Meet Dr. Myron R. Fox, the most impressive communicator you’ll never understand. He leans on his lectern at the front of an auditorium where dozens of learned people have come to hear him speak. And all the while, Dr. Fox goes out of his way to be sure he makes absolutely no sense. The audience is riveted, nodding in agreement as he gibbers on with eloquent style and fluent finesse about nothing. His non sequiturs and contradictory statements are met with nods of agreement.
You’ve entered the Twilight zone? Nope. Just a research experiment at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Scott Armstrong is testing his “Dr. Fox Hypothesis,” based on an actor posing as Dr. Myron R. Fox, who is patching together raw material form unrelated Scientific American articles combined with meaningless references to unconnected topics and a hefty does of double-talk. Armstrong wants to know if “an unintelligible communication from a legitimate source in the recipient’s area of expertise will increase the recipient’s rating of the author’s competence.” Turns out, it does. The scholarly audience of professionals reported on anonymous questionnaires that they “found the lecture clear and stimulating.”
Imagine that! You can say absolutely nothing of value and still be respected. Truth is, for couples, that’s not as silly as it might seem. The very point of communication is to enjoy the comfort of an ongoing emotional connection even when your words are rather meaningless. It’s what Charles Lamb was getting at when he said, “‘Tis the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense, and have her nonsense respected.” And it is a privilege. When you have a partnership that allows you both to talk unedited, to speak freely, you are enjoying one of the great privileges of a healthy relationship. It’s an elite status among couples who feel safe enough to talk about whatever they think and feel. There is no need to test the Dr. Fox Hypothesis in your own relationship. When the two of you are shooting the breeze about anything and everything, meaningful or not, and still feeing connected deep in your soul, you are speaking Love Talk. And achieving Love Talk has everything to do with feeling safe. “Friendship is to the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person,” said British author George Eliot, “having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words.”
When it comes to conversation, we are all hardwired for emotional safety. Each of us has an overwhelming need to feel free from potential pain, loss, or danger. This compelling need is the driving force behind the way each of us lives our life. It is the prime motivator behind almost everything we do — especially when it comes to conversation.
In fact, once you find your safety zone as a couple, once you tap into exactly what makes you feel most protected, relaxed, and welcome, you can eliminate what we call your personal fear factor — whether you know it or not, it’s your biggest roadblock to enjoying Love Talk.
Read the Parrott’s book Love Talk.
Excerpt from Love Talk by Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott © 2004 by Les and Leslie Parrott, Published by Zondervan