Mature Communication
A Simple Typology © Martyn Carruthers

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too …
Rudyard Kipling

 Incongruent Communication & Maturity

Consider someone who says, “Yes!” while shaking the head slowly from side to side. Has someone told you, “I love you” while coughing and scratching the nose? Such a mismatch between words and body language is often called incongruence. You may not notice the body signals consciously, rather you may feel that something is wrong.

Do you try to hide your thoughts? Do you fake smiles? The more you try to lie, or hide your truth or your conflict, the more your body signals this wrongness. When people react to your incongruence, inner conflict may become outer conflict. Quickly.

A family therapist, Virginia Satir, described communication styles to help therapists and counselors recognize three common types of incongruence. Here we can match those styles with the emotions and relationship problems that drive them.

Assertive does not mean Aggressive

Are you what you communicate? Probably not – although other people may think so. If you want to communicate more effectively or if your preferred communication style doesn’t fulfill your goals, choose a different communication style!

Virginia Satir described four communication styles that trigger conflicts: Blaming, Placating, Computing, Distracting; and one style that solves conflicts: Leveling. These styles can be associated with habitual emotions and body language mannerisms.

Blamer (Chronic Anger)

Some people give an impression of chronic anger and suspicion. They are more likely to initiate conflicts – they want to blame someone – to express their anger and feel powerful. They may suspect that nobody will listen to them unless pushed.

When they feel under stress, they may exaggerate complaints and try to dominate by bluff and threats. If they trust you, they may describe hidden volcanoes of anger inside them – often related to an adult family member who acted like a victim.

Blamer Body Language

  1. Head tilted slightly down with tense jaw muscles
  2. Body square on, leaning forward slightly, one arm extended towards you
  3. Finger on extended hand points at you (attack) or at the ceiling (warning)

Placater (Chronic Fear)

Some people give an impression of fear and a desperate desire to please. You may hear, “It’s not my fault” as they avoid uncomfortable truths. They may apologize for everything – even the weather. (They often seem afraid of being blamed!)

Under stress they often avoid discussions, instead seeking approval. They worry about how other people perceive them. If they trust you, they may describe a childish anxiety – often related to an adult family member who was not allowed to show fear.

Placater Body Language

  1. Palms facing up (humble petitioning)
  2. Body facing forward, with shoulders and hips level and legs slightly apart
  3. Head vertical or slightly tilted back with eyes wide open and eyebrows raised

Mourner (Chronic Melancholy)

Some melancholic people try to depress other people. You may hear, “Life doesn’t make sense” and sad stories. They may want you to share the sadness – for your own good. They often seem afraid of being happy! (Not mentioned by Virginia Satir)

Under stress they may seek support. They worry about other people getting sick or dying. If they trust you, they may say that their important goals can only be fulfilled after death. This is often related to a family member who died before they were born.

Mourner Body Language

  1. Palms facing down with limp wrists
  2. Body tilted forward, with shoulders drooping and hollow chest
  3. Head tilted down with eyes wide open and looking at (or into) floor

Computer (Dissociated)

Some people want to be perceived as correct and helpful, without risking their own opinions or credibility. They may appear unfeeling or emotionless. They may state philosophy or abstract values (e.g. “Everybody should …“) without personal language. (They often seem afraid of their own emotions).

Under stress they try to seem reasonable. They want people to agree with their empty abstractions and neither blame nor placate them. This may be the result of being punished by parents or teachers for showing emotions.

Dissociated Body Language

  1. Forehead skin wrinkled
  2. Body square on, head tilted backwards slightly.
  3. Arms crossed, perhaps with with one hand under chin or touching a cheek

Distracter (Mixed emotions)

Have you ever held a live eel? Distracters are just as slippery, rarely offering fixed opinions. Rather than taking action, they quickly express different emotions while avoiding confrontations, perhaps hoping to motivate people to treat them nicely.

Under stress they may quickly change between Blamer, Placater, Mourner and Computer styles, while not finishing sentences.  If they trust you, they may describe a childish panic – often related to chaotic childhood relationships.

Distracter Body Language

  1. Body is generally asymmetric and constantly moving
  2. One eyebrow often raised and smiling on one side of face
  3. Rapidly changing postures, erratic gestures and expressions

Leveler (Assertive)

Levelers want to achieve goals and solve problems. They show emotional balance and can relate to many kinds of people. They are usually described as mature. They show few inner conflicts or threats to their self-esteem. Their words, voice tone, body movements and facial expressions all say: “This is what I believe“.

Under stress they may be brutally honest, hoping that their truths will solve problems (and perhaps deter people from blaming, placating, mourning and distracting them).

Leveler Body Language

  1. Head vertical, shoulders back, chin up, relaxed face and forehead
  2. Hands held level and apart, fingers out flat, slightly wider than the body
  3. Body faces other person, shoulders and hips level and legs slightly apart

Leveling is honest, direct language that summarizes situations. Leveler body posture communicates that this person is being to true to what they believe and value. A leveler attitude is a basis for solving conflicts and problems – creatively and cooperatively.

Levelers’ words and bodies are mostly congruent – such people appear to be ‘on the level’, centered, factual  and cooperative (all good leadership qualities). A Leveler communication style is useful for discussing goals and solving conflicts.

  1. Goal oriented
  2. Solution oriented
  3. Has supportive beliefs
  4. Has strong personal values
  5. Flexible communication styles
  6. Builds trust before trying to influence
  7. Has a sense of mission and purpose in life

Are you at peace with your emotions? Can you achieve your goals and solve your problems while remembering others people’s perspectives? Are you a mature adult?

Do you want to better manage your emotions
and solve relationship problems?

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