The Four Perspectives

The Four Perspectives

I’d say 25 percent of my work is with patients who are in relational distress and this distress has elevated to the point at which the relationship and the emotional health of the parties are at risk. And of those 25%, probably 80% of them when asked to identify the number one issue in their relationship will say something about communication. I have addressed many issues in communication patterns over the years in my blogs, but I recently came up with another way of looking at one of the main reasons communication breaks down. It’s what I now refer to as the four perspectives. Catchy, huh!

The idea is that in every conversation, there are four perspectives. That is, there are at least four lenses through which the information must pass before the couple can begin the process of solving problems. These perspectives are, 1- what I said and meant; 2- what you think I said and meant: 3 – what you said and meant and;  4 – what I think you said and meant. Sometimes with the most functional couples or any couple dealing with a lower-level problem, the disparity between these perspectives could be quite small or even non-existent. But couples in any level of crisis often run into escalating problems when there is not clarity and agreement. In short, for us to communicate well and especially in a crisis, what I say and mean needs to be exactly what you hear me saying and meaning and vice versa.

Without this clarification work, an even small misperception can create a divergence that can grow into a much bigger problem. I addressed last month the fact that different people can use the same words with different meanings attached. Sometimes it not just the words that are being misunderstood but at an even deeper level, they are not understanding the feelings that are present in either or both. Few things hurt more in a relationship than having your feelings invalidated or sensing that they don’t matter to the other person.

Yes, it takes work to wade through the process of making sure that the four perspectives have been whittled down to two; each being very clear on the other’s perspective. But it is by no other path that they will get to one perspective on the subject with that one perspective being a solution, an understanding, or a meaningful change.

So, the next time you are having a discussion or especially a disagreement with someone you care for, try to pull back for a second to make sure what you are hearing is what they are saying; not what you want that to be or what your gut tells you it is but what they are actually trying to convey in both thoughts and feelings. When that is clear, you might ask them to do the same and make sure that they are receiving what you are sending/intending. I think you will discover that the solution if there is one  is a lot more attainable at that point.