I wish there was a way I could bypass all the struggling to find just the right words and instead just transfer my thoughts directly into some one else’s brain. Just think of all the misunderstandings it would alleviate. Instantly gone would be all those stupid fights over pretty much nothing. Friendships would be saved. Unnecessary hurts resulting from what they thought they heard me say or do… gone forever.
Why’s it gotta be so hard to communicate? I’ve had these questions rattling around in my head more times than I can count… “How in the world did they get that from what I said? Wow! Don’t they know me at all? That’s not at all what I meant. I’m not a heartless jerk for heaven’s sake.”
I don’t want to give up on authentic communication in my relationships, but come on, I’ve gotta admit it, being real can be downright scary. Sometimes it makes me want to stay locked inside my house, unplugged from my phone, my internet and everyone attached to it – and never open my mouth again. But, while I might be able to close and lock my front door, I know the odds definitely don’t look good for me to keep my mouth closed permanently. So…where’s the line?
You know that invisible line in conversation? The one you’re not supposed to cross? Apparently, I’m conversationally near-sighted when it comes to that stupid line. It seems I never see it coming ’til I’m already tripping over it, getting all tangled up in misunderstandings. It’s then and only then, that I find myself tongue-tied. Seriously.
To muddy the conversational waters even more, there’s those darn emotions that come bursting forth out of nowhere, gushing muck all over the place. At that point, it’s impossible for me or the other person to see anything clearly. By the time the emotional tides finally subside, we’ve floated so far downstream, there’s hardly a way to get back to the neutral ground where the talk actually began. The relationship begins to sink.
And all of this, because of something I said (or did) that someone else didn’t understand. Ugh!
Sometimes, they just don’t get it.
So what can I do? How can I grow closer to others, being honest and authentic yet without risking that other part? How do I avoid the misunderstandings? The relational mine fields? The drama?
Well, I know what I’m not gonna to do. I still refuse to tell others only what they want to hear – just so they’ll be happy with me. If I have to choose between being honest and being popular, it’s not a hard choice for me. Let’s just say I wasn’t voted most popular in high school. But honestly, (excuse the pun) isn’t ‘being honest’ the right thing to do? I mean, no one wants to be lied to, right? So what is the problem?
I just don’t get it. Hey…wait a minute.
We all know for relationships to grow, there needs to be a foundation of rock solid trust. Without trust, we have just a couple of people shooting the breeze with no attachment or investment – which really isn’t a relationship at all. So we know trust is a must. And for trust to exist, there needs to be honesty, right? I think we can all agree on this. So, here’s my dilemma: If I want to have these close relationships with others, and I know trust and honesty are vital, how then do I make sure I’m heard and understood correctly and avoid the miscommunication? How do I handle the tough subjects? How do I help the other person see the truth? How do I approach the unpleasant things that need to be said, and convey them in a way that won’t start a war between us? How do I make others see the light of what my heart really means?
What I’m finding in my life is, it actually begins with me (darn it!) The first thing I need to realize, if I want authentic relationship, is I must drop the idea that I can make anyone think or believe anything. The minute I’m focused on trying to make someone believe something, I’ve moved from communication into manipulation. Oh, that’s an ugly word. Don’t believe me? Okay, here’s an online definition of the word manipulation: to use or change (numbers, information, etc.) in a skillful way or for a particular purpose. Ouch.
I’ve found (yet obviously haven’t perfected) that to communicate effectively, I must first place myself in the other person’s shoes. Where is my listener coming from? Does she trust my intentions towards her? What pain and betrayal is in his past that colors his view and alters how he hears me? Do I have what it takes to be patient and not become touchy and easily offended as they sort through those feelings? And what does this person know of my character and my authentic feelings towards him or her? Does she believe I have her best interests in mind or does she suspect I have a secret agenda? Does he fear manipulation? If I care, I have a responsibility to others to be mindful of these things as we communicate with each other.
So, here’s the shocker that I’ve found to be true: the key to becoming an effective communicator in my relationships is not found in talking more, spelling it out, or yelling louder. No, not at all. Surprisingly, it’s found in authentic listening to the heart of the other person and then remembering it. I must seek to know and understand where their heart has traveled and who has stepped on it, long before the day I struck up this conversation. This is where that dauntingly invisible line resides, the one I’ve so often had a tendency to miss.
When I have something difficult to say, I need to remember that I too have an altered view based on my past. With that in mind, if I know that what I’m about to convey will be particularly hard to hear, I must be conscious to wrap my words in love. It is possible to convey a strong message but choose to use a humble and tender touch. No one ever responds positively from being verbally bullied or hammered on the head, right? So why do that? So the next time, before I say anything, I can take a moment to think about the words I’ll use, but more importantly, I must choose to remember the heart of my listener and think of how it will sound through their ears.
In my life, as I unfold this beautiful gift package called authentic relationship, I am learning that I, indeed, just don’t get it. At least not right away. It’s going to take a conscious choice on my part to put myself aside for a moment and slip on those shoes of that precious person in front of me. Authentically true relationship with others will require time, patience, nurturing and selflessness to grow into the beautiful thing we all desire. In time, if we’re patient we will get it. And I believe it’s definitely worth the wait.