In a former career, I did a fair amount of pre-marriage and marriage coaching. I met with engaged couples preparing to be married to get them off to a good start. I met with married couples to help them resolve differences and to improve their marriages. I was not licensed as a counselor, but I could play the role of a coach in their lives. I could become their coach based in my own experience, workshops I had attended and books I had studied and taught in marriage classes.
One principle that I came back to time and time again is a phrase I heard years ago from a staff pastor at a church where I attended.
“Communication is to marriage what blood is to the body.” Dr. Jim Stagg
I have found that to be very true in my own marriage as well as in other people’s marriages. My experience was that most of the problems created in marriages had their root in one of two things: selfishness and poor communication.
Communication in All Relationships
But I have also found that good communication is necessary for all good relationships – not just in marriage. Your relationships with your family, your friends, your boss, your coworkers, your neighbor, your community — all can improve when you improve your communication.
So what does it take to have good communication?
There is not a magic answer or one simple thing you can do to have great communication. There are many components to good communication. It is part art and part science. It takes practice. It takes commitment and consistency over time.
I have found that one of the most important elements is to know your own communication style and to know the style of the other person. When you can start to recognize communication styles and how we communicate, then you can speak and listen better.
5 Voices System
One of the most helpful sets of tools around communication that I have found is the 5 Voices System. It is based in Jungian psychology and the Myers-Briggs personality system. The creator of the 5 Voices System, Steve Cockram, was a master trainer in Myers-Briggs but became frustrated that the types were not “sticky” for people. They couldn’t remember their personality type or what it meant. So he created the 5 Voices System.
He condensed the 16 types into 5 primary types of voices. Your combination of voices is what makes your communication style. The five voices are:
The first step to becoming a good communicator is to learn your foundational or leadership voice. This is the voice that comes most natural to you. It is the default mode of your communication. At the heart of your foundational voice is the way that you process information and the world around you. When you learn what your natural, foundational voice is, you can begin to understand why you approach conversations like you do, and how you come across to others.
(Click here to take the 5 Voices Assessment for free.)
When you really understand the voices and what characteristics each has, then you can begin to pick up clues in conversations. You can start to figure out what the other person’s foundational voice is. Once you understand how they think, process and communicate, then you can understand their point of view. You can start to understand why they say the things that they do. It becomes obvious how this would help improve any relationship.
The best possible situation is where all parties involved in the conversation know and understand their own voices. When they do, each of you can appreciate and value what the other voices bring to the conversation. You can start to appreciate the diversity of thought that is represented. You can depend on other voices to bring what you do not have. And you can begin to de-escalate conflicts when you know what causes them.
Two Primary Dimensions of Voices
One element of the 5 Voices System that is most helpful is understanding the two primary dimensions of our voices or personalities. All the voices fit into quadrants formed by the spectrum of these two dimensions.
The first dimension is how we process and prioritize tasks and the environment around us. Some voices are more Present-oriented, and some are more Future-oriented.
The Nurturer and Guardian voices tend to process the world in terms of a present-day orientation. The tasks, problems and information most important to them are those that are rooted in a very close timeline. These voices tend to put their focus on what must be done today or this week. They prioritize tasks and projects by those that are most immediate. For them, the future doesn’t matter so much because of the immediacy of the hour. After all, if we don’t take care of the most important things today, there will be no future.
The Creative, Connector and Pioneer voices tend to process the world in terms of a future orientation. Their attention is most often drawn toward imagining, communicating and shaping a future vision. To these voices, there is always a pull toward this future vision – whether it is next year, five years or a decade from now. The future vision is what drives them to do work today. When prioritizing tasks and projects, they are more likely to focus on those that contribute to the long-term vision. Doing everyday tasks to keep the operation running are not the priority for them. Those tasks seem too mundane and unimportant to moving the organization forward to a new and brighter future.
The second dimension is how we make decisions. Some voices prioritize People and Values when making decisions, and some voices prioritize Data and Logic when making decisions.
The Nurturer and Connector (and Creative-Connector) voices tend to make decisions on how they will affect the people in the organization. They are always considering the feelings and needs of people inside the organization when changes are imminent. They have a strong desire to preserve relationships and networks of people. It’s not that they don’t realize the need for profits and for changes. But they will always want to consider how people will react and how the changes align with values before making the decisions and how to communicate them.
The Guardian and Pioneer (and Creative-Pioneer) voices tend to make decisions on data and logic. They have an ability to separate the people from the data. They are quick to look at patterns, trends and information created by data, and to process decisions that make sense logically. It’s not that they don’t value people. What is most important to them in making decisions is that they make the most logical decision for the good of the whole organization.
Natural Potential for Conflicts
By now, it should be apparent that when it comes to prioritizing work or tasks, there will be differences and potential conflict when there are voices choosing the Present and some are choosing the Future.
When it comes to making decisions, conflict will arise when some want to make decisions based on how people will react to it. Others want to make decisions based in data with less regard for what people think.
Knowing these fundamental differences will allow you to recognize your own tendencies and the tendencies of those you have relationships with. It will help you compromise and to find the middle ground in prioritizing and decision-making.
The Value of All Voices
All of the 5 Voices are necessary and valuable. They each bring a perspective that is needed for healthy marriages, families, communities and organizations. We each can learn something from the voices that are not our foundational voices. We can learn to appreciate how the others process their world. Each of us can — and should — learn to listen and hear what other people value.
When you are able to know your own communication style and that of the other person, you can better navigate your differences of opinion. You can tailor your communication in a way that the other person is more likely to receive it.
When you become a better communicator, you are on your way to better relationships. And all of us can benefit from better relationships with those with whom we work and live, and those we love.
(Click here to take the 5 Voices Assessment for free.)