The 5 Communication Stances: Which One Are You and How Is It Affecting Your Relationships?
According to famed family therapist Virginia Satir, we use different types of communication, or what she calls stances (Satir, 1988), that develop out of fear, low self-esteem, and/or as a way of avoiding rejection from others. The issue with these stances is that the words we say often do not match our body language, or even what we are thinking and believe in our heads. This mismatch can interfere in the growth of relationships, including those with family, romantic partners, colleagues, etc. Satir believed that the goal we are working towards as humans is to come to a place where what we say, do, and believe match, a concept which she called congruence.
Below are each of the five communication stances Satir believed we use. After reading the descriptions, think about the questions listed afterwards to explore how these stances may be impacting your current relationships.
The placating stance includes always trying to please others, rarely saying no, and never wanting to say or do something that might rock the boat with others. This stance also includes doubt about ever being good enough, as well as verbally agreeing to things that you do not actually agree with on the inside in order to keep the peace and/or be liked.
The blaming stance includes avoiding taking accountability and pointing out faults in other people. This stance also includes verbally saying things that you do not actually agree with on the inside in order to stay in control and keep your power.
This stance includes speaking in a very reasonable and logical way, often lacking emotion, and appearing to be calm and collected. This stance is often used as a way to cope with feeling vulnerable among other people; staying logical helps to mask that vulnerability from others.
This stance includes responding to others in a way that seems irrelevant to the conversation. You might see this in someone who makes a joke or abruptly changes the topic during a highly emotional conversation as a way to escape the discomfort they are feeling in the moment. This stance is often used when one does not feel worthy or like they belong, and rather than acknowledging and focusing on that unpleasant emotion, they do something to distract themselves and others.
This is the stance that, according to Satir, we aim to attain in life, where our words, body language, actions, thoughts, and beliefs match in how we communicate to others. You feel like you can be yourself and speak your truth in a relationship where leveling takes place. And most importantly, this is the stance that helps us come to a place of congruence.
After reading the above descriptions, think about the answers to the following questions:
-Which communication stance do you find yourself using the most? The least?
-Do you use certain stances only in certain relationships/situations? If so, what is it about these relationships/situations that contribute to you using this stance?
-What needs to change in order for you to be able to use a leveling stance more often?
If you would like support in exploring these questions and how the communication stances you use may be affecting you and your relationships, counseling can be a great place to discuss this and learn tools to improve your communication with others.
Satir, V. (1988). The new peoplemaking. Science and Behavior Books.