I am often reminded of the song from The Music Man “Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little…” It seems that’s how conversations tend to go these days: a whole lot of talking but very little communication.
I will be the first to admit that at times, my communication skills weren’t always what they should have been. I was quiet when I should have spoken and sometimes too vocal when silence may have been the better option. While these actions (or inactions) didn’t always have negative consequences, there were a few times when things became way out of control. And I am sure you can guess, things never needed to be that way.
I read a “Humans of New York” (HONY) story recently where a gentleman from Brazil spoke about his struggles with addiction. He finishes his story by saying: “I don’t mind talking about it. I am embarrassed by it, but it happened…it was humiliating, but it’s also the reason I am able to sit on this bench–calm, relaxed and not thinking about drugs.”
If this man can share his story and show his face for millions to read and see, why are we so fearful of conversation? Is it pride? Is it the fear of admitting we may have jumped the gun, made inaccurate assumptions, or heaven forbid, we were just plain wrong? Or most likely, are we afraid what others will think of us?
What are we hiding? Have we lead others to believe that we aren’t really at all who we say that we are? Perhaps we have lied about money, health, sexual orientation, or addictions. Perhaps we have lied about or covered up our pasts: maybe as victims, maybe as perpetrators. We also withhold information, sharing just enough to make it seem like the conversation truly happened, when in fact it never occurred at all. Maybe, it’s insecurity, ego, pride, a need to be right or in control, false bravado, or the fact we really don’t know what we are doing and are too ashamed to admit this fact.
I have shared in previous posts that a large part of my healing and correcting negative behaviors came from sharing my story. It was mortifying and humiliating to tell one person at a time, let alone stand in front of an audience made up of family, friends and total strangers. But that’s exactly what I did and each time I shared the story, it became easier because the shame of failing became less and less thereby allowing strength and wisdom to become greater and more abundant. Do not be afraid of the difficult conversations!
Dr. Brene Brown teaches us about embracing our vulnerability and sharing our stories with others. In doing so, we remove the guilt and shame, we clear the air, we reduce the mountains back to mole hills, and we show our respect, civility, friendship or love for the others involved. We may inspire others to learn from and not repeat our mistakes.
On the other hand, we shouldn’t be talking just to talk. The whole world doesn’t need to know every minute detail of our lives. The whole world doesn’t need to know if you are bi-sexual, gay, bi-racial, have some naughty fantasies, or still have your stuffed animal from childhood, love unicorns or you think Big Foot is real, etc. These things only matter to you (living your authentic true self) and those directly impacted such as a spouse, partner, maybe a child or other close/friends and family as necessary.
If someone does feel you are important enough to hear their story, please do not dismiss, judge, torment, or try to change them (unless of course they are at risk of harming themselves of others). If you determine someone is important enough to hear your story, consider the consequences of sharing. You may lose some friends and even family in the process. You must decide if that risk is important enough. This doesn’t mean you can’t live authentically, it simply may mean not everyone will stick around to support you. This is often because they are afraid of the unknown. My hope is that people would be gracious enough to try and understand the real you even if they don’t accept some of your beliefs; just be prepared as we know that is not always a reasonable expectation.
This naturally leads into the other important component: communication is only successful if we truly listen. This means listening to understand not just to reply. It means listening with our full attention to the person speaking and not drifting off thinking about lunch or the 50 things on our to do lists. We should be gracious enough to let the other finish speaking before we respond. Sometimes, yes, we all need to shut up and listen!
Mastering the art of communication is a commitment we should all undertake. So how do we get started? Jim Rohn offers these tips:
1. Choose words wisely: avoid the negative, use positive, optimistic words of strength. Use colorful words that help the listener to better understand what you are trying to convey
2. Mix vocabulary according to the audience. This is in no way speaking down or up to anyone, it’s simply understanding the needs of the audience.
3. Tone, pace and volume are as important as the words. Variety is key.
4. Show emotion without becoming emotional. This doesn’t mean we can’t display anger, sadness, excitement or tenderness, it’s simply being in control of them to powerfully convey our thoughts.
5. Enunciate. This is key to getting our point across (especially with a mumbling teenager).
Equally as important is what we don’t say, those non-verbal clues and queues:
6. Using your hands: if you don’t use them, you may appear too stiff, if you use them too much, you be distracting. Find the balance.
7. Arms: A sure fire way to turn some off before even beginning a conversation is by crossing your arms. This action demonstrates close-mindedness, fear and opposition. Relax!!!
8. Position and posture: Sit or kneel, draw people in to you.
In my opinion, number 9 is the most important: Eyes!
The eyes are the window to the soul. Look at the person during communication. Doing so shows importance. Give attention and listen with both eyes and ears.
The next step is to have mindful, meaningful, true connection conversations. The goal is not to be “me-centric” but to bring out the best in the other person. Before we say something, think “would I want that said to me”? If not, it’s probably best not to say it (again, some situations warrant very tough, harsh words, and that is a different topic). As Dorothy Nevill states, “The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”
While technology has greatly improved our lives, it has led to the downfall of true connection and communication. It’s easy to be negative, harassing, non-complimentary and to stir up trouble hiding behind a computer screen. It’s easy to send a message via text or email, but lost is the tone and true nature of the message. People are in such a hurry, I fear all we do is talk but not connect. As for fear, we’ll we need to get over that too and have the difficult conversations. Having the courage to do so may actually surprise you and provide more positive results than you may have anticipated.
“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, or to humble.” ~ Yehuda Berg
This week, the challenge is to truly connect with someone! Write a heartfelt letter and actually mail it to a special person or to pick up the phone and have a meaningful, not trivial conversation, or to meet someone face to face and give each other equal and undivided attention.
Mastering the art of conversation, engaging in thoughtful, meaningful dialogue and ditching the technology now and then and going “old school” may just be something that can begin to heal the world one relationship at a time.