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Find The Words To Say What You Mean

Terri-Cole-head-shot-120711The theme of communication seems to be recurring a lot lately. As a therapist, I see that the root of many people’s pain is ineffective communication skills. Developing stronger communication skills, at any age, improves quality of life overall, as you are better able to handle work, home, and social situations.

Today, I want to explore another barrier to effective communication—speaking your truth or, simply, talking straight.

The difference here is that you are not acting out—you are actually speaking—but you are not saying what you mean. You speak in code, meta messages, and skirt around what you actually want and then become frustrated because you are not getting what you desire.

I want you to take an honest look at your language. Do you say: “I’m really upset about something, and I’d like to talk about it,” or do you walk around acting angry. Do you express your desires by saying, “I have a simple request” or ”I need more help with ______________.” or do you expect the other person to just know? When you are angry with your partner, do you say so, or do you pick a fight about something else (again, not saying what is true but still releasing the pressure valve on your anger). These are all common examples of dysfunctional communication. And these behaviors sabotage any real problem solving effort since no one, including you, actually knows what is really causing the upset.

This week, I want to challenge you to talk straight.

Gaining clarity about how you feel, what you want, and what you need is the beginning of knowing how to talk straight. The next step is expressing your truth, with no need to justify, defend, or convince. You have to start every interaction with the hope that your needs will be met and a willingness to compromise. A healthy sense of self is directly connected to your ability to communicate what is true and real for you. This sense of self is not dependent on how the other person responds. The most important piece of this behavioral puzzle is you having the courage to honor you. There will always be instances where we do not get our needs met or where we do not fulfill another person’s wants from us, so learning how to gracefully say and receive “no” is also a component of straight talking.

I learned this lesson when I was about to finish graduate school at NYU to become a therapist. My father was retired and living in Florida and disliked being in New York City. I wanted him to attend my graduation ceremony but told my therapist there was no point to inviting him because he would say no. I was intimidated by my father and had a hard time communicating with him.

The therapist helped me understand that my healing would come from having the courage to honor my truth, not from whether he agreed to attend the ceremony or not. I went to visit him, and although I was shaking in my flip flops, I invited him. He said, “Oh Ter, I can’t deal with New York.” and I said, “Ok.” and then he said, “Here comes the guilt,” which shocked me and opened the door for me to talk straight for the first time with him.

I responded, “Dad, no guilt. Mom will be there, and Kath [my sister] will be there with a one-week-old baby, but neither of them are you. You are my only father. No one can ever take your place. But honestly, I understand, and I’m not mad.” That interaction liberated me and profoundly changed our relationship.

He died suddenly less than a year later, and I remain incredibly grateful I spoke straight from my heart while I had the chance.

I hope my story inspires you to take the challenge. Your happiness and the quality of your relationships to others and yourself deserve the truth.

I hope you have an amazing week and, as always, take care of you.

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.

  • joiseygrrl

    Great article!

    • terri cole

      Thank you! <3

  • Tracy McMicking

    Hi Terri, I have been so guilty of this, not communicating and acting out instead. I used to get really caught up in fear about how the other person would respond because I didn’t know how to say what I needed to say without being critical and feeling sorry for myself.

    Once I learned how to own my feelings started practicing healthy communication styles I was able to begin saying what was true for me in a non confrontational way. It is an ongoing practice of being mindful and responsible. It is so freeing to talk straight, it is a gift to myself and everyone in my life. We have the right to speak what is true for us in a way that honor us and the other. It helps us set healthy boundaries and expectations all around. Thanks for this.

    • terri cole

      So true, Tracy! Thank you so much for sharing! Xo.

  • ron

    This is good. I’m usually okay being truthful to my family members because they already know almost everything around me, but i’m afraid of being truthful to strangers and acquaintances because I don’t want to embarrass myself, do you have any suggestions for this problem?

