in my space. Stay tuned for more!