After 15 years of therapy, one of the major takeaways is the importance of communication and it’s a skill that’s taken me years to adopt.
I hate fights, and for a long time, I felt that clearly communicating my feelings, wants and needs was going to automatically result in all hell freezing over with whomever I needed to have a conversation with. To this day, I still feel a pang of fear over expressing my thoughts/feelings/views on something, that may differ to the person I’ll be talking to. But I’ve come to learn that, for the most part, people respond well to open and calm communication.
I’m the first to admit that some conversations are incredibly tough. We skirt around the subject, avoiding it, hoping it’ll somehow fix itself, but really there’s only one way and it’s through. The older I get, the less time I use delaying a conversation. I think the art of communication is about how you deliver a message, not necessarily what the message is. If you adopt a stern and aggressive manner, you’re likely to get it thrown back at you, or at least be met with a negative response. I don’t think I’ve ever in my life responded well to someone shouting a message at me. I am incapable of shouting back. The words get stuck in my mouth and the sentences get jumbled in my brain. It’s like my brain and my tongue fail to function together in these moments. It’s a paralyzing feeling, and so I just end up responding with silence. It probably comes as no surprise to hear that I absolutely despise these types of situations, so I started practicing clear and calm communication.
Psychology 101, go into conversations with an “I” approach: “I feel…” sentences mean you avoid being accusative. As my therapist has pointed out to me when I talk about conversations where I’ve felt extremely criticized: few people respond to criticism, so it’s a terrible way to lead a conversation.
I recently came across the term “triangulating”. It’s when you speak to others about a problem you’re having with someone, rather than the person you’re having the problem with. It really resonated with me because I think most of us adopt this method of airing our frustrations. However, most times, it really is best having that tough conversation. Sometimes, I’ll listen to person A talk about their frustrations over person B. Then later person B will come and air their frustrations to me about person A and you realize that the issues are born out of lack of communication and could easily be solved if they’d sit down and talk to one another. Easier said than done, I know.
Learning how to communicate wasn’t just about the “big” conversations, it was also in terms of voicing my desires. Here, the blog post I wrote on being able to say “no” comes in mind. I used to be really bad at declining invitations to things I knew I didn’t want to go to. I feared saying “no” would make me a bad family member/friend/colleague. When I started learning how to be better at communicating, or rather, learnt how to stop being so fearful of the consequences of being honest, I dipped my toes in the water with these sorts of scenarios. I’d politely decline invitations. Please note the word “polite” here. Like I said, it matters how a message is delivered.
I think the most important part, for me, about good communication, is being able to expel the stress in my body. I find that if there’s an issue I’m having with someone, the longer I let the issue go on, the more uninhabitable my body becomes. Being able to say what I feel is like letting poison seep out. I might not get the response I want when I finally have the conversation, but at least I honoured myself and can make a clear decision on how to proceed.