    • terri cole

      Thank you for your comment. Honesty in social situations is different
      than honesty in intimate relationships, so I understand your question. It
      sounds like you fear being judged by people you don’t know well. If you speak your truth politely
      and from the 1st person, I do not believe you will embarrass yourself. Try
      it. I know you can do it! <3

  • Lissette

    Terri, I am glad that you were able to “talk straight” with your dad before he died. I too had a problem talking with my dad, due to some issues growing up. Unfortunately for me, I was at my father’s bedside a couple of days before he died and I still did not have the courage to say what I really wanted to say to him. That was many years ago and I still have some regret, but try to forgive myself. I agree with you that we should be true to ourselves and our relationships with others even if we are afraid, or think that it may not turn out the way we want.

    • terri cole

      Thank you for sharing your story. I have no doubt that your
      father now knows how you feel. I want to suggest a writing exercise that
      may help release feelings of regret. Write a letter to your father
      saying everything you wished you had said before he passed away and
      then read that letter to a close friend so those feelings can be
      witnessed. Your healing comes from honoring how you really feel. Xo

  • Teresa

    Fantastic!!! Thanks for sharing:-)

    • terri cole

      So glad you enjoyed! Have a beautiful weekend <3

  • Lorna

    Great article Terri! So important for us to all speak our truth. I went through so many years just expecting other people to meet my needs. My loved ones are not mind readers and the only way I have any chance of getting what I want and need is to say something.

    • terri cole

      Yes yes yes, Lorna!!!! xoxo

  • anonymous

    I have been trying for years to communicate straight. I have subconsciously chosen only friends who are relatively healthy communicators. Somehow I find myself in a relationship with someone who is dysfunctional. I am always trying to see where I’m wrong, and to compromise. The biggest challenge for me is to say what I want, going into it having hope. There have been too many times when I thought I said what I needed in a straightforward but kind way, and it has met with agitation, anger… refusal to see my point of view. I really can’t believe I am in this situation, as I’ve avoided it for about 20 years, and have tried so hard to communcate healthily. I find mysef feeling that I can’t say anything directly, because it will be responded to negatively. Then there is no choice but for the frustration to seep out in a negative way. I don’t know what to do. Some people would tell me to break up. My therapist says I’ve “chosen” this relationship to work on my problems surrounding these issues. I suppose I agree, but at this moment, I feel desperate. I wish there were some easy way out but there isn’t. I just have no idea how to solve, heal the problem that makes me sensitive to people like this and to consequently, choose one as a partner!

    • terri cole

      I would follow the dots backwards in your life to the original injury. Ask yourself when you first felt frustrated and un-heard in a primary relationship (probably a parent) and then journal about those experiences and try to release this pattern. I also suggest EFT ( to release difficult early patterns of behavior. You can do it-you may have to be willing to let this relationship go so you can work on and take care of yourself. If the other person is un-interested in being a part of your solution -leaving may be the only way for you to get healthy in this area. thank you for sharing-we are all here cheering you on xo

      • anonymous

        Thank you. I appreciate concrete suggestions. I will think about and try this.

  • KQuad98

    I stopped midway through this article to send someone a text, that I was hesitant to send. Simply because, bottom line, I was playing a game. I despise game playing and decided to be real and true instead, even if it left me vulnerable. I am also a poor communicator for many reasons, which I have recently learned is mainly because of codependency and I’m currently working on changing all that. I feel so relieved to have sent that text. Thank you so much for this article. This is the second one today that has brought tears to my eyes. I love this site!

    • terri cole

      Good for you KQuad98!
      Lights me up to know that this post inspired you to action ;) Thank you for sharing and keep up the amazing self LOVE work! xo

  • eob

    Terri, It’s been 6 mos and I cannot seem to get over my last break up after a 3 year relationship. He just stopped calling days before we were to celebrate out birthday weekend and 6 weeks later he sent a short note in the mail saying his head was not in a good place, he wasn’t ready to do anything different. I have cried daily, written unsent letters to the former boyfriend, reviewed lists of ways we didn’t see eye to eye, talked to my friends and family about my broken heart, mostly just cry and read everything to try to build up my self esteem. Sometimes I am ok and know it is for the best, other times I feel just awful and stuck in grief. I don’t know what else to do. It seems too late to ask him what the heck happened? What could I say that would could possibly make me feel better? I don’t know what hurts more, being rejected or the abrupt ending.

  • Todd St George

    Thank you so much for this, this is still something I’m playing with. I can relate, as I also have had a rocky relationship with my own father and have started to talk straight with him later in life.