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Family and Consumer Sciences

College of Agriculture, Life Sciences and Natural Resources

LIFE - Individual Growth and Development

Communication Basics: Levels of Sharing

Communication, the sharing of ideas and feelings, is the lifeblood of relationships. While the process of given and take seems incredibly simple, a look at what’s involved aids appreciation of why communication is really so complex:

A simple greeting like "How are you this morning?" reflects

Three levels of meaning:

Information: Tell me about your health, mood, hopes, etc. (any of the above could spark a three-hour description which would become the morning!). Information may include sensory observations, interpretations and ideas, emotions, desires and plans…all at the same time! As if that doesn’t make things complicated enough, there are deeper levels...

Relationship: The fact that the speaker and listener are together in the morning and that they are talking and showing interest in each other’s well-being says something about their interdependent lives.

Rules: Communication quickly takes on predictable patterns (e.g., if you care or are in a good mood, you’ll ask how I am—if not, I won’t hear from you). A common assumption in these rules is that "How are you.." greetings are usually just polite Partners’ abilities to recognize, discuss, and change patterns influence the quality and flexibility of the relationship.

Built-in difficulties related to multiple levels of communication include:

Lack of awareness of relationship issues and interactive patterns or

Inability to change these patterns (due to inexperience, rigid thinking, or conflict)

There is hope. Using the awareness of communication levels, partners can be more aware of what they intend to say, how it might reflect their feelings about the relationship, and what’s the best way to get that across. For instance, remembering that a partner likes to read the newspaper uninterrupted (but that you have something important to say) might sound like:

"How are you this morning?" (friendly, matter-of-fact)

"OK." (face still in paper, but not understood as offensive)

"I need to ask your plans for tonight before we leave for work."

(quick question, going on with routine)

"OK, I’ll be done in a minute." (staying in touch, promising more focused attention later, but free to finish reading the paper)

Simple as it is, this pattern of greeting, acknowledging, waiting, and talking might have eliminated complex arguments about respect, scheduling, or feelings which could sour communication with everyone for the entire day.

Strengthening and healing relationships begins with communication because:

Listening and Speaking are part of everyday contact in a relationship—you don’t have to do something new, just do the same things more effectively.

Changes in little things—asking questions, responding to feelings, discussing issues, having fun—translate into improving big things such as commitment to relationship and developing more positive rules for interacting in the future.

Positive communication creates an accepting, creative climate which encourages time together. In this setting, partners not only enjoy each other more, but invest the effort and time needed to grow in understanding, cooperation, and coping.

In both an immediate and deeper sense, good communication skills enable partners to meet the three basic needs of every individual:

  • Affection—giving and receiving of care and nurturance
  • Belongingness—being part of and contributing to a thing beyond self
  • Control—being able to influence and create something worthwhile

Cultivating problem solving and conflict resolution skills helps couples avoid nasty arguments, constructively work out differences, and take advantage of opportunities which may have been too difficult or complicated to talk about without such skills.


Think back on a recent conversation—take time to do this with pleasant as well as conflicted events. Reflect on what relationship attitudes and assumptions were shared along with the information (facts and figures) that were exchanged. Note how non-verbal factors such as voice tone, body language, and shared values helped or hindered understanding and cooperation. Imagine (on your own) or replay (as a couple recreating the conversation) how you might have more clearly and positively expressed how much you valued each other or how important it was to work together rather than just getting your own way.

Developed by Ben Silliman, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service, Family Life Specialist

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