Archive for August 13th, 2012
Your interactions with other people, the people you know, the relationships you have, and your conversations in general, are characterized by what psychologists often call the Reveal-Conceal Dilemma. That is, in order to get to know someone, in order to get closer, in order to create friendship, intimacy, or love, you have to reveal yourself. You have to reveal personal, private things that help the other to get to know who you really are. Likewise, the other person, has to reciprocate and reveal personal, private things about him/herself so you can get to know them. But, and here’s the tricky part, reveal too much too soon, or reveal the wrong types of things, and you run the risk of scaring the other, or overwhelming them and creating a bad impression, with too much information. Not only that, but revealing yourself to others is, in itself, extremely risky. When you reveal, you display your private selves, your private lives, your private thoughts and feelings for others to evaluate and judge. If they respond positively, you feel great. But if they respond negatively, you feel hurt.
What I’m talking about here is the concept of self-disclosure. Self-disclosure involves revealing personal details about yourself, your past, your thoughts, your feelings, or any other information, which makes you “knowable” to another. Disclosing involves openness, a desire to get closer to another, and an implied trust in the person you’re revealing yourself to. Thus, we usually don’t tell “disclosing” kind of stuff to just anyone.
Acquaintances don’t disclose. Co-workers don’t disclose. People you know on a casual level, tend to communicate on a casual level. But self-disclosure is one of the defining characteristics of you intimate relationships. Without an ample dose of healthy self-disclosure, there can be no intimacy. And these disclosures can be classified in terms of the risk involved in their revelations. The degree of risk refers to how much you open up and how vulnerable you make yourself to others by sharing intimate information about your life. You have low-risk disclosures, such as the fact that you have a dog named Snot. There are medium-risk disclosures, such as the fact that you’re not very athletic and never were any good at sports. And then there are high-risk disclosures, such as the fact that you were abused as a child and spent several years in therapy as a result. If you tell a girl you like about your dog, your degree of vulnerability is low. If you tell her you’re not very athletic, you’re a little more vulnerable because she may prefer athletic guys and possibly think less of you. If you tell her about your childhood and the years of therapy, you’re definitely in the high-risk area. You’re taking a chance by trusting her with very personal information… the type of information you rarely trust to others.
Small talk doesn’t reveal anything about you and doesn’t foster a sense of closeness or friendship. Small talk is a type of non-disclosing communication that’s frequently used to “size up others” before you take a risk and disclose intimate information to them. You can’t small talk your way into another’s heart. You can only get there by disclosing. Why? Because disclosures imply that the other person is special. You’re trusting someone with personal information about yourself. And you’re flattering them by implying that you like them and want to get to know them better by opening yourself up to them. And if it happens to be a medium or high-risk disclosure, this trust and openness creates a bond. Bonds serve as a way to tie you and someone else together in an unseen, but very powerful way. Emotional bonds have the potential to create incredible relationships, strong friendships, or magnificent love affairs.
The prototype for a successful relationship follows a pattern of communication from casual to intimate. You usually start off with small talk or some other non-disclosing type of talk, which helps to break the ice and get things rolling. You then proceed to a series of low-risk disclosures, with occasional medium-risk disclosures thrown in to help create the necessary bonds. High-risk disclosures are fairly rare early on, but may pop up occasionally if things are really going well. The key to making the conversation “successful” is the use of matching disclosures. By matching, I mean that each person is disclosing at a similar level. One person makes a low-risk disclosure and the other follows with a similar low-risk disclosure. One person tosses in a medium-risk disclosure and the other follows with a more intimate, medium-risk disclosure of his own. In this way the two people form bonds and develop a relationship, gradually opening up and reveal themselves to one another.
Relationship problems arise, when this simple formula is ignored. For example, you may be extremely good at meeting people, making small talk, and getting information, but then you run into problems once you are required to self disclose. Outwardly you may seem charming, charismatic, and confident. But the relationship never pans out, and the second and third dates rarely come, because you can’t seem to create the “intimacy” necessary to bond in a relationship. Perhaps your conversation consists almost entirely of impersonal small talk. Perhaps you are unable or unwilling to take a risk and take off your mask to reveal your “real” self. Or perhaps you have the opposite problem, you reveal too much too soon. You overwhelm your dates with too many disclosures. Low-risk, medium-risk, high-risk, you haven’t a clue about what’s appropriate and what’s not. Not understanding the importance of balance, you continues to talk and talk, telling way more than you should.
So, in a nutshell, there are three types of disclosure-related relationship problems, which can appear:
1) Neither person is self-disclosing. You’re basically boring one another to death with way too much small talk. Keep in mind that small talk pretty much loses its “purpose” once your conversation begins and the dialog starts to flow. Remember, your goal is to create a sense of intimacy that will bond the two of you together, which will make it much more likely that more conversations will occur. To solve this problem: you need to catch yourself when this is happening. You can then “set the tone” by tossing out some low-risk disclosures of your own into the conversation. Usually the other person will reciprocate and begin to match them with similar low-risk disclosures. But if they doesn’t, then you need to “draw them out”. This is done by asking questions and rewarding their answers with attentive listening. Remember, both of you must disclose if intimacy is to develop.
2) You’re disclosing more than they are. You’re either talking too much (most likely) or perhaps they are shy or has some other reservation about opening up to you. (For instance, a person who really didn’t want to talk with you, but did so because she felt trapped, or maybe she was just bored, will tend not to be very disclosing.) To solve this problem: you need to catch yourself when this is happening. Then stop talking so much and concentrate more on listening to what they have to say. Focus your attention on any type of disclosing statement that they make and ask for more details with encouraging, attentive body language (maintain good eye contact, nod your head frequently, lean forward) and verbal reinforcers (“uh-huh” “yeah” “really”).
3) They are disclosing more than you are. Most likely you’re the type who is “afraid” of opening up to people you don’t know very well. Or perhaps you see it as more ‘manly’ to remain aloof (strong, silent type). Once in a while you may find yourself in a situation with some who is a real talker and who makes it tough to keep the conversation balanced. But most likely the problem will stem from your lack of disclosure and this is something that you can fix. To solve this problem: you need to catch yourself when this is happening. And you need to make a conscious effort to throw out more low-risk disclosures in order to have any shot at bonding in this relationship. You need to realize that if you don’t start balancing the disclosure level, it’s going to end up just like all the other relationships you’ve had, disappointing and without depth.
Remember, balance is critical. Matching disclosures are what create the intimacy necessary for a successful relationship. But balance refers to the level of disclosure not the amount. So this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do exactly an equal amount of talking and disclosing. No way! In fact, it’s usually better to let the other person do a little more of the talking and disclosing, while you hold back some, to encourage a little curiosity about yourself. Not only is this communication pattern, from casual to intimate, the defining characteristic of a successful relationship, it’s also the defining characteristic of a successful romance.
Successful loving relationships also follow the same pattern, progressing from casual to intimate, with each partner gradually revealing more and more of themselves. But in a romantic relationship you’re essentially operating on a different risk level, with medium and high-risk disclosures becoming much more prevalent. What I mean by this is that a loving relationship can’t be sustained and endured entirely based on low-risk disclosures. It can putter along for a while with low-risk disclosures, giving you something to do other than sit at home and watch TV. But riskier disclosures are necessary if true intimacy is to develop. This means opening up more and more to the other. And this means an increasing level of trust in the other. This is a huge risk, its scary stuff!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )