Establishing the Five Rights of Everybody
Part One explores the Five Rights of Everybody for interpersonal communication that go beyond borders, religion, or politics. It also looks at three communication styles and two trust types as well as styles in how people process information. Applying all of these will take you a long way toward resolving conflict in your life.
Rights, Styles, Types of Communication
“It’s not the world that changes, it’s how I see the world that changes.”
~ Carlos Castaneda
Communicating about a difficult subject with someone who’s different from you requires basic but crucial formulas. Because of differences in age, sex, income, religion, habits, dress, language, education, and class, you may face monumental challenges of prejudice and bias. Using this guide, however, you can reduce to a manageable situation what may initially appear as a complex conflict.
Over the years, my clients have appreciated using the Five Rights for resolving interpersonal conflicts as a guideline for most interactions. Applying their essence and insights can replace years of study and therapy (not to mention the money required to gain them).
Defining the Five Rights
The Five Rights referenced throughout this book apply to basic “people skills” training. While each is especially relevant to different parts of the training, as a unit they’re critical to impulse control, positive interactional dynamics, and communication skills. These Five Rights describe a set of universal boundaries that need to be honored in all relationships. I believe that if one or more of these rights are not respected, a relationship will not endure.
Important: If you don’t assert yourself in defending these Five Rights, others will tend to violate them. The famous quote and premise that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is directly applied to this understanding, meaning that if you give up a right, it’s often natural for others to take advantage of you. Regular people will, over time and on that inevitable bad day, abuse their power and probably not get caught the first time. Read the newspaper on any given day if you need proof of this statement. Exploring these rights provides a beginning for defining your boundaries and practicing assertion skills.
Understanding the psychological reasons for abuse helps reduce your judgment of others and helps you grow as an empathetic human.
“If you give up a right, it’s often natural for others to take advantage of you.”
Equally imperative as asserting your own rights is your obligation to respect these same rights for every other person. Each of the Five Rights carries an obligation. Each boundary you set for yourself naturally implies offering a similar consideration to others, often the greatest challenge for most to practice. These Five Rights assume that regardless of anyone’s intelligence, wealth, or cultural distinction, we’re all equal and deserve the same respect.
The Five Rights
Let’s explain what these Five Rights entail.
1. The Right to Feel Safe
Each of us has the right not to be abused verbally or physically, particularly for our sexual, political, environmental, or religious interests. It’s never okay to use physical or emotional abuse to control another person. This includes the right to feel safe from verbal put-downs or ambiguous veiled humor. We all have our personal perceptions about what we need to feel safe. It’s important that we learn our own boundaries regarding how we want to be treated. We’re also obligated to learn the safety limits of the people we interact with and to respect those safety limits. I have often monitored a conversation between partners in which one person said, “Don’t feel that way; you know I wouldn’t hurt you.”
Respect another’s right to feel safe.
“Telling others not to feel or think a certain way invalidates them, but it does more than that. It disregards their emotions about feeling safe and being entitled to their own thoughts.”
2. The Right to Space
Each of us has a right to not interact with others at times. In fact, the right and ability to disengage from any interaction is essential to stopping verbal and physical threats. To assert your right to space requires having a sense of your own boundaries and the skill to set those limits assertively yet not aggressively. Of course, if you’re flying a plane or driving a school bus, taking physical space rather than emotional space might be an inappropriate response because you can’t just pull the bus over or land the plane while you take a walk to think about it. This Right to Space carries the obligation not only to respect another person’s request for space but to “return and resolve” a conflicting issue if you are the person asserting your right to space. This way, taking space doesn’t become a “weapon” of abuse or abandonment, or a “power trip.” So if you honor another’s right to be alone, he or she is then obliged to come back (after a reasonable amount of time) and talk about the issue. Returning without risking the right to safety is implied.
