What Type of Communicator Are You?

According to my friend and fellow Hay House author Dr. Neha Sangwan, who recently gave a killer speech at the Hay House I Can Do It Ignite conference in San Jose, breakdowns in communication lie at the root of many illnesses. We make agreements with people – often unconscious agreements – and when our agreements don’t align, we experience conflict, which leads to triggering of the body’s stress responses, which causes the body’s natural self-repair mechanisms to switch off, then VOILA! We get sick…

Neha says that many of the conflicts come when we aren’t in alignment with our agreements with others, especially regarding “Yes” or “No” agreements.

The Doctor Wants It STAT!

She gave an example from her work consulting with operating room staffs that aren’t getting along. Take Dr. X who screams, “Someone get me 2 units of packed red blood cells STAT!”

Twenty minutes later, when the patient is hemorrhaging and there’s no blood, Dr. X bellows, “You all are totally incompetent!”

Is it the OR staff’s fault for being incompetent? Or Dr. X’s fault for failing to communicate properly? According to Neha, it a case of misalignment of agreements.  It was the doctor’s responsibility to ensure that the order had been acknowledged (a Level 1 agreement) and a plan had been made. Ideally, he would have made sure Nurse Sharon agreed to run to the blood bank and have the blood back in the OR in 10 minutes (a Level 5 agreement.) But instead, the doctor just barked an order that nobody acknowledged.

The 5 Levels of Agreement

Let’s consider a less life-or-death situation. Consider a guy asking a girl on a date. Interested dude asks cute girl whether she wants to go to the movies. She can either say a flat out no – or she can say yes at one of five levels of commitment.

Level 1: Acknowledgement

“I hear that you want to go to the movies with me but I’m not going to commit one way or another.”

Level 2: Positive Interest

The idea of going to the movies with you appeals to me.

Level 3: Qualified Yes

Yes, I’ll go to the movies with you, but I have to check my calendar first.

Level 4: Yes

I’d love to, but we haven’t confirmed details yet.

Level 5: Yes With Details

I really mean yes – and we have a time and a place and it’s on the calendar.

When Agreement Styles Don’t Match

Do you commit and get it on the calendar? Or are you a go-with-the-flow, last minute planner?

Neither is right or wrong, but what Neha says is that if you’re a Level 5 planner – you like to have details on the calendar – and you’re in relationship with a Level 3 planner – the spontaneous, unscheduled type, chances are good that you’ll wind up having conflict.

My A-ha Moment

This was a HUGE a-ha for me! Turns out my schedule is so busy that I am pretty much a flat-out, black-and-white, I-can’t-do-it “No” person – or I’m a full-on, I’ve-cc’ed-my-CEO-Melanie-here-and-she’s-going-to-book-it-on-my-calendar Level 5 planner.

But half the people I really love give me Level 3 agreements!

You know the type:

I’d love to, but I have to see whether I get enough work done…

That sounds so fun! But I have another party to go to first, so maybe I’ll show up late…

I’ll call you next month to set it up (and then the phone never rings.)

How about Thursday? (And then she reschedules four times in a row.)

This works just fine if you’re both Level 3 planners. You keep your schedule flexible. You go with the flow. You keep your options open. And then, depending on how the whim hits you, you pick up the phone last minute and BOOM – you’re frolicking on the beach, kicking up your heels together. WHEE!!!

But if you’re operating at a different level of agreement, you’ll probably wind up either hurting someone – or feeling hurt.

The Hurt Seeps In

We all prioritize relationships at different levels. Maybe in one relationship, you’re a Level 2. Someone asks if you want to do something, and you say, “Maybe – you seem cool but give me more details.”

In another relationship, you may be willing to drop everything to make a Level 5 plan.

I know I am guilty of being on both sides of this dynamic, and relationships operate so much more smoothly when both parties agree at the same level – and the agreement is crystal clear.

Lack Of Communication Is Key

Problems arise when we fail to clarify the agreement. If two people leave the agreement unresolved, expectations go unmet. Disappointment ensues.

Once, a friend suggested I fly out to an event that we both thought would be fun. I wasn’t really planning to come, but I wanted to see my friend, so I decided to go. My friend and I didn’t have level 5 plans to get together and catch up, but I just assumed, since my friend had asked me to come, that we would make time to go to dinner or take a walk together or otherwise spend time alone. Every day, I was texting my friend, trying to get something on the calendar, but I wasn’t able to pin my friend down. Four days later, we still hadn’t gotten together for anything more than a quick hug amongst crowds of other people. When the conference ended and we never managed to get together, I felt hurt.

