Whatever word you think I’m referring to here, you’re likely to be wrong. The C word I’m thinking of today is “communication”. It’s the most vital element of healthy relationships. In fact, without it, relationships cannot begin or be maintained. And, of course, it’s something many of us struggle with.
We communicate from the moment we’re born, first with cries and yells, then with either spoken words, written words, sign language, or body movements. We’re remarkably direct for the first years of our lives. We know how to communicate in order to get our needs met. Then, at some point, direct communication becomes more difficult. For some of us, an inner critic develops, challenging us to “say the right thing or they might not like you”. For others of us, the voices in our home or school environment are so loud and dominating that they drown out our own voice leading to the development of an inner voice that says, “Why bother?”. Either way, direct communication becomes difficult. Asserting our needs becomes difficult. And developing and sustaining healthy relationships becomes nearly impossible.
As I use my personal life and my work with clients to reflect on the word “communication” this week, I recognize some important lessons I’ve learned that have helped me communicate better and improve my relationships:
1. Communication requires time and effort. Direct communication (overcoming the voice of the inner critic) is not easy, but it is a skill that gets easier with practice.
2. Communicating is as much about listening (actively attending and reflecting back what you understand) as it is about speaking/writing/signing.
3. Communication should involve ownership of one’s feelings and thoughts. For example, “People are so annoying” is less direct than “I feel annoyed by someone who let the door slam in my face this morning as I was coming in to work.”
4. Despite the advances in modern technology, the best way to be sure your message is being understood is by communicating in person. Texts, emails, and facebook posts leave a lot up to interpretation (unless you abuse emoticons!).
5. The healthiest relationships involve communication about things that are going well, in addition to things that are challenging. This requires an attitude of gratitude and a willingness to notice and reflect back to the other person the positives, no matter how small they may seem.
I’m in the business of listening to and communicating with others, but I still occasionally struggle with direct communication. I hope these lessons help you as much as they’ve helped me.
Peace, joy, and health,