The Big Four

Good communication is built on 4 pillars: respect, authenticity, trust, and honesty. With all four of those, communication can flourish. This does not mean that all 4 of these must be present at all times for communication to work well or be decent. Or even happen. Bad communication is likely in the absence of those four. Replaced by their alternate forms.

In any relationship, if you have these things, obviously don’t let them go. If you’re relationship — your communication — doesn’t have these things, it’s probably what you should be working towards or thinking about abandoning ship.

I have not the capability or wordspace to fully address these in any sort of complete way but I do want to address them because it’s where we should be going. These things are essential to good communication. People bleat about “Just communicate!” but it’s not that simple. If you don’t have yourself a bubble of respect, “authenticity” — which is quite a problem in itself, trust, and honesty…well, I fear it may not be likely that things go well. It always depends with communication, but without the big four, surely success is less likely.

Respect

Respect comes first. There’s a reason Aretha sang that song. Without a baseline of acceptable respect for the other person’s humanity, good communication is either not possible or doomed to fail. That is, you might hang on in a decent enough relationship for a time, but if respect crumbles, your relationship is as good as dead. There’s no way around it. We show respect through how we communicate. We have to listen. We have to use language that recognizes and does not erase others. We need to allow others to talk, to say what they think, and to agree that people can interpret how they wish. Agreement itself is not a given, individual interpretation is. Showing respect usually gets respect in return. Where does respect start? How do you claim respect when none is afforded to you? These are much more challenging questions.

Authenticity

Authenticity is a tricky wicket. We know it when we see it or feel it, but extraordinarily hard to pin down. Authenticity grows from experience and comes out in people’s abilities to express and mold their experiences into creations that other people — for whatever reason or reasons — seem to identify with.

Authenticity occurs and shifts across all kinds of relationships — from our interactions with new people to artistic performances to the believability of corporate communiqués. Authenticity can also be wielded as a weapon which gives it an interesting double-edged nature. Authenticity can drive and move people, but allegations of non-authenticity can haunt. These understandings and labels can be very hard to shake or resistant to change and quite damaging when wielded falsely. Who is to say what is authentic and what is not. Yet, we seem to know and be drawn to authenticity.

What is authenticity? Hell if I know, but I know it’s important.

Trust

Everyone everywhere is talking about trust. There’s a lack of trust in institutions. Nobody seems to trust each other. Often with good reason. I can’t imagine why people can’t trust others when there seems to be selfishness around every corner.

Selfishness is the opposite of trust. Ego. Ignorance. Perceived infallibility.

This is what erodes trust.

Trust is the infrastructure on which relationships are built but strangely, a lack of trust isn’t necessarily bad, surely less than ideal but not nearly the end of things.

You can communicate without trust. But the outcomes are likely not nearly as good as they could be.

Honesty

Honesty is fundamental to good communication. Lies, deception, disinformation can be successful — they can achieve their purpose — but they can’t be “good.”

Repeated honesty builds trust.

Without honesty, trust deteriorates. Dishonest communication cannot be relied on for long-term success. I do not see how there will not always be room for honesty and the vulnerability that comes along with it, but we cannot assume honesty, because people are slippery and strategic. For a relationship that will last, endure, and show resilience, honesty and forthrightness likely have their place.

Some cultures or individuals may be more or less direct with others. Directness and honesty are not the same thing.

These are the big four. The pillars that underlie good communication — which is what we’re after. Aim for the good though you will not always get there.