Do you feel heard? When you interact with your spouse, kids, parents, siblings, friends, do you get the results you seek? Is there satisfaction and understanding in your communication, or do you feel like you have the same frustrations and complaints over and over again?
Consider that when you change, the people in your life have no choice but to change. Human relationships are a dance: when you change your steps, your partner cannot do the same old dance, or you will trip over each other. Take a moment to think about your relationships. Do you find yourself often saying, “If I do this, inevitably they will do _________ (fill in the blank)?” We know the dance, but can we change it?
Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” which is also true for the change you wish to see in your relationships’ communication.
Let’s start by breaking it down. Effective communication is a key component to healthy relationships, and it starts with you. What is your communication style? Do you speak your truth or act it out? Do you deny what you need or secretly wish your partner had a crystal ball? If you have the desire to communicate with integrity, the first step is to acknowledge what you need to change.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and think. How do you communicate in your relationships? Are you passive? Do you withhold in anger instead of saying what’s on your mind? Do you exaggerate and shout using “ALWAYS” and “NEVER” statements that can’t possibly be true? Do you minimize your own feelings? Is everything always “OK” and “FINE” with you, which is, again, not possible? Were you taught that being honest is rude? Are you a martyr who never says anything to change an unfulfilling interaction yet holds bitterness about it? Remember, you alone are responsible for how you communicate in your relationships.
There are only two ways to communicate: effectively and ineffectively. Below is a comprehensive list of communication characteristics. Take a look and see what resonates.
- Indirect: not getting to the point; never clearly stating intention
- Passive: timid, reserved
- Antagonistic: angry, aggressive, or hostile tone
- Cryptic: underlying message obscured and requires interpretation
- Hidden: true agenda never directly stated
- Non-Verbal: communicated through body language and behaviors rather than words
- One-Way: more talking than listening
- Unresponsive: little interest in the perspective or needs of the other person
- Off-Base: responses and needs of the other person are misunderstood and misinterpreted
- Dishonest: false statements are substituted for true feelings, thoughts, and needs
- Direct: to the point; leaving no doubt as to meaning
- Assertive: not afraid to state what is wanted or why
- Congenial: affable and friendly
- Clear: underlying issues are articulately expressed
- Open: no intentionally hidden messages
- Verbal: clear language used to express ideas
- Two-Way: equal amounts of talking and listening
- Responsive: attention paid to the needs and perspective of the other person
- Honest: true feelings, thoughts, and needs are stated
Create a snap shot of your communication style. If it is not what you want it to be, what right action are you willing to take to make it better? Can you allow yourself to be vulnerable or try something different?
I had an epiphany about my power to change my own communication snap shot when I was in college.
I had always been sorely disappointed with my business-like relationship with my father. He was successful and dutiful, but distant and chilly.
I was the fourth-born daughter to this star athlete who longed for a son. His communication snap shot looked like this: If he wanted you to close your car window, he would point at you and motion the “roll up window” sign. My sisters and I were all afraid of him, and he rarely spoke. After blaming him for years with no satisfaction, I found a wonderful therapist who helped me realize that the only choice I had was to change the way I communicated and interacted with him. So, I faced my fear of being vulnerable and spoke my truth.
Trust me, it was awkward at first, but with time and consistent effort, things changed, and we changed. I am forever grateful. He responded positively to my shift, and my fear fantasy of abandonment was not realized. We developed a relationship that thrilled me and puzzled my sisters. The therapist helped me realize that my father did love me, and although his love did not come in the warm and fuzzy package I had fantasized about, it was still valid. She challenged me to feel loved by things like college tuition, a used car, and his inevitable final shout to “buckle up!” as I drove off. I learned to ask him for what I needed emotionally. This is not to say he could always do it, but my healing came from my right action of honoring my truth. My father died suddenly at the age of sixty-one, and I was left with no regrets and a mountain of gratitude.
What relationships in your life need a communication overhaul? How do you want to communicate in your life? Now that you have a place to start, make a list of what is not working. Then, make a list of what right action YOU need to take to change that relationship and DO IT! You being authentically self-expressed = self-love. This right action creates the possibility of real intimacy. How can people love you if they don’t know you? Dysfunctional communication separates us from the people we love. Explore your truth then speak it LOUDLY.
You can do it and are worth it!
Love Love Love
Terri Cole, founder and CEO of Live Fearless and Free, is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. For almost two decades, Terri has empowered companies, celebrities, professional athletes and individuals to Live Fearless and Free. Follow Terri on Twitter @terri_cole.