Last time we addressed five tenets and how they can improve communication. The idea is using the tenets to shape how you communicate with someone and help focus the issue, and possibly avoid confrontation. To recap, the tenets are:
- Speaking/listening with kindness
- Holding your boundaries
- Being positive
- Being honest
- Showing grace
I am not sure the tenets can be prioritized because every situation and every person are different. But if we are looking for a first among equals, speaking and listening with kindness would win. So, I want to address those issues first as I think they will be useful in implementing the other tenets.
To be clear: I am not advocating practicing the tenets at all costs. Most of us have dealt with a person that, for whatever reason, refuses to be civil and reasonable. When dealing with that person, the best advice is to disengage, at least for a time. Odds are you are not arguing about whatever started the conversation, and old wounds that still have not healed are opened again. Sometimes, when faced with that situation, the toxicity of the conversation bleeds over to the person trying to be civil and reasonable, and then everyone is yelling. Do not fall into that trap. As kindly as you can end the conversation, with an agreement to communicate again when everyone has a chance to calm down.
How do we avoid those situations from becoming a situation? I think the first thing is to be kind, and let our actions and words demonstrate kindness. We are living in stressful times, but just because there is a global pandemic changing life as we know it on a daily basis does not mean there will no argument as to who has parenting time this year for Memorial Day. If anything, the stress increases the chance of an argument, so it is imperative that you start out with kindness.
Speaking with kindness, at first glance, should be the easier of the two but I argue it isn’t. First, we have to get past the hurdle that the person you are communicating with is actually listening to you in the first place. Secondly, we have to be sure the person believes, or at least is willing to consider, what you are saying. Lastly, we have to remember the first part of a communication is usually the easiest. We have considered what to say, maybe even practiced what to say, but when we start talking and they start responding, most of our speech falls by the wayside. And that is when habits start to creep in.
Habits are the worst. A subliminal cue our brains have causing us to behave in ways we may not even be aware of until it is too late. Damnit.
But habits can be broken. When we are trying to speak with kindness, we develop new habits. Some suggestions:
- Breathe (and continuing breathing).
- Smile (not creepily or like you just won, but pleasantly like you are posing with your mother for a picture).
- Get rid of absolutes (always, never, etc.).
- Try not to judge (even when they are clearly wrong).
- Try not to rephrase what was said and repeat it back (so, what you really mean is…).
These ideas will take time to master, and they will be uncomfortable while you are working on them. My guess is you may not feel like giving the other person any kindness. But even if that is warranted, what is your goal? If the goal is to “win”, say what you want, don’t solve the problem, and maybe you will get to repeat what you said to a judge. But if the goal is to solve the problem, and communication is the issue, maybe it is time to try something different.
Listening with kindness should be easier, but it can be just as difficult. First, we have to break the habit of not “really” listening, and instead just waiting for our turn to talk. I know: what I have to say is super important, and what they are saying is just the same thing as last time, and if I don’t say this now, I might forget…. I get it. It’s hard. But the truth is unless you listen and hear what the other person is saying you cannot communicate effectively. Odds are they are doing the same thing back to you. So, there are two people talking, and no one listening. Think this problem is getting solved?
What is listening with kindness? There are different definitions: active listening, mindful listening, etc. I think it breaks down into two pieces: engaging with the person speaking, and then making sure you understand what they said before you respond. The first part can be difficult, but it really means you make eye contact, you keep breathing, you keep that smile on your face, and you try to convey you are invested in what they are saying. I know, tough right?
The second part is not difficult if you start off with: I understood you to say X. Is that right? Because either you understood what X was and now can respond. Or you did not understand X and it gives them a chance to restate or rephrase. What might be even more helpful is to ask for help. Can you explain this to me because I know it is important to you and I want to be sure I understand before I give you my response? Because in the end, most of the time, we all just want to be heard.
This tenet takes practice, and you should expect to fail. Habits do not break overnight, especially when faced with a stressful situation. But know working on this tenet will make communication better next time, and the next and the next until it becomes a habit. But the good kind, not the one that makes you want to bang your head against the wall. Thanks again for reading.