Shining Light on Communication Traps

“He was still my lighthouse and my albatross in equal measure.”Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love

When it comes to communication, do you tend to be a lighthouse or a cave? Lighthouses draw others to them and shine their light on problem areas. While caves, stay mysterious, preferring not to talk about problems.

What happens when a lighthouse and a cave interact? Well, the lighthouse may get brighter and brighter hoping to shine some light in the cave. And, the cave gets darker and darker, hoping to escape the light of day. The cat and mouse pursuit is on and frustrations are rising in both.

Avoid these communication traps, and find ways to communicate better with your loved ones. Talking about traps, imagine what it would be like to be married to a therapist, someone who has been trained to shine the light on problems by asking great questions. Speaking as an experienced lighthouse communicator, I have found several ways to restrain my light so that I can allow others the space they need to talk or breath!

Tips for the Lighthouse Communicator:

  • Cool or calm down first when needed – When emotions are high, it’s hard to focus clearly on what you want to say. Lighthouse communicators tend to present all their complaints without filtering. Finding a way to calm down first (writing, walking, cleaning, etc.) can help your focus.
  • Resist asking why questions – While I am the queen of questions, I know that “why” questions are really a criticism in disguise. Nothing invites a defensive response faster than asking someone “why” they did something.
  • Speak your own thoughts – Tell your loved one about yourself, not about what you think about them. I know it’s tempting to focus on your loved one, in hopes they will open up. Cave dwellers will interpret this as a trap, and it will back fire.
  • Avoid pursuing other to talk – When you are telling your loved one about yourself, do so without pressure. If you pursue their response with urgency and pressure, the cave dweller will retreat faster.
  • Share the talking floor – When I am outside the consulting room, I really stink at following this one. I keep this thought at the forefront of my mind, and monitor how well I share the talking time with others. If not, cave dwellers will not get a chance to speak, when they are ready.

The cave in your life may be more likely to come out when you give them space to breath and less pressure to respond. Most lighthouses are going to be tempted to shine the light on what their cave communicators need to do. Resist this temptation, and let those quiet, cave dwellers find their own way out. And, if you are a cave communicator, let me know which of these tips help you communicate better (or, add your own):

Tips for the Cave Communicator:

  • Reflect on what you want to share – Before you get home (or other social gathering), ask yourself what you want to share. Share what you think is interesting. Don’t get caught in your own trap of worrying about what others want to hear.
  • Use emotions as clues - While you may not want to share your feelings, excitement, anger, and stress are your clues. Share the thoughts that are triggered by your emotions.
  • Find calming activities – If you are really hesitant to speak up, find a way to calm yourself first. Just like the lighthouse needs to self-soothe, writing, exercising, or cleaning can be great ways to chill before talking.
  • Remember you hold important information – I know your lighthouse may come across as if she has everything figured out. Remember your input is important, as two heads are almost always better than one!
  • Avoid taking response personally – If your lighthouse reacts intensely, find a way to talk yourself down from personalizing their reaction. It may help to remember that your loved one’s reaction is a reflection of their own feelings, filtered through their own thoughts.

We are all doing the best we can to communicate with our loved ones. I think we mean well when we are trying to keep the peace with each other. Sometimes our well-intentioned styles of communication can really be traps. So, start by choosing to accept and appreciate your differences. Whether you are the lighthouse or the cave, you each bring balance to the relationship.

Are you the cave or the lighthouse? Which of these tips help you improve your communication?

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Photo Credit: James Jordan

3 responses to “Shining Light on Communication Traps

  1. I am definitely a cave, and I don’t like coming out of it, enjoyed the article!

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  2. I’m a bit of both I think, cave-like at times and lighthouse-like at others. But I’m functioning as a light, I believe … it’s just that the cave dweller in me loves solitude. Very interesting analogy of personality types and communicator types. And great advice on giving others room and learning to balance each other’s needs. Thanks for the insights, Marci.

    • Katie, great point. I think we can be have these opposites within ourselves as well as between others. I act like a lighthouse most of the time, but I definitely enjoy my cave time (alone time) too. Even the cave dweller is communicating, we just don’t hear it, we see it.