As we muddle our way through this unique time in our lives, the notion of communication has come up so many times. Rest assured, this is not a post about politics, media, or anything (hopefully) controversial. On the contrary, I want to share that I truly believe in the power of effective communication, enough so that I wrote a book on it several years ago. I have learned a great deal since 2012, when that book was first published. Some tenets of the book are simply common sense, but then I ask myself, "Then why are we still struggling with them??" I think it is because we need reminders or we will slide back into our own bad habits. I'll highlight three of the points I feel are most important:
1. If it isn't helpful or kind or (I don't know if it is) true, I have no business sharing it:
I have learned this lesson the hard way. You know the scenario. Someone says something or I hear something on the news or I read something in a magazine, and I commit the critical error of repeating it to another person. What's the real problem? I might have heard something, but that doesn't mean it is true, and it certainly might not be kind or helpful. I work a pretty amazing spiritual program that encourages me to examine that principle to the fullest extent. I actually have a great spiritual advisor who reminds me that it is absolutely none of my business what other people think about me, as they are going to form their own opinions of me regardless. But I am pretty sure I can lean people to my dark side if I get caught up in any of the drama or spectacle my part could play in it. So, for the most part, I follow this "rule of thumb" pretty closely.
2. Listen to each other versus listening to get ready to respond:
I have fallen victim to this from both ends. Imagine you are out to dinner. Wow, maybe I should just leave that out there for a moment----imagine that you get to go out to dinner----some are still waiting months to do that. Just go down that road with me. Imagine you are out to dinner with a group of friends, masks or no masks, depending on the decade. You get into a conversation about politics (even though you had tried putting the kabash on all things political), and people begin talking over one another. It seems to me that, at this point, whether the topic is politics, religion, white privilege or how to potty train your child, people have begun talking to hopefully convince others that their own way is the highway. What I really think, internally, is that we do it to validate or internalize our own belief systems (like, I need to keep saying it out loud so I can continue to believe in this myth I've held true all my life, possibly). But what if....just what if...we listened to learn another person's truth and to welcome it? I am not saying I am any expert at this, by any means, but I will say I am trying to practice it. Why? Because what if...just what if...that myth I've been holding onto my entire life (or perhaps since I earned the right to vote) might need a tune-up or a fresh way of viewing things? Only through truly listening to another's truth would it be possible to accept or admit that I am changing my mind about my own myths. And change can lead to transformation, right? I always tell my adult participants with whom I'm blessed to work that "when I quit learning, I am going to quit teaching". And yet, every single time I teach, I learn something new----a new strategy, a new way of viewing something I have held true in my career, or even something new about myself. Therefore, as I grapple with all these new learnings, it is highly unlikely I will quit teaching for quite some time.
3. Relationships are seldom improved by emails and texts:
This is a truth I am still constantly learning. It is a lesson I can say "I've got this now", and then suddenly, I am sucked into the vortex of "Oh crum, I did it again!!" Imagine the scenario in which you want to share some information with someone or ask a question. You email the person, explaining your position, and then asking a question which seems innocuous to you. And yet...the person on the receiving end is not inside your head or your heart and they have other things going on with themselves. Perhaps they just had a trail of emails that made them defensive. Your email ends up being the straw that breaks that camel's back, bringing that proverbial came,l to its knees. The person fires back an email to you laced with sarcasm and/or passive aggressiveness. And so it continues. What lessons have I learned from scenarios like this?
a. Get off the dance floor. Do not feed the beast. If someone engages in an email war, it will not be won by anyone via email. Simply quit the dance and try a new way of communicating.
b. I seem to have a short memory, as I do this every so often despite knowing it might not turn out well
c. Picking up the phone is a great alternative, as we can then hear expressions in people's voices, subtle innuendos that put us at peace, whereas the written word carries too many connotations that can be misconstrued in a negative fashion.
d. Honesty is the best policy. If I make a mistake, I need to own up to it. For example, "I am so sorry I said 'XYZ'. It was not my intent for it to come off in any hurtful manner, but I can certainly see how it might have done the very thing I was trying to avoid." You notice the missing word? "BUT". The word "but" negates every single thing I said before. For instance, "I am so sorry I said 'XYZ', but you really shouldn't have fired back with the sarcasm either." What's the difference? Night and day, as far as I'm concerned.
Just for today, perhaps we might consider the way we say things and how we want our relationships with people to be nurtured. I can honestly say I love my friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances through work and play; I would never intentionally hurt anyone through my communication. But the fact remains that we likely need these reminders to be more effective in our communication. I know that, having written this blog, I will be more cognizant of my verbal and written words for a while, at least until that time in which the same issue crops up again, and I'll have to blog to atone for my sins again.