Spiritual Networks

Seven Keys to Authentic Communication and Relational Success

Reviewed by Allan Schnarr, M.Div.,Ph.D.

Every now and then a book of nonfiction knocks your socks off. Then you’re in the vulnerable position of walking around in bare feet. If the book is really good, however, and you let yourself stay with it, you get to rediscover the pleasure of walking around grounded, in touch with the earth. If you can allow it, you feel a little more solid, a little more real, a little more connected to the world around you.

Saying What’s Real has had that kind of effect on me. For twenty plus years I’ve been a dedicated student of human relationships. I’ve read many of the experts. I’ve spent fifteen years in therapy cleaning up my ways of relating. I’ve taught a graduate course in Human Relations Skills for Ministry for twenty years. I’ve co-created a steadily deepening twenty six year marriage. Of late, I’ve been fairly satisfied with how I connect with others, when that’s what I choose to do. And then I read Campbell’s book and caught myself needing to do a little deep breathing. It’s not that I learned anything radically new. It’s just that she laid out so much of what I believe, and did it with such simple clarity, that I was confronted by the gap between what I believe and how I often act.

I say that connecting genuinely with others is a primary value for me. I say that the truth in love holds me close to those with whom I choose to connect. I say that awareness of my experience in the present moment is the foundation of knowing what’s true for me. I say that emotional honesty is my fountain of energy and my medium for contact with others. All of these are values I cherish. They guide my choices. I embody them in many ways that satisfy me. Saying What’s Real confirmed my being true to what I believe.

And yet, Campbell shocked me with the clarity of the many ways that I still avoid the connection I claim to value. She periodically identifies behaviors that are about creating distance, about getting others under control. I kept seeing myself there. It was humbling to recognize how I still act as if keeping my distance and maintaining the illusion of control will keep me safe. Campbell’s challenge, and I agree with it, is that the only real safety is in the experiential truth of the present moment. Her thoroughgoing clarity with this truth can be recurrently unnerving.

Saying What’s Real is not a book about all that can be wrong with your relationships. Much more challenging for me than that was what most of the book is about, namely, how to stay close when that is truly what I want. This is where Campbell’s genius lies. It is clear to me that she has spent lifetimes living and teaching what she is writing about. Nowhere else have I come across such simple, clear guidelines for staying connected with others. It’s her specific, practical wisdom that confronted me in such an eye opening manner.

Campbell offers seven sentence stems, each one an opening into vital contact with another. Here they are:

Hearing you say that, I feel . . .
The challenge here is to stay In the present moment with the other regarding how you are feeling in response to others’ words. This keeps you connected.

I want . . .
Here you get to build your own confidence and resilience by risking disappointment. You set the other free to respond honestly. You give more value to communicating than to getting what you want.

I have some feelings to clear . . .
This is a way to bring backlogged feelings out into the open. Many withheld emotions continue to fester until their truth has found its way into the relationship.

I’m getting triggered . . .
Sometimes present situations so closely resemble past events that unresolved emotions from the past get triggered. Owning and disclosing this historical hot spot can be soothing balm.

I appreciate you for . . .
Here’s a vital way to nurture your relationship, and to relax your protective inner critic. This allows you to stretch your image of yourself and of the other.

I hear you, and I have a different perspective . . .
You can use this to build bridges between differences so that they become opportunities to enrich a relationship. This strengthens your sense of self and develops a more inclusive point of view.

Can we talk about how we’re feeling . . .
Here’s a simple way to make a course correction during an argument or any place where negativity has become a trap. As Campbell says, you can choose to get into your feelings and off your positions.

Saying What’s Real invites recognition of the all too familiar relational pattern where fear requires control which creates distance. Campbell’s Seven Keys provide a simple way to generate or strengthen a lifegiving pattern where awareness invites risk which builds closeness. A careful read of the book makes these moments of choice ever more clear.

The more you choose direct emotional disclosure, the more resilient you become, the less you fear losing yourself in the other, the more comfortable you are with staying close, the less you need to leave the present moment, the more connected you are with yourself and others. You can feel your feet on the ground again and again. Saying What’s Real makes it clear that the choice is yours.

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