3. The Right to Self-Care
Every person has the right to pursue health, happiness, and sanity through independent activities and relationships in ways that do not interfere with the rights of others. Each person must assert the right to have friends, interests, and activities free of another person’s control. This is important for self-respect and a positive sense of identity. The obligation that goes with this right is, of course, to allow and encourage others to pursue their own self-care and sense of independence. To do this well sometimes requires dealing with our own possessiveness, jealousy, and insecurities.
It’s my responsibility to take care of myself; it’s not the responsibility of other people to “make me happy.” One person may say to his or her partner, “You know, taking that night course at college takes time away from me and the kids.” This statement attempts to restrict the partner’s ability to take care of his or her educational needs. What could be said from a supportive standpoint? “Good for you, honey. If doing this makes you happier or better, then I’ll benefit also.” This reflects an understanding that both partners need to grow and that change is inevitable. That old saying that there’s no growth without change also implies that there’s no change without growth.
4. The Right to Our Perceptions
Every person experiences reality in a unique way. An individual’s personal “map of reality” forms from his or her life experiences; one person’s perception is not more correct, accurate, or important than another’s. Indeed, all people have the right to be heard, validated, and respected for their individual perceptions. In addition, they have the obligation to learn about the perceptions of others and to offer them validation and respect. Remember, validating another’s reality does not mean you have to agree with him or her.
I once met an elderly woman on a plane who was a gemologist and a spiritualist. She expressed certainty that if everyone carried appropriately chosen crystals, the emanations from these stones would allow peaceful interactions with others at all times. Her perception of reality was a stretch for me to accept. Yet, I, myself, feel strongly that if everyone practiced the fundamental techniques of effective communication, it would solve most of the world’s problems and prevent wars. So how could I expect to be heard and respected for my views if I didn’t at least acknowledge hers? And acknowledgment doesn’t have to mean agreement. People have the right to their own perceptions.
5. The Right to an Issue
Each individual has the right to raise an issue, and to have it taken seriously and negotiated fairly. If it’s important to you to bring up a problem, then you deserve to be heard and to have the problem considered within a reasonable amount of time. Of course, your reciprocal obligation is to accord others your attention and respect when they bring up a problem.
Suppose a child wants to talk about a silly game he’s playing. If you dismiss his passion (for whatever reason), that child may dismiss your insistence on the importance of wearing clean underwear to school and other parental directives.
Here’s an example from my life. During my real estate career, my partner and I would often have dinner parties. I once responded to her question about the etiquette of having two forks or three forks on the place setting with a cavalier “I don’t care” remark. This affected her sense of propriety, practicality, and space, and she wanted time with me to discuss it. Earlier that week, I had been considering buying a new house as an investment, and I mentioned my concern and worry about it to her. Her response was, “Whatever, honey—it’s all the same to me.”
Years later, after our separation, we agreed that neither of us had felt supported by the other on numerous occasions. I learned that respecting someone’s right to an issue, no matter how insignificant or irrelevant it might appear, is essential to acknowledging that person’s sense of value and worth.
“Respecting someone’s right to an issue is essential to acknowledging that person’s sense of value and worth.”
Communication Styles: Audio, Visual, Kinesthetic
In an effort to relate to my clients so they would feel I understood them, I paid close attention to the language they used, which usually reflected their cultural, educational, and socio-economic background. Their language also reflected the primary senses they relied on to perceive and relate to the world. My understanding of this—and my ability to speak in similar ways—led to our mutual trust.
For example, if a client is primarily a visual learner, she might say, “Do you see what I’m trying to say about this problem, Wave?” Because of her visual cue, I’d respond with something like, “It looks to me like this viewpoint is a challenge for you.” This allowed me to grasp what clients were talking about quickly.
If a client perceived the world from an audio perspective, he might say, “Do you hear what I am saying about this problem, Wave?” My response would be, “Well, it sounds to me like they’re not resonating with your challenge on this.”
A kinesthetic approach would be, “Gosh, Wave, I just don’t feel they really understand my problem here.” My response would typically be to reach over and touch the person on the shoulder while saying something like, “I get a sense you’re deeply sensitive to this challenge.” Nods of approval frequently followed.
