I’m regularly reminded that even though we communicate constantly, we are seldom as effective as we would like to be. I think there are three primary reasons why and they build on each other.
One reason is that we assume that other people already know – or should know – what we’re thinking; which is almost always untrue. How can other people know us unless we show ourselves?
Secondly, we seem to have a fear of the truth. It’s ironic to me that one of our most fundamental needs as human beings is to be seen and heard for who we are but yet we fear rejection if we reveal our authentic selves. And so we tell half-truths, and occasionally complete lies. We say “I’m fine” when it’s obvious that we are not. We say “it’s no big deal” when it really is. We say “I don’t care” when we care a great deal. How can we really be seen when we hide behind a mask? How can we expect to get what we want, and need, if we are unwilling to ask for it?
Thirdly, we repress our emotions until we can’t control them any longer. Most of us learned as children that painful emotions were “ugly” and should not be expressed. But the truth can’t stay buried for long, and unexpressed emotions build up until they boil over. When the scale of silence tips we can lose control and say things that are extreme, hurtful and damaging to ourselves and others. You never really avoid confrontation, you simply postpone it until such time as the pressure is too great and you erupt.
These reasons are particularly true when another person does (or says) something that hurts us. When we’re hurt, upset or irritated we tend to assign blame, make hasty generalizations and assumptions and raise the defense mechanisms. But you have another choice.
Emotions are tools, and like all tools they can be use to build or to destroy. Holding in, or repressing, your true feelings is self-destructive and projecting them unfiltered on another is damaging to them. Both are abusive.
There is a healthy alternative and in each situation you get to choose. You can choose to honor yourself and your relationships by telling the truth, expressing your feelings in a productive and healthy manner and asking for what you want in each and every interaction. That’s communicating with integrity. That’s honoring yourself and others.
Like any new habit it takes some practice to cultivate, but the five-step process I’ve outlined below can help you begin communicating with others in a way that honors both of you and keeps you living in integrity. Why not give it a try the next time you desire to be seen and heard?
- Be clear about your intention. What do you want to accomplish? Your intention is like a compass; it will guide your communication to meet your end goal. Remember that communication is never neutral. Everything you say either nourishes or poisons the other person and your relationship with them. Set the intention to nourish the relationship. Set the intention to remain in your integrity. Set the intention to always tell your truth in love and respect. All actions begin first with a thought and setting the intention will help ensure your actions/words align with your true desire. As Stephen Covey says, every interaction can be a win/win.
- Tell the truth – the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The goal is to establish common ground regarding what has happened (or is happening). Keep these statements emotion free and avoid generalizations such as “always” and “never”. Talk about this particular situation. Also avoid making assumptions. You don’t know why the other person is doing something and they don’t know the impact it is having on you. Keep it simple and stick to the facts.
- Explain how this truth makes you feel. Now is the time to own your feelings about the truth. How do you feel about this situation? What impact does this have on you and your relationship? Share your honest feelings. Use first person pronouns (“I” and “me” not “you”) and active voice. “When this happens, I feel…” or “Because of _____ I feel _____.”
- Seek mutual understanding. Communication is a dance, so give the other person space to tell their truth and explain how they feel. Allow the other person to challenge your understanding of the truth if they disagree, but not your feelings; all feelings are valid – always! Empathize with them and invite them to empathize with you. Ask, “Can you understand how I feel?” Invite them to share their feelings. Ask, “How does hearing this make you feel?” Mirror back what you have heard to see if you comprehend each other.
- Negotiate a mutually beneficial outcome. The first four steps just lay the foundation for this step. It’s time to ask for what you want to have happen going forward. Your request should be reasonable and within the other person’s ability. Aim for common ground here. The goal is not to control or manipulate the other person, but to find a mutually beneficial solution. What productive and healing action steps can you both agree to?
Teaching yourself to engage in productive and healing conversation can avoid countless future problems. Cultivating healthy relationships is just like gardening. When you notice a weed (any painful emotion) the time to extract it is right now! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it will die of its own accord if you ignore it. It won’t. Instead, it will grow and send out deep roots into other parts of your life.
If you’re carrying around old pain, you can also use these techniques to begin the healing process and rebuild a damaged relationship. It’s never too late if you’re willing to do the work.
I hope these tips will help you heal any past injuries you are carrying, and deal with future situations as they arise, in a healthy manner. If you’re hurting anyway, you have nothing to lose – other than the opportunity to lay the burden down. I think it’s worth it.
If you have a damaged relationship that you would like to repair, but don’t know where to begin, you may benefit from assistance. Let me know if I can support you on your journey.
Blessings to you,
M. Todd Null, M.A, CTACC
Spiritual Life Coach
Visit The Well-Tended Life website for more information: www.mtoddnull.com
And be sure to like, and follow, The Well-Tended Life on Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheWellTendedLife