Constructive Communication is a communication style that encourages your interlocutor to express his ideas freely. It is easier to do so if one already has some idea of what is to be constructed. Anything going vaguely into the direction of that construction-to-be can then be encouraged. However this "ends-in-mind" dynamic is only helpful, but not necessary. Many people gifted at Constructive Communication manage to stick to this style even when there is no goal in sight other than making the other person feel comfortable and enjoying the conversation.
Examples of Constructive Communication
A few examples of constructive communication:
- Any comment that agrees with what you have just said.
- Encouraging to say more, develop a point with further detail.
A few examples of destructive communication:
- Any comment that disagrees with what you have just said.
- Making fun of your comment/idea.
- Scolding for what you said.
- Ignoring your comment/idea.
On of the concepts used in Rogerian Psychotherapy, "Therapist Unconditional Positive Regard" is a good example of what Constructive Communication may look like in practice. We do not only need it in therapeutical settings, but should rather look for ways to have this way of dealing with each other institutionalized in a way that reaps its full benefits for our societies.
This is a method that builds on Constructive Communication. It seeks to bring out the best of an organization or institution and has no intention to limit the expressions of the participants but rather encourages them to develop good things with more detail.
Those that are applicable to Constructive Communication and should help to forge the Theory of Constructive Communication.
- Stress (Distress)
As NLP teaches us, we are getting conditioned even in the smallest conversation. Constructive Communication conditions us to develop our ideas and explore our creativity, while Destructive Communication conditions us to be wary of our own "crazy ideas".
Studies on brainstorming show that the number of ideas generated can be greatly influenced by context factors. It seems obvious that Constructive Communication is conducive to creativity. It is in the context of trying to promote creativity in China during the ZERI-Link Project that I developed the basic idea of Constructive Communication.
Schulz von Thun
4 aspects of a message - what is the relation of these aspects to our theory?
- The relationship aspect says: I expect you to develop your ideas and be creative.
- The appeal aspect says: Please go on or do it again if the occasion arises.
- The self-revelation aspect says: I am happy about the way you are going in your communication.
- The "content" aspect may be positive or negative. I may criticize your point, while sticking to the "tenor" of the three above mentioned aspects. That is actually the high art of Constructive Communication: devastating the content of your contribution while at the same time lifting you up in a way that makes you feel good and go ahead with sharing your thoughts and ideas.
Constructive Communication and Politics
The reason why I believe that it is necessary to develop a Theory of Constructive Communication is that I have noticed that in our political system in Germany an enormous amount of time is wasted on Destructive Communication (the opposite of Constructive Communication). During that time, no progress is made, nothing gets done. People get demotivated. The dynamics of our media-driven political system in combination with basic psychological principles (such as remembering dirt stories about a person much better than stories about their merits) encourages politicians to engage in Destructive Communication. This is very unfortunate.
The problem with digital decisions is that they leave no other way than to engage in Destructive Communication. When voting for A automatically means voting against B, there is no room for reconciliation. Once the options are "boiled down" to A or B, the battle begins. In a constructive political system it is undesirable to have any digital decisions on a major scale, since it polarizes the population and undermines unity.
AFS Germany as a model
I have learnt much from a model, where Destructive Communication is the exception, and Constructive Communication is the rule: AFS Interkulturelle Begegnungen, e.V. Within this organization the "organizational culture" demands Constructive Communication. Interestingly, once a year you can observe an exceptional amount of Destructive Communication within AFS Germany. That is when German law of associations (Vereinsrecht) obliges us to hold an assembly that is modeled after the political system: elections of the board with a number of different candidates; motions that have to be voted for or against (digital decisions); etc. The event is called "delegates' assembly" (Delegiertenversammlung) and regularly tires and disillusions many of the AFSers who witness and take part in the occasion. Fortunately, when getting back to business, the usual Constructive way to communicate with each other prevails once more, decisions are taken as consensus and solutions are developed instead of voted upon, until the next year....