When dealing with conflict, or even in normal conversation, relating to the communication styles of others can add clarity and connectedness. Perhaps you know some folks who do this instinctively. Are you one of them?
Communication Types: Two Kinds of Trust
While doing research in consensus modeling, I lived for a time in an intentional community on a farm in western Oregon. One of the lessons I learned from Caroline, the matriarch, regarded the concept of trust. The success of this 35-year-old community relied on finding ways for diverse members and volunteers to work together and simply trust each other.
Caroline defined two kinds of trust and said everyone is partial to one way or the other, depending on many variables. I call them complete trust types and incremental trust types.
Complete Trust Types
With the first kind of trust, people seemingly trust each other full out. This was familiar to me; if I made a new friend, I’d share my house, my car, my stereo, food, just about everything. I’d be so pleased when my offers were joyously accepted. The problem was, I expected my generous, open spirit to be reciprocated. Moreover, complete trust types generally don’t voice their expectations of reciprocity, which sets them up for disappointment. A challenge arises when someone breaks their trust for whatever reason. They respond by erecting an emotional wall and setting new boundaries.
Incremental Trust Types
The other type of trust is incremental. Incidents of mistrust arose when I worked in a community and prepared food for varied diets. People had numerous health preferences and identity issues around food, which incorporated their religious and spiritual beliefs and abstract New Age science. When I was lead cook of the day, on rare occasions, I did err in preparing the 12 separate diets for the 30-plus folks dining there. In response, those incremental trust types would say that was okay because they’d never trusted me completely in the first place. I had only partially challenged their trust, so it was no big deal to them. They still trusted me—somewhat— in other ways.
The emotional challenge for me came when I recognized one of those incremental types and just couldn’t bring myself to trust him from the get-go. He was not like me. As an incremental type, he thought I was foolish for openly trusting everybody and had formed an outright bias against me. This experience taught me to let go of that learned biased behavior and respect others by validating their views, even if I didn’t agree with them. After all, there’s much to learn about expectations and tolerance that applies to living in any kind of community.
Information Processing: Extroverts and Introverts
I found it immediately helpful to form a habit of paying attention to whether my clients were extroverts or introverts. The extrovert type was defined by Carl Jung and quantified by Meyers and Briggs (MBTI instrument) as someone who thinks better when talking out loud. (This is not the common understanding of an extrovert as someone who likes to don a lampshade, jump on a table, and entertain others with a song and dance on New Year’s Eve.)
“An extrovert is someone who thinks better when talking out loud.”
In my previous real estate career, my own predominantly extrovert type came out when I gave flip-chart presentations to clients in our boardroom. I employed language such as,
“You can see here that if we diversify your portfolio to incorporate floating amortization rates, we can create joint venture opportunities that will net higher non-taxable dividends, while reducing your operating costs from 5 percent to 4 percent over the next fiscal year.”
Often, clients would not respond to this well-rehearsed, formidable presentation. I felt a little awkward with the silence, first thinking it meant either the information overwhelmed them, or second, they weren’t impressed because they had lots of money and I was just one more salesperson trying to take it away from them. In the first case, I’d say, “work with me” and in the second, I’d say, “You probably already have considerable experience with these alternatives; I am here to listen to how I can best serve your interests.”
Still, that dreaded, awkward silence repeated itself in so many presentations that I finally realized it was neither of these assumptions. They were silent because they were introverts. An introvert, as opposed to an extrovert, is someone who processes information inwardly before speaking. Therefore, these clients simply wanted me to shut up and give them a chance to reflect on what I was saying. However, I thought most people were like me and wanted to talk it out. This proved to be a vital communication lesson to learn.
“An introvert is someone who processes information inwardly before speaking.”
Template for Resolving Conflict
Understanding these rights, styles, and types when communicating with each other forms a template for resolving conflicts. Whether you’re communicating with someone you love or someone you don’t understand or can’t stand, prac- ticing these techniques will become easier over time. Your goal is to make conflict resolution the winner in the game of life every time.