David Cunningham Discusses Effective Communication in Families, Part 1


Earlier this year, Landmark Forum Leader David Cunningham was interviewed for an hour on Good Life Radio about communication within families. The complete transcript of this radio interview is given here in three articles.

Charlene Murphy: Hi, this is Charlene Murphy and you’re listening to Let it Shine on Good Life Radio; radio for inspired living. Thanks for joining me. Hello everybody and welcome to Let It Shine. I’m your host and creator of Good Life Radio, Charlene Murphy. Thank you so much for joining me today. I’m truly excited about my new show, Let It Shine, where I interview success and wellness experts from around the globe. My purpose and passion is to inspire and empower you to live your best authentic life, to live by design and not by default. I am pleased to share the platform today with a world leader in teaching people to do just that, living by design within families. More than a million people around the world have participated in a program of landmark education, an international training and development company that gives people the tools they need to produce breakthrough results in their lives.

With us today is David Cunningham, one of 54 program leaders in the world who conduct the Landmark forum, one of Landmark Education’s core programs in more than 100 locations throughout the United States, Canada, the Middle East, Australia, Europe, Asia and India. David Cunningham has led communication programs for thousands of people around the world since 1991, and with a Masters Degree in Education he formally served as the director of Connecticut Justice for Children Collaboration and the director of chapter development for the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse. We’re very honored to have this global VIP with us. Welcome, David.

David Cunningham: Charlene, thank you very much.

Charlene Murphy: Thank you for being here. David, can you give us a snapshot of Landmark Education and what your role is in that?

David Cunningham: Well, as you said, Landmark Education is a training development company, and our programs are designed to empower people and organizations to produce breakthrough results, to provide people with new tools for making significant changes in their lives and being very effective at that. And in the areas of their life that are most important to them, their careers, their relationships, their productivity, so we’re very excited about the programs. We have over 50 programs that we deliver in now 20 countries worldwide.

Charlene Murphy: That’s fabulous, and today we’re going to be talking about families – and family – successful family units, and so one of the big questions that typically comes up with families is how to go about achieving effective communication. Can you help us with that?

David Cunningham: Well, I think there’s three key things for families to be in effective communication Charlene, there’s three critical factors. The first one, I’d say, is listening. I think people really underestimate the power and the value of listening to each other and by listening I don’t just mean hearing what each other say, I mean really listening. And by that, I mean that when you really listen to somebody, what your committed is to hear what’s important to them, and that they know when they’re done talking that you really do understand what’s important to them. So the first thing about communication is ,more than talking, is listening to each other.

The second thing –I’d say, Charlene is, for effective communication, is it’s important for people when they’re in a conversation with each other, families are talking with each other, that every point of view is considered a valid point of view. You know, each of us have our own point of view about life, none of us can have the same point of view. It’s impossible for any two people to have the exact same view of life. When we get a view of life, however, we think our view is the right view, and so when somebody has a different one we think theirs is wrong. So really important for families to be in communication is also, when you listen to each other’s point of view it’s not even expected to be the same as yours. Really be interested and fascinated. “Wow, what is this other person’s point of view?” Be real clear there is no right point of view; every point of view is valid.

And then the third and final point I think, Charlene, that’s really important – is always keeping love and respect present in any communication. So when we’re talking to people in our families it’s easy, just given the daily stresses of life and given all the opinions and judgments that are so easy to form, is to take our hearts away, to stop giving our love to the other person, or to come up with an opinion about the other person and take our respect away. So it’s really important for families to be in communication that you keep the love and respect present. So three things; one, listening, two is respecting each other’s point of view as valid, and three is keeping the love and respect present.

Charlene Murphy: Right, now going back to number one, when your listening to your family member, you said it’s important to let them finish. I know a lot of people are formulating their next statement or their rebuttal instead of fully listening. So how can we help people not do that and to really be present and listen?

David Cunningham: Well, you have to really get interested in what the other person is saying. You know, Charlene, it’s funny, we really don’t listen to other people. If you’ll notice, each of us has that little voice in the back of our heads that talks to us. You know, like, we’ll walk down the street, somebody walks by, and that little voice in the back of our head comments on how they look, what they’re wearing, how they’re walking. That little voice in the back of our head’s always talking to us, have you noticed? So that when other people are talking to us, they talk, we hear them, but what we really listen to is what we have to say about what they say, versus what they really said. And if you can just separate those two out – do you know its no different than you’ve been in a conversation with somebody in the car when the radio’s also playing, and so the radio’s playing and it’s there making a noise, but you’re really attending to what the other person is saying versus what’s going o, on the radio. That voice in the back of your head’s like a radio, it’s going all the time, and you can just let it play, and at the same time give all your attention to what the other person’s saying. Really, ‘cause here’s what you’re committed to.

For effective communication, we are really committed to finding out what’s important to the other person, and the only person you can find that out from is them.

Charlene Murphy: So true, so true. All right, let’s move on to marital situations. So what do spouses need to say to each other to have intimacy, to have an intimate relationship?

David Cunningham: Well, Charlene, I think there’s a couple of key things here. Firstly, what I think is most important for spouses and couples to have an intimate relationship; the first thing that needs to be there is that they need to express their gratitude to be with each other. Just the simple gratitude that each other is there, that they have each other there in their lives. Now, there’s actually some real thinking that goes on behind that, if you really deal with life – you know, the one thing that you get from a relationship that you can’t get any other way is the opportunity to be somebody. Now, what do I mean by that?

