Communication: C’est le Ton qui Fait la Musique


When people communicate with each other, there are always 2 different levels on which the communication simultaneously takes place: a rational level and an emotional level.

On the rational level, information is exchanged like two computers who communicate with each other. The rational level deals with practical, more or less objective matters and expresses itself verbally through words and concepts. If you, in a calm and relaxed voice, would ask someone to pass you the salt during dinner, that would be an example of communication that is 99 percent rational.

The emotional level is the subjective level that deals with feelings, attitudes, intentions, trust and distrust, likes and dislikes. The emotional level expresses itself through tone of voice and body language; basically all nonverbal communication.

The emotional level of communication between people is essential, because communication is a form of human contact. Human contact is an inherently emotional experience.

Communicating computers who are differently programmed don’t resent each other for being programmed differently. Likewise, problems between people don’t arise because of some rational incompatibility of different points of view. Problems between people only arise because of emotions.

So when people are having an argument or debate with each other, the emotional exchange is at least as important as the rational arguments that are being exchanged.

On a rational level, during such an exchange, there might be an exchange of polite arguments. But at the same time at the emotional level, the conversation may be more like “you are an ignorant, stupid fool with bad intentions.”

But, compared to ‘rational arguments,’ it is easier to deny your true feelings and emotional motives in an argument, because they are not as explicitly expressed as what literally comes out of your mouth.

That’s why people can often hide behind the rational level of the conversation, denying that they have ill will towards their opponent and only pointing at their rational arguments, while in truth their attitude is heavily influenced by their negative feelings towards the other person.

But we cannot have effective rational communication with another human being if the communication is not also proper on an emotional level. This is because the other will not take in and digest what you want to convey if he or she resents you on an emotional level.

So not caring about whether you are also communicating well on an emotional level with the other in an argument, shows a self–centered attitude. True communication can only happen if there is a willingness on both sides to ‘level’ with each other emotionally, in an honest and empathetic way.