Communication as dancing
I’m not a dancer but I’ve always enjoyed watching others dance. There is something about dancing — the flying feet in lockstep with another, the graceful arms, the bent of the head, and the whirling round and round. It makes my heart sing. Dancers — when in harmony with one another — produce art on the dance floor.
Communicating — at least effective communication — is a lot like dancing. When we communicate with respect and integrity we are in lockstep with one another, our heads bent together as we whirl around the dance floor of life. Effective communication doesn’t mean we have the same perspective. It is safe to say that good dancers have much different perspectives, different skills, and different strengths. The dance between them works because they respect these differences and join them together to produce something better. Perhaps if we follow some of the techniques dancers follow, we can become stronger communicators.
Dancers often look at one another while performing. They make eye contact. They engage. So it is with us as we begin the dance of communication. To effectively communicate, we must engage with the other person. We must be present to the conversation — not thinking about what we have to do next or wondering what’s for supper or hoping the person will be quiet so we can put in our two cents. Rather, we must focus on the here and now. We must listen to the other person, focus on their words, and try to put ourselves in their shoes. We must somehow tame and quiet the ever-present agenda that zooms around in our head. Engagement lets the other person know you value what they have to say. You might also learn a thing or two and gain a different perspective.
Dancers move in rhythm with the music and each other. When dancers on the floor are moving in rhythm with one another, they not only respect the music that swells around them, they respect the rhythms of the other person in the midst of the dance. Think how hilarious it is to watch a comedy routine in which one dancer performs a disco while their partner is dancing a waltz. The beat is off and they look as if they are flailing about. As communicators, our dance with one another can be tragically hilarious when we fail to respect what is going on in our partner’s world or in our own. “There is a time and place for everything” and so it is with our communication with each other. Our communication is more successful when we are in sync with the timing of life. For example, discussing money issues while our partner is putting the children to bed is probably not the way to start the dance in rhythm. Talking about relationship issues when you are overly stressed from the day is not respectful of yourself. Listen for the beat of the music of life that surrounds you and your partner — and respect it as much as is possible.
Dancers touch and support each other in positive ways. The dances that I enjoy watching often feature supportive touch…the touch on the shoulder, the hand in the small of the back as a dip is performed, grasping of hands for a twirl. How wonderful it is if we can touch from time to time when we are communicating with others. Children respond strongly to positive touch — -a hand on the shoulder, a pat on the head, a hug, or the emotional touch of a smile. Not only does touch secure attention, it conveys powerful messages to the receiver. Positive and respectful touch communicates care and concern. Dancers respect one another — -I’ve seen few dances in which the partners push or shove each other. As we dance the dance of communication, the same holds true. Name calling, accusation, degrading others simply because they are different from you breaks down all understanding. It is disrespectful and makes for a poor dance.
Dancers give each other space. They twirl around and spin and then move away from one another … only to join hands again in a few moments. Likewise, there are many times in our communication that we need to give each other space. Perhaps we need space to think or simply to cool off. Sometimes a moving away from one another is good if things are becoming too emotional or if we can’t get the words out that must be said. Sometimes, when there are difficult and complex topics, it pays to take time and space to think and research and reflect.
Dancers practice. I suspect that there are very few dancers who produce art without many hours of work. It takes practice to learn a dance routine. Many times, dancers fall and even twist ankles — but they learn from the fall. They get up and try again. They keep working together until they get it right. Sometimes they solicit help from a choreographer. This coach helps them learn the tricks of the dance, helps them design a routine, and perfect techniques. Sometimes we as humans need a coach to help us learn the tricks of communicating successfully or navigate through troublesome times together. By reaching out for help — -whether it be from a counselor or mentor — we can more quickly “learn the routine” and have fun on the dance floor of our relationships together.
May we whirl together around the dance floor of life, in lockstep and ever moving forward.
Tina Bartleson is the executive director of the Exchange Club Family Resource Center, which provides in-home parent education and mentoring to families with children 0-12 years. She has 29 years experience working with families and may be contacted through www.exchangeclubfrc.org.