My friend never meant to hurt me. I just hadn’t been clear beforehand in saying that the whole reason I was coming to the event was because I wanted to hang out with my friend. If it had been made clear to me that my friend would be otherwise occupied and wouldn’t have time for me, I might not have come – which would have been fine. At least then, things would have been clear.

We talked through it and both apologized for our lack of clarity and vowed to be more clear in future agreements.  Our friendship is hunky dory, but we could have avoided some unnecessary drama had we both been brave enough to iron out our agreements in advance, even if doing so might have been uncomfortable.

Say No When You Mean No

If we’re brave enough to be clear – to say no when we mean no or to put something on the calendar if we mean yes – relationships can surprise you with their resiliency. Give me a clear no over a qualified yes with no follow through any day.

Sometimes the qualified yes is really just a stepping stone to a level 5 agreement. I really do want to go to the movies, I just have to check my calendar first to make sure I’m not double booking myself. But way too often, a level 3 or 4 agreement is really a no from someone afraid to just say no.

What Kinds Of Agreements Do You Make?

We all agree at all levels at some point or another, but do you find you’re most often the level 3 type who winds up disappointing the level 5 type? Or are you a level 5 type who winds up hurt by others who can’t commit?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Clarifying agreements,

Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities LissaRankin.com and OwningPink.com, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary. Join her newsletter list for free guidance on healing yourself, and check her out on Twitter and Facebook.


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Morgan Hartman
Morgan H4 years ago

I am such a level 5: "Give me a clear no over a qualified yes with no follow through any day." This quote is so me. And I definitely have a few friends who do not need that level of planning and I've had to navigate that and be okay with flexible plans on the fly.

Summerannie Moon
Summerannie M4 years ago


its all to do with a balance of communication, politeness and I guess wanting to be there in each others company, Being honest about joining someone for a catch up date if you like is to be courteous and respectful and turning up on time not so late that it totally ruins that time.

Summerannie Moon
Summerannie M4 years ago

I heard this from someone i knew and was said to me..' We MUST have coffee, next week!'' how many times did this person say that to me was laughable to the point where I wanted to scream at them to STOP!! STOP NOW! You know and I know its totally rubbish! I cant tell you how many times that was said to me to come and do this. I gave up and moved on.
So many times people say whatever comes to mind or out of their mouths with little regard as to whether the listener really wants too or not or whatever. Someone below said that they thought they (the speaker or asker) liked to hear their own voice. I think youre right!
Another is to be in the company of someone you really know and they dont talk much and you find your filling in the gaps or you will go insane from boredom.
Its a fine line and to have balance. I always say that when you are conversing with someone its like a game of tennis. You start, meaning you hit the ball, they hit meaning they answer and so on till the subject is done, then the listener hits the ball and so on but if one is playing solo tennis when another person is there and in other words its a one sided conversation, well gosh, it seems that its just not a workable union........is it? Somethings out of kilter.

Darren Woolsey
Darren W4 years ago

All and everyone should read this, and then try and reflect and ponder why we're still so bad sometimes at effective communication? Do we like conflict, do we get a little thrill sometimes from attrition, aggression, opposition, contrariness... something in me likes to be liked, yet too much, and the shutters can go up. Sometimes in me likes its own way, but then requires attention as well... it's worth while bearing in mind that body language amount for a vast proportion of communication, and from my small observations over time, we're mostly pretty insular, and closed off from engaging with others... or perhaps that's the weather...

Mark M.
Mark M.4 years ago

also why do we need five levels when three suffice?

Mark M.
Mark M.4 years ago

maybe I watched too many TV medical dramas over the last three decades but doesn't "stat" mean do it now?

Marie W.
Marie W4 years ago

These days it seems everyone is last minute got my iPhone planner.

Cynthia Blais
cynthia l4 years ago

my commincation is a weak point I can say yes or no but then I find most people aren't really listening but just want to hear themselves

Sarah M.
Sarah M4 years ago

I'm a level five planner and it drives me nuts when people are flakey or noncommittal. I agree, say no when you mean no! Don't string someone along so their plans get ruined or leave them unsure about plans so they don't know whether to make other plans or not. Arg. Ok, venting over.

Hanine Green
Hanine El Mir4 years ago

I'm a terrible communicator! I don't seem to ever find interest in most of the conversations I have and that's why I don't contribute much.