Teaching Relational Communication
3 Questions
Linda (Elle) Yaven
Communication Coach


I've always liked walking through campus just after finals. All deliverables turned in.  

The studios, recently a rich mess of students cramming, jamming or asleep on couches, are empty. The week before blueprints, fabric, foam core, drawings spill over everywhere. Tables, walls, floor - everything is covered.

Walking through after classes, the ginormous push has come to quiet. Things have been displayed, put away or tossed.

The sun shines. A soft bound book, has been left out on a long wooden work table. Moving closer, it's a literary magazine with the words “Qui Parle?” written across the cover.

"Who speaks"?

Teaching Relational Communication in an MBA program, the question was on point.

My students had spent the semester developing the play of their communicative/leadership/creative voices in business environments.

We are who, and what, we are able to speak. And what we don’t, won’t or cannot yet say. One intention for class is pivoting from reactive to intentional communication. Without losing mojo. In fact, the opposite.

1. What communication practices have you outgrown? 

A driving ethos for my course is linking mental health to our everyday conversational repertoires - nothing fancy. From my POV, this connection is critical. And practicing "backwards design", by becoming a respectful observer of the give and take of impact and influence.

2. What mood do you leave others in? 


Over time, as I designed a system for Relational Communication, a question insisted itself on me. I kept hearing myself ask: 

What shall we name the creature willing to observe the results.
of their speaking, listening, leading and collaborating?

I’d been wanting to name this persona, who apprentices to their own communicative life. Willing to wear the shoes of a learner, a choreographer, shaping their personal and collective communicative life.

                                     Who is this person designing pockets of equanimity? 

Creating those safe spaces to reflect, test out, then celebrate the victories and mess-ups of new communication practices, alongside kindred spirits engaged in same IRL. What shall we call these folks?

The word "communicant" arose as a descriptor.

communicant |kəˈmyoōnikənt|
1. archaic a person who imparts information. 
2. 21st century a persona apprenticed to their communicative life.
ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from Latin communicant- ‘sharing,’
from the verb communicare.


                                   3. What would thrill you to develop in your life as a communicator?

What we find funny is so personal. As is our chosen vocabulary. Words work well when specifically our own. In sessions I always encourage a client to stumble around express their thoughts.

The night before I first offered my course, Live Exchange, I saw an interview with Jerry Seinfeld. He said, before going onstage to do stand-up, he prayed to The Gods of Comedy. It sounded right to me!

Ever since, on the first day of class, I make sure to say The Gods of Comedy and The Gods of Communication are in cahoots. Simply put, an intention for my course is to teach the Communicant to steward everyday conversations, including that pesky/tender one with yourself, while simultaneously wearing your humor hat.

                                               We are having fun, but we are not kidding.

                                                          - Brenda Laurel, Designer

As Design Strategists, my students are training to facilitate change in the face of wicked challenges.
Their toolkit contains narrative practices, from speaking up to listening up, from asking hidden questions, to declaring what's not working, from anticipating challenges to facilitating the conflicts naturally arising when people of conviction work together.

Giving and receiving useful feedback is wired throughout their learning. Effective communication requires true agility standing ground, despite push back, while having the desire and wherewithal to create real rapport. It requires rapidly building connection, in non B.S. ways.

And it will always mean putting your humor cap on, though it never needs to be on straight!


Curious to hear your thoughts!
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