We often struggle to find the right words, the right time, the proper tone, maintain patience, listen with non-judgement and exude empathy toward the other. A communication breakdown results in irritation, blow ups, and sadly, a relationship that may be worse off than it was before the talking began. We walk away feeling unheard, unreceived, and often just stuck.
Failed conversations suck.
It doesn’t take long for the negative experience of a few poor conversations to set in, before we create personal beliefs about what it means to communicate to and with another human.
We begin to picture that being honest or expressing my personal feelings and viewpoints means conflict, and we feel cornered. And when we feel cornered our adrenal glans kick in, pumping cortisol (the flight or fight chemical) through our system, pushing blood away from our brains and toward our extremities, preparing us for battle—making enemies out of the very people we’re supposed to be working things out with.
And when someone becomes an enemy, they are (to us) not on our side. They are a thing to run or defend yourself from, or attack and dominate. And we quickly adopt the two basic forms of unhealth in communication: passivity and aggression.
And, we usually feel and become the victim. Most people, even the aggressive communicators, feel they are the one being wronged and mistreated. But with a clear mind and some space, we know that it can’t just be that everyone we talk to sucks at communicating to us. We know we play a part.
So why do we suck at communicating?
There’s a reason we are poor communicators to each other. And it’s not because we, or they, are selfish, angry, indifferent or lazy. The problem is not what it appears. There is a reason…
People who don’t communicate well with others, don’t communicate well with themselves.
Communication involves two basic functions to transfer information back and forth: receiving and sending, or, listening and talking.
We don’t listen well to others because we’re not good at listening to ourselves.
We don’t talk well to others because we don’t talk well to and with ourselves.
How confusing, you think.
You talk to yourself all the time, right?
You know exactly how you feel, right?
We confuse obsessing over a mental picture to being clear communicators. We think we know what we feel, need and want because we’ve spent countless hours and days bitching about it. But, in fact, people who obsess and anger and bitch are actually, generally, unaware of what they’re really feeling. They’re communicating to themselves—poorly.
I heard a girl give a talk a while back. Since hearing this talk I’ve called this girl—a bitch. (This is poor communication on my part; poor to the listener, but first, poor to myself)
If you asked me why I call her a bitch, I would start to list some reasons: specific things she said, her body language, tone, facial expressions, ideas I thought were harmful or distasteful or maybe that I just disagreed with. If you were a good listener/communicator, you would reflect back to me something like this, “So, what I hear you saying, Ronnie, is that you once heard a girl give a talk who said somethings you disagreed with in a tone that didn’t sit well with you. She had views you thought were harmful or tainted and it bothered you that someone with such views should have the air time to spread them around the room to other people, especially kids.”
“Mm hmm. Yes that sounds correct.” I would say, feeling heard, and also now a little sheepish. And then the really great listener would kindly help me see something—I was originally unaware of how I really felt.
When we’re unaware of how we really feel, we generalize. When we generalize, our subconscious has no choice but to fill in the blanks with assumptions. And, even though we’re all little angels, it’s almost impossible for our reptilian brain to always assume the best and fill in warm, fuzzy details. No, it normally, because our fight or flight mechanism is engaged, adds negativity and fear and chaos to the mix. Because of the lack of detail and clarity, my brain places the experience in a general category. A category associated with negative feelings and things I disagree with. In this case, because of what I experienced, and because I didn’t slow down to think clearly about it all, my conclusion was—that girls a bitch.
Now, of course. That’s unfair, right? I’m being judge mental, right? I’m being my own version of a bitch, right? Right. But it’s actually wrong.
See, what often comes off to us as insensitivity, or pig-headedness, or anger, or bigotry, or racism, or hostility, is really one word—UNCLARITY.
We do this to ourselves day in and day out. We often miscommunicate to ourselves, way before we miscommunicate to someone else.
And this is one of the reasons conversations go south so quickly—two people who don’t speak to themselves clearly, interact and don’t speak to each other clearly.
WORK ON OURSELVES.
The problem is mostly-largely-almost entirely not the other person. It’s us.
Here’s a couple quick things to do to have better conversations with yourself.
1. CLARITY—Talk to yourself. When you’re angry or upset or sad or confused, ask yourself why? Have a conversation with you; as if you were a different person than yourself. Do it out loud. It’s ok! It might sound funny, but it works. Then answer your own question and try to be specific. Describe the details. Don’t just say, “That dude insulted me and is such an asshole!” Instead try, “That man had slanted eyes when we spoke loudly to me. He was breathing heavily. He then commented on my mothers weight. And I’m pretty certain he’s never even met her.” It might sound funny. But try it. A small trick is to pretend you’re being an author to your feeling or the circumstance. Your job is to describe something to someone in the audience who wasn’t there. Remember: generalizing is bad story telling. Use descriptive details.
2. DISTANCE—Talk in third person. When you have a problem. Pay attention to the words you use. Most people talk about their thoughts, feelings and experiences in a way that sets them up for failure. We use possessive words when describing things like “my cup of coffee,” “my shower,” “my day,” “my problem.” When we use possessive terms it attaches it to us and makes us feel less empowered to do something about it. It creates a closeness to the item or subject that makes it harder to think clear. Instead of “my problem is,” try “the issue I see is.” Or “I felt,” instead try “the feeling was.” This creates a healthy distance in which you can look at a feeling from outside yourself, helping you think clearer, analyze, observe and feel less emotionally connected to.
3. TONE—sing to yourself. Lastly, think about the tone you talk to yourself with. The first two points can help you become more specific and understand and observe feelings from a better distance, the third is about how—once the sentence is formed—you say it. Many of us speak in a snappy, harsh, quick, accelerated, demeaning, condescending tone to ourselves. The voice in our head—especially when we’re experiencing a failure or frustration—can be the combined voice of all the times in our life we failed, we’re corrected as a child, messed up, we’re embarrassed etc. Try thinking of a lullaby, grace, calmness, kindness, of a tone you would accept with ease and even invite to sit with for a while. Talk to yourself in an inviting and encouraging tone. Imagine this statement with the letters capitalized and the exclamation emphasis, “TONY, CALM DOWN!” Now picture an angel, “Tony…calm down.” One would increase the chances of not calming down, one would actually help Tony to calm down. For many of us, if you don’t do it, who will? Many of us snap at one another because we’ve been snapping at ourselves since we woke up. Your internal voice is the one you’re stuck with, well, forever. So make it a good one. Tune the dial. Change the tone. Just practice. Say something super sweet and soft and warm to yourself and just see how it feels. “It’s ok you messed up. You have a good heart. I forgive you.” That can be a life changer, just softly saying to yourself out loud, “I forgive you.”
If we can start there, with us, inside our heads, with our voice, learning to be clear and accurate and kind, we can then move forward finding the grace and ability and speak better to others.
Hope this connected and helps today.
Peace and Love.