The Five Levels of Communications

John Powell, in his book Why I am Afraid to Tell You Who I Am, describes five levels on which we can communicate, and an understanding of these levels is essential.

Level 5: Small Talk. At this level shallow conversation takes place, such as, “How are you?” “What have you been doing?” “How are things going?” Such conversation borders on the meaningless, but it can sometimes be better than embarrassed silence. When communication remains on this level, it is boring and leads to frustration and resentment in marriage.

Level 4: Factual Conversation. At this level, information is shared, but there are no personal comments along with it. You tell what has happened but do not reveal how you feel about it. A wife may observe her husband leaving the house after dinner and ask, “Where are you going?” and he can give a factual answer, “Out.” Men are more apt to settle for this level of communication, however, in our modern society more and more women are functioning at this level as well.

Level 3: Ideas and Opinions. Real intimacy begins here, for on this level you risk exposing your own thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Because you feel free to express yourself and verbalize personal ideas, your partner has a better chance to know you intimately.

Level 2: Feelings and Emotions. Communication at this level describes what is going on inside you—how you feel about your partner or a situation. You verbalize feelings of frustration, anger, resentment, or happiness. If you honestly share with your partner in a give-and-take manner, showing interest in his feelings as well as in expressing your own, this level will enrich and enlarge your relationship. You will feel worthy, noticed, loved, appreciated, and safe in your partner’s affections. You will gain flashes of insight into your partner’s character that will give you real understanding of how he thinks and feels. A good combination is to alternate between the levels of ideas/opinions and feelings/emotions.

Level 1: Deep Insight. Rare insightful moments will occur when you are perfectly in tune with another in understanding, depth, and emotional satisfaction. Usually a peak experience or something deeply personal is related. Communication about such experiences often makes a deep impression on both parties and enriches the relationships. Mutual sharing of personal ideas and feelings is the ultimate goal in marital communication.

What level of communication occurs in your marriage now? Do you want and need a deeper and more intimate sharing?

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