You know those conversations where you feel like you’re just not connecting? It appears you are speaking the same language, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. Most likely you’re not. Nothing can stymie a relationship like mis- or complete lack of communication. 

I have learned a great deal about this scenario from working with an organization known as Courageous Conversation. Their work is to provide training, coaching and consulting for racial equity. One of their primary tools is known as the Compass: a circle divided into four sections: feeling, thinking, believing and acting. 

The basic premise of the Courageous Conversation Compass is that each of us enter into discussions with others through one of these portals:

Feeling: responding to information through emotions – happy, sad, anger, excitement

Thinking: responding to information through data gathering and analysis 

Believing: responding to information through conviction such as moral, ethical, religious 

Acting: responding to information through initiative, direction, achievement

Once you become attentive to people’s portal preference you begin to recognize the language cues: “My feeling is…” “Here are my thoughts…” “I believe…” “Here’s what we need to do…” And therein lies what can seem like you are actually speaking a different language. If I am coming from a place of believing / deep conviction and the other person is coming from a place of thinking / critical analysis then attempting to actually connect can be very challenging.

And while Courageous Conversation uses the Compass tool primarily for increasing the capacity to be in dialogue about racial inequity, I have discovered it has almost universal application. For example, I am often in conversations with leaders who wonder why their message is not being understood. Well, if your primary communication is through acting and the dominant communication pattern of your organization is analysis then you can see where connecting can be problematic. Likewise, I often find myself with groups where part of the group has strong emotional feelings and others have deep convictions about what is the ‘right’ thing to do. This scenario in my experience is particularly prevalent in faith communities and other service organizations. 

The treasure that the Compass can lead us to is an awareness of the four different approaches to communicating. The key is for us to first become clear about what our dominant portal is and second to become attune to listening for others . As important, while we have a dominant communication approach, we also have the capacity to utilize the other approaches. This, I believe, is actually the greatest gem of the Compass for once we recognize our communication is not connecting with another’s we can adjust and adapt. 

When someone deeply listens to you it is like holding out a dented cup you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim, you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin, You are loved.
When someone deeply listens to you, the room where you stay starts a new life and the place where you wrote your first poem begins to glow in your mind’s eye. It is as if gold has been discovered!
When someone deeply listens to you,
your bare feet are on the earth
and a beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.

John Fox

2 thoughts on “Compass”

  1. Douglas M. Carpenter

    One of the lessons I have learned that helps me a lot with my relationships is: Connecting rather than correcting. I think this is of special importance when relating to young people who seem to me to be way out of line, like believing in Q. Connecting is far more important than correcting.

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