You could say, Charlene, there’s three different domains of life. There’s what you have in life, there’s what you do in life, and there’s who you get to be as a human being. And if you really examine a relationship, a couple, well, almost everything that you get from the relationship you can get anywhere whether you’re in the couple or not, and almost everything you do in life you can do whether you’re with that person or not. But when somebody says, especially when somebody says they’ll marry you, they’ll commit to you for life, they say “Yes, I’ll be with you for the rest of my life”, in that moment they give you the opportunity to be somebody that has another whole person’s life in their hands. And you get to be somebody that has another person thrive and grow and be happy and be great and that’s an extraordinary opportunity that only somebody who says “I’ll be with you” gives you the opportunity for. So, the first thing for couples to have intimacy in their communication is to really express their gratitude for each other and keep the gratitude really present, that’s one thing.

Now, and another thing that is – I’m going to talk now about what gets in the way of intimacy, and what gets in the way of intimacy is anything that’s withheld. You know, if two people have secrets from each other, if two people have things they think they can’t say to each other, they really will get distant. And so it’s really important for intimacy is that nothing’s withheld, that people really do communicate fully, openly, completely with each other. And if there’s something withheld, something kept back, you know, maybe it’s an opinion, maybe it’s a secret, maybe as simple as “I spent more money than you wanted me to”. Do you know, if I think I spent more money, I went shopping and I think I spent more money than you wanted me to, and then I don’t say that or I withhold that or I try to keep that a secret, there will be distance between us immediately. So, the second important thing is that people really are in full communication, there’s nothing withheld. So, there’s the appreciation of each other, the gratitude for each other, and then there’s nothing withheld. Those are two key things right at the beginning.

Charlene Murphy: Uh huh. I think the appreciation and the gratitude might come a little easier than the second because sometimes we withhold information because we don’t want to hurt their feelings. So, say if there was an issue that came up and we had an opinion that we thought might be hurtful, how would you suggest expressing that to our partner?

David Cunningham: Well, it’s really important for people to understand what their opinions are, right? So, the trouble with opinions, people’s opinions, is most people think their opinions are true, or most people think their opinions are right. Versus, if you really study opinions, we don’t even know how come we have the opinions we have. Do you know, cultures share opinions and so if you’re born into a different culture you’d have different opinions. It’s really important for people to get that the opinions that we have aren’t true and aren’t right. So, when we’ve got opinions, we’ve got points of view, we’ve got judgments about the other person, the really important thing is to communicate them as what they are. They’re just opinions and judgments that all human beings have, they don’t mean anything; they’re not true, they’re not right.

So if I have an opinion about somebody and it’s in the way, it’s something that I can’t just dismiss by my own hand, it’s something that’s between us, my withholding is between us. When I communicate just make sure that as I can, I go, “Listen, I came up with this opinion, it’s just not true, and it’s not right, and it’s been on my mind”. So you communicate it and you let people know that you don’t even think it’s true or it’s right, it’s just a thought that just is bugging you. And when you communicate it that way, the other person doesn’t have to deal with, they don’t have to defend themselves or deal with, argue whether it’s true or not ‘cause you’re telling them it’s not true. It’s just an opinion.

Charlene Murphy: So it’s a matter of your presentation?

David Cunningham: Well, for sure, it’s a matter of your presentation. But it’s also more surely a matter of your, how do I say this, your presentation actually follows your commitment in the conversation. So, sometimes people try to say the “right thing”, but this isn’t about saying the right thing; it really is a question of what’s your commitment in the conversation. And if you’re speaking, what comes out of your mouth will always be consistent with what you’re committed to, and you can’t even hide it sometimes, right?

Sometimes you’re trying to say the right thing. Like you try to say, “Well I’m not really criticizing you”, but your commitment is to tell them they did something wrong. No matter how hard you try to say it the right way they will still get the point they did something wrong. So the question really is, for couples, is what’s their commitment, and what’s their commitment to each other and what’s their commitment in the conversation?

And that then brings you again back to really what needs to get established in any couple, in any marriage, in any relationship, which is again that commitment that, at the end of the day, can we say that the other person is better off ‘cause they spent the day with us? At the end of the day do they think better of themselves? At the end of the day are their dreams bigger? At the end of the day are they more effective than they would have been if they didn’t spend the day with us? And if you really, if a couple really gets that commitment established between them, that at the end of the day the other person is better of because they spent the day with me . . . then, guess what? Then whatever you say will be consistent with that and you don’t have to worry so much about saying the right thing.

Charlene Murphy: I like that. Now, are you familiar with Jack Henso’s “Ask, ask, ask” program? He actually does the feedback mechanism with his family, with his co-workers and colleagues, where he asks for feedback. So he’ll sit down with his wife at the end of the week and say, “How was our week? How was our communication? How would you rate our communication with each other this week on a scale from one to ten, ten being the best?” And then I think that’s a nice way of opening the dialogue so that, well first of all you asked for the feedback so you’re in a place to receive it, and we can take all the pointy, edgy stuff off of there and each other have a conversation.

David Cunningham: I’m not familiar with it but it sounds great, and as you listen to any feedback you get it’s important again that when people give you feedback sometimes they say things you don’t want to hear, right? And if you really listen to somebody – suppose you had some feedback for me I didn’t want to hear. If I really listen and I don’t even have to do anything with it, it’s not like I have to take it and change everything because of it. If you know I’ve really listened to your feedback, then you’ll just trust me with it. And so it’s important that even if people are getting feedback that they don’t like, that just listening to it and making sure the other person knows that you heard it, and actually you’ll consider it, will actually leave them very satisfied in their communication with you and fulfilled by being in communication with you.

Charlene Murphy: Yeah, I have to say I love it when I know that somebody’s actually listening to me and not placating or dismissing what’s actually –

David Cunningham: You can really tell the difference because you know, don’t you, you really do. People know if the other person’s listening to them or not, don’t they?

Charlene Murphy: Absolutely.

Part two of the interview with David Cunningham about families is here.

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