Recently I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Gérard Collignon the author of “The Art of Adaptive Communication”. In his book, he seeks to describe how to build positive connections with anyone. Years ago, Gérard, was one of the persons inspiring me to seek better communication using the Process Communication Model (PCM). It’s the model he is describing in his book.
PCM invites to connect body language based on posture, gesture, mimic and tone of voice in with the words being used. It’s by connecting them that we get a better sense of the meaning of the words used during a conversation. This approach made him an advocate of personal conversations instead of written communication. While this desire to only have personal conversations is outdated it highlights the relevance of face to face meetings. They are the ones allowing us to have the clearest understanding of an ongoing conversation.
My most important take away from our conversation went beyond PCM.
As I listened to our exchange the difference between a conversation built on being with the person and being there for the person dawned on me.
A posture of being with someone else in a conversation has the aim to build a positive connection with the other and create something together. It is a search to serve both persons expectations of the conversation. It is based on the assumption that both want to be in the conversation and are willing to listen to the other.
When the aim of one person’s presence is to be there for someone, the dynamic changes. It is a relationship of superiority to inferiority. It means that one of both takes up a position of being superior to the other, inviting the other to feel inferior or vice versa. These are the starting position for what Berne named “Games people play”.
There are two possibilities to engage in a “for instead of with” posture. One is to act in a way that is intended to help the other and thus be there for the other. The other one is to act in a way that establishes security for oneself. In both cases, person A will tell person B what is best for them.
Both “for” approaches are based on a genuine wish to create a positive relationship. But insecurity is in the way, leading to conditions being put up.
It leads to recommendations like “Do this and we’ll be fine then” which is telling the other to do something so that the person giving the recommendation can feel more easily at ease. Or suggestions like: “If you would learn this tool it will help you communicate better”. Which is there to tell the other person to change herself assuming that the person will then be better off.
When engaging in a conversation with a posture of being there with the other person, there is no preconceived idea as to how the other has to change for the better. It’s the difference between inviting someone to change and telling someone to change.