There are many different ways to categorize conversation. Keeping it simple, I’ve adopted these five levels from Gary Smalley (http://pslinstitute.com/fivelevels.html). Let me add my thoughts as well.
(1) CLICHES – Typical, routine, oft repeated comments, questions and answers given out of habit and with no real forethought or genuine intent. “How are you?” “Fine.” “Having a good day?” “Yes.”
In a society that has a lot of people, there is a need for us to acknowledge one another in our daily lives – without committing to too much. So, we talk in “Clichés”. There is not so much risk here. Really, it’s just a habit that we have in our cultures. We say these things without much meaning or interest. When I say “How are you”, I really don’t want an answer. We even say this to complete strangers!
(2) FACTS – Information/Statistics about the weather, the office, friends, the news, personal activities, etc. Requires no in depth thinking or feeling.
Discussing facts are sometimes necessary and most times not. Again, there is no risk here. There are no commitments. It’s just a way for us to acknowledge each other – to act as a buffer in society or a relationship. In esscense to say “I am aware of you, let me throw you some tidbits to satisfy the pressure that I have to deal with you in some way”.
(3) OPINIONS – Includes concerns, expectations, and personal goals, dreams, and desires. Due to differences of opinion that naturally arise between two people, especially between men and women, this is typically the level at which we run into the “wall of conflict.”
Sharing opinions is a deeper need to express our self or synchronize with the other person. Here is where the risk starts. When someone disagrees, then conflict arises. And conflict done right is good (see post “The number one reason for divorce is…”). If the conflict is not done right, then it is bad – leading to isolation. But like a dog that bites when pet, people will share opinions until they are bitten! If your spouse or friend stops sharing their opinions, consider that you may have bitten them!
(4) FEELINGS – Having gone through the “wall of conflict” via applying the communication skills following, you both feel safe to share your deepest emotions.
Here we have arrived at a deep level of communication. Sharing feelings openly is not safe, it is risky. We do this only with those who are ‘closest’ to us. If you have reached this point, then you are among few people. Most people communicate at the first three levels. Consider it a blessing that you have someone in your life who will give you a safe area that you can open yourself to share your feelings. It is at this place that we are transparent and vulnerable – the risk here is rejection, but the reward is intimacy!
(5) NEEDS – The deepest level of communication and intimacy where you feel completely safe to reveal your unique needs with each other. Truly, unless needs are known and met, a couple will remain “strangers.”
The deepest level of all is sharing our needs. It is sad that most people never get to this level, for it is only here that our needs are made known. If they are never known, the likelihood of getting them fulfilled is low. When someone is sharing their needs to you, listening and understanding are keys here – but more so is the active decision to put yourself in the other’s point of view and let go of your selfish thoughts. We all have needs. Our partners that we have chosen to do life with are weapons that we need to engage with so that together we can help each other grow.
In other words:
- Clichés: Feely given to everyone
- Facts: Spoken to people we encounter more than a few times
- Opinions: Talked about with the folks who are around us
- Feelings: Shared with those trusted few
- Needs: Reserved for the special one