As therapists, we use metaphors to assist clients in understanding topics or ideas. For example, “cooking without a recipe,” can refer to the process and set of skills that come when someone learns to the point that they don’t need to use a “recipe” anymore. When applying this to communication, the metaphor refers to the process of learning how to master communication skills. This process requires practice, adjustment, experience, commitment, and focus. No one is born with perfect communication skills, we learn them.

It starts with acknowledging that all of us have our own way of hearing messages, understanding, and making meaningful conclusions. In learning to communicate, we figure out how to deliver the product of a thought, so the message received by others is without deviation from the original intent.


Sometimes communication feels like being in a foreign land, with people who speak different languages and have different cultures, values, and histories. A solution to the communication barrier when in a foreign land would be to learn the language and culture, contextualize the message for its end user, or simply hire an interpreter. Contrary to physically being in a foreign land, not many of us want to take the time necessary to learn everything we can about the people we’re trying to speak with daily. However, like being in a foreign land, we are more willing to put in the necessary effort to learn how to communicate when trying to communicate with people who mean something to us.


Mastering Communication Skills

Not long ago, I was working with a client on their communication skills. After reviewing a good portion of psycho-educational material, the client and I practiced role-playing different scenarios. Two weeks later there was a significant improvement in the client’s ability to understand and communicate their thoughts, needs, and point of view to their partner. As time passed the client was pleased with their progress. They often talked about how much easier it was to navigate through arguments and prevent unnecessary conflicts.

Several weeks later, the client came to the session with a clear expression of worry on their face. They expressed their anxiety, saying that knowing these skills makes them feel like they are being a manipulator. They felt like a mastermind directing tone, attitude, and topic of conversation. Finally, the client asked this question, “It feels like I am relating to people, to my partner, like I’m using a cookbook. I’m following step-by-step instructions, a recipe, and utilizing all these techniques, BUT it doesn’t feel natural. Does mastering communication skills mean I am a manipulator?”


Learning New Skills is Uncomfortable

The client experienced the discomfort or unnatural feelings that come with the process of learning a new skill. The client’s feelings are a normal part of the mastering communication skills process. It takes practice for the skills to feel natural. There will come a time when it doesn’t feel forced or manipulative, like cooking without a recipe.

Improving and mastering any skill takes time. If we lean into the discomfort or unnatural feelings brought about by learning a new skill, we will be able to walk into the kitchen and cook without a recipe. With time and practice, we can master communication skills.



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