Be Challenged, Be Empowered, Blog

Talk it Out!

Greetings, you bold, brilliant creature you! How is your week going, now that you are surrounding yourself with the Optimistic Ophelias and Hopeful Hectors of the world? I hope you’re finding these positive cheerleaders in your workplaces, your friend circles, and here!

There’s a message I’ve been working to share, and honestly, I’m still learning it myself, so telling other people about it has felt a bit disingenuous. Since the lesson is about communication, now is as good a time as any to get started though, right?!
Maybe I’m alone in this, but I struggle with effective communication. I’ve always been a talker. I don’t know when I started talking really, or what those first few words consisted of, but from the time my parents taught me to say things, people have had a hard time getting me to stop. I used to stroll up to strangers and tell them “I am very articulate” while still wearing jelly shoes and carrying a baby doll.  I consistently wondered why my teachers gave me poor marks in “social behavior” when I was obviously great at behaving socially. Talking is sort of my gig, but from the time I can remember it’s been about more than just taking, I’m about communicating. I want to speak and have my message understood. I want to hear and fully take in the intention of the other person’s message. It’s frustrating to me when an interaction ends and I don’t feel like all the parties understood each other.

Every person, situation and topic presents an opportunity to keep growing this skill. After 25 years working to hone this passion of effective dialog and understanding, sometimes I feel like I don’t know anything. I say the wrong thing. I see that other people take my message the wrong way. I get trapped in that never ending conversation where both parties keep stating their perspectives, back and forth, trapped in a cycle of misunderstanding and lack of willingness to concede.

This feeling that I’m still a Basic Level communicator is the reason that we haven’t talked about the challenges of effective communication before. I’ve written and re-written posts on this topic at least six different times, and yet I still feel like the message isn’t coming across. Like I won’t be understood. But I’ve learned such important things about talking recently, and they’ve changed things in my life for the better.

Talking is usually better than not talking. Committing to someone else enough to keep the conversation going when you feel like things aren’t going your way creates an opportunity for things to get better. telling your friends when the things they say are hurtful is the only way to build a true relationship.

Talking on the phone is always going to be more effective than texting, and across the table will always be better than on the phone. It’s just true. It’s not just because I’m not 16 any more, or because I don’t like technology. It’s because something like 75% of communication is not based on the words said. You know why emojis exist? Because texting isn’t as good as talking on the phone or face to face. I have found huge freedom and power in picking up the phone. I get a weird text? I’m learning to pick up the phone. Someone has tough news? I wanna hear their voice and have them hear mine. People who only text, get over it. I want to be your genuine friend, so I need to genuinely communicate.

You know what’s hugely empowering? Telling someone that interrupting you is rude. Telling them that you aren’t able to say your piece if they talk over you. Letting someone know that you don’t want them to spend your whole conversation being negative. Telling the people you care about the best way for them to communicate with you isn’t lame or bossy or rude or being overly sensitive. It’s investing in the relationship, and showing people how you would like to be treated. Expect some return messages about areas in your life that need improvement…

One of the most challenging and honestly empowering things that I’ve learned in this area is the Biblical idea of meekness. I once heard meekness described as having power, and choosing not to use it. Having the argument winning zinger and not saying it. Thinking of the perfect solution to all your friend’s problems and choosing just to be present and not give your advice. It’s letting someone else tell the punchline to the joke, even though you know it. Meekness is letting someone else tell the story, even though their details are a little foggy. It’s letting someone be exuberant about a cupcake while you’re telling yourself the nutritional information. It’s letting the conversation flow in a different direction when you just thought of something to add. Meekness isn’t letting yourself get trampled. It isn’t being a pushover, or not getting your needs met. Meekness is allowing others to have the right of way, even when you could take it. Even when it’s yours to take. It’s about balance, and when you can add even a bit of it to your attempts at communication, it can make a world of difference.

The bottom line is that great communication takes vulnerability. It requires a give and take in equal measure. It takes listening with the intention of understanding someone’s message and the feeling wrapped in the words. Effective communication requires willingness to let others think what they will about you as you ask questions and speak your piece. Communicating is one of the first skills we add to our lives, and one we’ll never stop learning.

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