Evaluate Whether a Communication Is Toxic
Our communication is healthy, or relational, when we practice integrity and honor dignity—when we treat someone as we would want to be treated if we were in their position. Our communication is toxic, or nonrelational, when it violates integrity and harms dignity, and this leads to a sense of disconnection and insecurity.
Nonrelational communication is a major driver of infighting, and relational communication is a key antidote to infighting.
When you’re witnessing a communication, either online or in-person, you can evaluate whether it’s relational or nonrelational by asking yourself the following questions.
How would I feel if I were on the receiving end of this communication?
Is the person engaging in this communication someone I would feel safe being vulnerable with?
Does this communication reflect integrity and honor dignity? Does it reflect civility?
Would I feel safe expressing an opinion that the person communicating would disagree with?
Would I direct this communication toward someone I care about?
Is the person who’s communicating framing the issue they’re talking about as a divisive debate? For example, are they pitting one person or idea against another in a win–lose framework? And if so, is the person they’re debating actually present?
You can also think of someone you consider to be relational, someone you see as emotionally mature. Maybe this is someone you know, like a good friend or your therapist. Maybe it’s just someone you know of, like a famous relationship expert or someone like Thich Nhat Hanh. Ask yourself: Would this person engage in the kind of behavior I’m witnessing? If the answer is “no,” then the behavior is probably nonrelational.
Eventually, as you build relational literacy (the understanding of and ability to practice healthy ways of relating—which includes communicating, since communication is the primary way we relate), you won’t need to go through this list of questions. The more relationally literate you are, the more you’ll experience nonrelational communication as repulsive rather than attractive or unremarkable. And because relational literacy is an important antidote to infighting, you’ll also help to prevent and manage infighting within your group or movement.