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These two different communication styles are often polarised to the point where one is totally exiled or discredited (disowned). They are involved in many of our most puzzling problems in relationships. Appreciating the difference between them opens the door to a whole new understanding of what makes a successful relationship and of course what can goes wrong as well. But how do you identify these two styles?

To distinguish these two remember::

Impersonal is “more protected but less connected”

Personal is “more connected but less protected”

Individuals need to use and balance both styles

You can appreciate how much a individual needs to be able to move comfortably through high to low within both personal and impersonal styles and to be equally comfortable moving from one style over to the other to suit a particular time, situation or relationship.

The alternative (an un-balanced style - too much of one too little of the other) can result in people either getting stuck on one side or swinging too violently (flipping) from one extreme to the other. Both cause problems for individuals.

So, what are  some of the signs that tell you that you are operating more or less in your impersonal  or impersonal style? What are similar pointers that might warn you if you could be out of balance or flipping too much from personal to impersonal?

High Impersonal style

• fewer  close friends, discussions restricted to more general or open friendships.

• you notice  people seem more interested in  connecting with you when they are talking about problems or seeking help with their own issues, but less likely to connect when things are going well for them.

• cool tone, low empathy

• communication with other people often contains either an openly stated or a background non-verbal signal of that you are in a hurry or under pressure. Example e-mails are abbreviated and leave unnecessary words out of sentences.

Personal and Impersonal Topics

When you are using your impersonal channel we keep rather carefully to safe topics, that is topics of conversation that will keep the discussion safely away from anything which might bring up or even give the other person a hint about our vulnerability.

The less connected you feel, the better protected you are.  So, most impersonal conversation does not even get as far as revealing much at all about what you are feeling.

Typical impersonal topics might be more about:

•  impersonal objects, cars, clothing, sport, television, finance  the weather, politics and real estate. Today’s news stories.

•  impersonal problems like finance, accommodation, transport, computers and  lack of time.

•  other people, particularly others who are not in the room. Also their impersonal objects their clothing, their jobs, their faults, their finances, their house and their activities but perhaps not their personal life.

• re-telling past history, the view out the impersonal individual’s rear window.

• the past rather than the present, but only those topics from the past that are safe and impersonal. Events from the past that are of no interest to anyone in the room.

•  impersonal things that I did recently or will be doing, playing sport, watching television, getting drunk, gambling, sport, business or work-related activities.

•  impersonal thoughts or ideas. For example quotes from books or well known authorities. This helps to avoid expressing personal views, thoughts or feelings on the subject.

• The view out the car window or on the bush walk. Mainly about in-animate objects. The trees, the clouds, the flowers, the water or an occasional cow.

Sharing Impersonal feelings

There may be some feelings that we feel safe sharing on our impersonal channel. Impersonal feelings tell other people more about how I spend my day. They don’t tell much at all about my personal issues or who I really am or what’s going on inside me.  It’s more likely that they will help illustrate what I do when I connect with other people through my impersonal channel. Examples:

I am feeling busy, energised, successful, happy, hopeful, horny, good, worthwhile, anxious, frustrated, angry, tired.

If you share only impersonal feelings you may notice you are a bit too easily controlled by other people, especially those who rely on manipulation or emotional pressure.

Getting Closer

The more two people become familiar with communicating through their personal channels, the deeper the conversation is likely to become.  New areas of conversation are tried out tentatively to see if both speakers are comfortable about bringing them into the personal discussion arena.

This means that both people are developing a stronger level of intimacy.  This is illustrated by the way that they now feel safer sharing details about their vulnerability.

Topics which were not discussed before, might now include:

• the more vulnerable aspects of my relationships, my more vulnerable feelings, my fears, failings, faults, foolishness, dreams and hopes for the future, my fantasies and my sexuality.

• my more negative feelings about myself my shame, guilt, hopelessness, worthlessness, silly or stupid, devastated,

You can usually tell when you have reached this stage by the topics being discussed, however another clear sign that you will notice is that you will also be feeling more vulnerable.  

If so, at this point you may choose not to stay at such a highly personal level for too long.  It’s better to back out a bit until you know that connecting at this level is very safe and that you can confidently protect your own vulnerability around this level of openness.

It’s so very important that you neither expect nor ask the other person to take responsibility for protecting your vulnerability.  

Even if they offered to do this for you, do not allow them to take on the task because what they are offering to do is not only dangerous for both of you to try, it’s also impossible to achieve.  

No matter what anyone else claims they can do for you, only you can look after your own vulnerability.

High Personal style

• communication with other people contains either an openly stated (or a background non-verbal signal) that you are really comfortable, even enjoy time spent communicating with them.

•  both people freely acknowledge their sense of being more vulnerable communicating at this level.

• both project warmth in tone, empathy and positive understanding

• communication contains either an openly stated (or a background non-verbal signal) that helps assure the other person that you are in no hurry, that you are happy to spend as much time as it takes to communicate, speak or listen and above all to share understanding and empathy with them.

Personal and  impersonal Communication styles