Interpersonal communication has become a huge field of study and development since the 1960’s, prior to which the best advice for dealing with conflict might be a lecture on politeness.

Trouble is, we’re so spoilt for choice today, it’s hard to know what the best communication tools are. But don’t let the choice paralyze you. Any new learning is better than none. Here’s why…

One of the first models was developed in the 1960’s by psychologist, Thomas Gordon.

Called the Gordon Method, it used “I-messages” and “active listening” to help people communicate more effectively with each other. You can read more about the Gordon Method here.

You’ve probably come across “I-messages” and “active listening” before – or at least something very similar. Versions of Gordon’s ideas are used across many systems today.

Essentially, using these methods is about shifting language so that people are less likely to be defensive and more open to engaging and connecting.

Gordon speaks about how, this change in language came to be known as “shifting gears” because of the way it changed people’s behaviors but also the way they think.

And this is what I find most fascinating about learning new interpersonal communication skills: it’s not just that we learn a new way to speak, we learn a new way to think.

Language and thinking are inextricably linked: the Guugu Yimithirr people of Australia use cardinal points in their directions (north, south, etc) instead of left and right. This doesn’t mean they don’t understand “left” and “right”, they just prefer to say, “Turn north-east at the traffic lights.”

Thing is, their kids grow up with a remarkably well-developed sense of direction – understandably, since they need to always know where north is (There’s a great deal of work being done to understand how language affects our thinking. Here’s a great summary from a 2017 in Psychology Today to get you started on that topic!).

We don’t need to learn a whole new language to gain the benefits of a new way of looking at the world. Learning new ways of talking our lingua-franca can radically shift our perspective. Think of how the influence of non-gendered pronouns has changed our culture.

Choosing to improve our interpersonal communication skills is not about becoming an expert in one model, a fundamentalistic attachment to “the way”.

Rather, it’s about learning that there are options available to us, we are not trapped in one way of addressing our problems. And no matter what method we learn, chances are we’ll not only improve our communication, we’ll improve our thinking too.

Want to shift gears and get a new perspective? Learn a new way to say what you want.