Saturday, May 2, 2009

Communication: Learning the Code

I’m learning to play bridge. I’ve always loved cards, and have been pretty good at it too. I’ve played Rummy, Spades, Hearts, Whist, and Pinochle, just to name a few. Bridge, however, is another story altogether. Bridge is a complex game that depends highly on proper communication. It doesn’t matter how powerful your hand, if you don’t receive the proper communication from your partner or give the proper information to your partner, you will both be at a major disadvantage.

What’s also interesting in Bridge is that sometimes you have to lie.

Well, not lie exactly…more like speak in code. For instance, you might open at 1 club, even if you don’t want clubs as trump. It’s a signal to your partner that you have opening points and you want to know what she has in her hand. So then your partner has to respond telling you how many points she has and what her best suit is in. But of course, she doesn’t just say, “I have 10 points and I’d like to play it in hearts.” No, that would be too easy and would give your opponents too much information. A response of 1 heart to an opening of 1 club tells your partner that you have a minimum of 6 points and at least four hearts. While speaking in code is a bit tricky to learn, once you understand it, you can communicate fairly well with your partner.

While speaking clearly is certainly preferred in regular day-to-day communication, the truth is all of us speak in code at times, and it would behoove us to remember that and learn how to recognize when someone is saying something other than what they mean.

Children, especially, cannot always tell us what they are feeling, so we must learn to decipher what is really going on with them. I used to be a nanny and I quickly learned that if I didn’t pay attention there would be a ‘failure to communicate’. Charlie (age four) once acted up when I was trying to get him and his brother out the door to go to their first swimming lesson. He insisted he wasn’t finished playing his game and couldn’t leave yet. He screamed and resisted, and nothing I did or said would convince him to leave. Had I not understood his code, this could have been a much more frustrating morning. What I realized was his disobedience was really about his fear of swimming. When he was three he had a frightening experience with water, and so now with that memory still intact, he was afraid to go to his lesson. I was able to discern his code and reassure him that he would not have to go into the water if he didn’t want to, but that we still had to leave so his brother Will could go to his lesson. We went to the lesson and the teacher, also very understanding, was able to reassure him, and Charlie, eventually, not only went into the water, but learned to become a great swimmer!

Our children, our mates and our friends sometimes speak to us in code. It sure would be nice if we all said what we meant, but sometimes we aren’t even clear about what we are feeling. I’m reading “The Idiot’s Guide to Bridge”, which is helping me learn the code language of Bridge. Too bad there isn’t such a manual for relationships; that would sure be helpful! This isn’t to say we are all idiots when it comes to communication (or Bridge), but that we want to learn the basics in an easy to understand format.

The book “The I of the Storm” by Gary Simmons is sort of a manual about learning to communicate in conflict. Simmons tells us that when people lash out at you, it is more about them than about you. There is something missing in their relationship with you, and they haven’t figured out how to communicate what is missing for them, so they make it about you. Once you understand this code, you can say to them, “Tell me more”, so you can get more information about what is really bothering them. While I’ve read this book, I still sometimes forget the ‘code’ when someone lashes out at me, but I’m determined to remember to not get defensive, and to ask for more information.

I’m going to keep practicing Bridge, because the more committed I am to learning the code, the better I will get at communicating with my partner. The same could be said for communicating in normal life: the more we practice understanding what the other person needs from us, but isn’t able to say, the better we will be able to communicate effectively in return.

Wow! Compared to relationships, Bridge is beginning to look easier and easier!