The Dance of Communication

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Dance Hall Etiquette

Being a dancer I have attended many social dances at ballrooms across the country.  With little variation, the scene is usually the same.  One person walks up and asks another to dance.  Mostly this means the woman is asked by the man, but I have also had many women ask me to dance.  At that point the one being asked to dance can make a choice to say yes or no.  Almost always do I see the recipient happily accept the invitation.  However, there may be several reasons why a person would say no to a dance in a dance hall: they are waiting for a friend or a drink; they are sitting one out to cool down and give their feet a break; they are getting ready to leave, dislike the song, or they just don't want to dance with you specifically.  


Imagine that you are asked to dance and for some reason you decide to say no.  Then the person who asked you says, "Tough, you're going to dance anyway," and drags you onto the dance floor.  How would you feel about dancing with this person?  You would most likely be very uncomfortable, not enjoying the dance, wanting to be somewhere else, attending to somewhere other than your "partner," wishing the song would be over.  An awkward situation indeed.  Yet this is how people often enter into conversations with others. Even I am guilty of bolting into a room, and immediately asking my wife a question just to be quieted by the realization that she is on the phone.  She wasn't available to dance with me at that moment; it was self-centered of me to think that she was ready and willing at my convenience to participate in my conversation.  In short, I did not ask her to dance! If I had been more considerate, I would have entered the room, checked to see where she was and what she was doing and asked, "Do you have a second to answer a question?" She could say, "Sure," or she could say, "No, I'm in the middle of composing a note to my brother."  Then I wait, because I know that unless I have her full attention I'm going to have less of a chance of having an effective conversation with her.

Timing is Everything

Many factors affect a person's emotional or attentive availability to have conversations. If your partner is excited about the promotion she just got, she's probably not going to be able to devote much attention to a conversation about your sister's failing marriage.  If you are in bed with the flu, you probably won't be very open to having a talk about relationship needs.  And if your partner is busy preparing the home for a family holiday dinner, it's probably not a good time to bring up your ideas for how to spend the following weekend.  The key is to assess where your partner is before you try to bring them into a conversation.  Good communication starts with listening and knowing where your listener is at.

Avoid Ambushing Your Partner

When someone is emotional or has something to discuss, the issue that's on their mind is felt as urgent; essentially, they are in crisis and need to address the thought or problem right then.  In general, we have a hard time with impulse control or delayed gratification.  Many times partners ambush each other with conversation when they can't wait for the other to be available to dance with them. Take for example the scary phrase, "We need to talk."  A more accurate communication of this person's critical intention is, "I need to talk, and you're required to participate...now."  Taking into account the dance hall approach, a more considerate, and albeit self-controlled approach would be to state, "I have some concerns about our relationship and would like to get your help with understanding why I'm struggling. Is this a good time to chat, or can we set a time for later when you're not so busy?"  This not only respects your partner's space, but increases the possibility that they will want to participate and dance with you. 


In reflection, most of the things I want to or need to talk about can wait, and I've had to wait hours, even as much as a week to bring something up at an opportune time with my wife. If your aim is effective communication, you can wait until your partner is ready to dance.