Talking the Talk with Dr. Phil Levy About the Importance of Communication
Communication, by definition, is both “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior” and “a personal rapport.” It is a means of imparting information, and a coded system understood between two parties. In short, communication is about hearing and being heard, imparting and receiving, listening and being listened to, in return.
On Episode 3 of the Schein On Podcast, I spoke about talking, listening, and other communication skills and styles with Dr. Phil Levy, psychotherapist and founder and President of PHL|HP Consulting Group. Good communication is a key to success in every part of our lives, and luckily, we can all learn skills and tools to help us become stronger, better communicators.
Why people sometimes fear meaningful communication
Much of the conversation between me and “Dr. Phil” focused on the importance of communication – and specifically, on the underlying need people have to feel heard, valued, and respected. But often, Dr. Phil explained, people are uncomfortable when it comes to true, meaningful communication:
I think people have discomfort, anxiety and fear around communicating – that they're going to offend someone, [and] it’s going to create a conflict. And so it leads to avoidance, and avoidance creates all sorts of problems.
The other thing is that, people often are focusing on what they're thinking and what they're about to say, rather than actually listening or focusing on what the other person is saying. And so what happens is there’s a breakdown in communication.
To illustrate this concept, Dr. Phil told the “tongue in ear” story (his title, not ours) about a woman who started a marital therapy session by telling her husband that she didn’t like it when he put his tongue in her ear. Her husband was surprised, saying he thought she did like it. The wife never said anything because she didn’t want to hurt her husband’s feelings or offend him, so she has simply put up with it for the last eight years.
That couple resolved the issue quickly, but for others, the avoidance of meaningful communication is much deeper, which can create cracks in the foundation, as Dr. Phil put it. But the good news, he said, is that poor communication in a relationship is “definitely reparable” provided that both parties pledge to work at it. Good communication, Dr. Phil said, requires training and skill development – an achievable goal.
How meaningful communication can keep you out of the divorce attorney’s office
Dr. Phil offered multiple steps and recommendations to help couples learn to communicate better. As he put it, divorce is expensive emotionally as well as financially, learning to communicate with one another is a critical key to a successful marriage. His recommendations were:
Know that everyone needs help with communication
. There is training that couples can seek, he said, that would help them learn better communication skills.
Become better listeners
. Dr. Phil explained that part of this is the ability to “reflect back what you heard.” This speaks to his earlier point about how people often just focus on what they want to say, not what the other person is actually saying.
. “This is, I think, the most important thing that I could ever tell anyone,” Dr. Phil said.
Learn how to share in a constructive, positive manner
. It’s not enough, Dr. Phil said, to point out what is wrong; we must be able to explain why we feel and react the way we do. “It's not enough to tell people what's wrong. It's more important to be able to say to someone, ‘You know, it would feel better to me if you said it this way,’ or ‘When you do it this way, it feels nicer,’ as opposed to ‘I hate when you do this.’”
Why good communication is important in all relationships
Following these steps can help you and your partner communicate more meaningfully with one another. They can also apply to relationships outside of the marriage. During the podcast, Dr. Phil talked about the importance of empathy in political arenas, and how leaders in all industries can learn to balance strength and empathy. “You need a combination of demonstrating that you are strong enough, that you are confident enough, but that you are open enough to listen to other people and care about what they are experiencing,” Dr. Phil explained. “And we could look at that in sports. We can look at it in politics. We can look at it in business. We can look at it in relationships.”
The importance of working to keep your marriage strong
The Resilient Couple – the book which Dr. Phil wrote with his wife of 43 years, Dr. Lynn Levy – discusses the obstacles that couples face, and how those obstacles can be compounded when couples don’t know how to communicate with one another. “I think what happens,” Dr. Phil said, “is people don't have the skills to maintain the passion, the happiness, the intimacy, the communication – they don't have the skills” to keep their lines of communication open. They may also not realize how much hard work goes into making a marriage successful. He went on to say:
Look, most people come together as couples because there's a passion between them, right? Then they have other needs that are driving them: maybe a need for security, a need for support, whatever it is.
But what is essential is that they understand if they want to sustain the relationship, if they want the relationship to evolve – and it needs to evolve. Relationships are dynamic; they don't stay the same – then what they have to be able to do is have the willingness to make it a priority in their lives.
And it's not just the time, obviously; it's the quality. But you have to make that commitment. You have to develop the skills, and you have to make it a priority. And you have to believe that this is important enough in your life. That almost nothing is more important….
You know, it's tough. It really is. But it's well worth the investment. Whether it's marriage, whether it's a business partnership, whether it's a quarterback – I think it's well worth the investment because ultimately, together we are better.
People, human beings, by nature are joiners. They need to be with others, and we just have to figure out how to utilize communication and all the other skills to be together in a way that will enhance one another and the relationship.