When asked what makes a successful relationship, I often hear "communication" as the response. It seems to be at the heart of any relationship whether it's romantic, familial, work-related, or a dear friendship. And yet, communication can be such a tricky thing. So often we might feel unable to share our feelings honestly or, if we do, we might not feel fully understood. Maybe our communication comes loaded with anger or resentment or fear and it turns a discussion into a heated argument or hurtful exchange. Heartfelt communication requires us to be open and vulnerable with ourselves and each other which is not something a lot of us are taught how to do. In this post, I'd like to offer one of the most powerful teachings I've come across in my journey so far; conscious communication.
Now maybe you're someone who has a knack for speaking their mind (and heart) but communication is something I'm just now learning how to do. Growing up, in an effort to be liked and fit in (and make the lives of those around me easier) I decided that I would simply be whatever I thought those around me needed me to be. This meant I really never learned who I was or what I wanted. Now, this way of being might have actually served me at some point but, as I grew in to adulthood, this became more and more of a crutch.
A lot of my journey up to now has been "diving in and in" (as Danna Faulds beautifully wrote) to learn, understand, and get cozy with what it is I actually feel. At this point, I feel it's really time to start the practice of expressing these feelings, thoughts, and needs. Enter my 200 hour yoga teacher training manual and conscious communication. Now, I'm not going to copy verbatum what is in there (questionable legality aside) but here are the points I find to be most profound. Now, these following tips are all coming from the assumption that you want to communicate as truthfully and as openly as possible and the goal is to resolve the issue, rather than fan flames or create, intensify drama.
Invite Conversation Instead of Demand It
"We need to talk". Even just writing that gave me chills of dread. If you already feel like you're in trouble or need to be on the defensive, how much can really be accomplished in a conversation? On the flip side, if you are saying that, especially as a weapon iteself (maybe hours before the conversation can be had), what exactly are you (or your ego) trying to accomplish? Instead, invite the other person to the conversation. "I would really like to have a conversation with you. Is this a good time?" If it isn't, figure out what would be. Let them know that you are coming from a place of compassion, honesty, respect, whatever words work for the situation and relationship. Finally, thank them for their participation and willingness to engage in the conversation with you. Think of how it would feel to be asked in to a conversation (especially a difficult one) when someone not only asked if it was ok, set a kind stage, but also thanked you for it!
Before You Accuse...Take a Look at Yourself...
Ok, so maybe that Eric Clapton song isn't a great metaphor for conscious communication. My point is that while it's really easy and really tempting to fall into accusatory and judgemental language, the only thing that will soothe is your ego. The other person will get defensive and the conversation will likely devolve into argument territory from there. Making judgements like "you're such a jerk when you..." or "you're so selfish when you..." or making assumptions about the other person's experience are all not very helpful to the situation (no matter how right you might feel in those judgements/assumptions).
Thr truth is, you can never really know what someone else is thinking or feeling unless they tell you honestly. So what you can do here is take a step back and look at how it makes you feel. I actually recommend doing this before you even have a conversation so you can get really clear (and get your accusations out of your system on paper or something more productive). That doesn't mean the other person doesn't come in to the equation at all but be really clear about their action. Maybe your partner didn't call when they realized they were going to be late or your co-worker keeps leaving piles of their paperwork on your desk. You don't need to embellish their action. You don't need to assume what they feel when they do that action. Remember what they say about assuming...ass of you and me.
Once you are clear on their action, simply think about how it makes you feel. Again, I really find it helpful to write out things or even speak out loud. Let yourself just write it all out at first. Then, go back and look over your language. Are there judgements? Accusations? If someone was saying those things to you would you feel receptive or defensive? Are there any "you make me feel/think/do" you can shift to "when you do...(remember clear action) I feel...". Remember always to have compassion for yourself through this process as well. That sense of compassion will not only help you through your own process but it will ultimately reflect back to whoever you are in conversation with.
Have a Solution
While there might be times you just need to vent, more often than not there is something you need. You need your partner to call you when they realize they're going to be late or you need you co-worker to stop leaving their stuff in your space. Be honest with yourself on what you need so you can be clear with whoever you are speaking to. Of course, check in with what you're asking. Is it doable? Is it really true for you or do you need to explore further in yourself first? I really find it helpful to turn the tables on myself and see how it feels.
While we've focused so much on our own experience and feelings, remember that this is a two way conversation. Listen just as intently as you speak. Hold space for the other person. When in conversation, reflect back what you hear each other say, not to test each other but to make sure you're both being understood. Now, there's certainly the possibility that your openess is met with hostility. We are so trained to have our guard up all the time. And, honestly, it can really suck to take the step to be open and honest and to be met with claws instead. Practice keeping that openess and compassion anyway, even if you get knicked. Those knicks will heal and that compassion will seep in to the other person, even if it's not in the moment. Have you ever had one of those moments where you were so very mad at someone and you meet them expecting to fight but, instead, they authentically apologize and you just melt? That's the power of compassion.
All Together Now!
So, to sum up. Invite the conversation, release judgements and accusations, speak to what is your honest experience, ask for what you need, listen (like, really listen), and show appreciation. In essence, speak they way you would want to be spoken to. You wouldn't want to have your feelings assumed or be called an asshole (I assume...) and I bet when you look back at arguments in your life, the ones that went like that didn't really serve. This practice, like so much of life, is a practice so begin where you can. If you screw up, don't worry about it. Realize where you screwed up and next time you can try again. Life is really good about always giving us more chances to practice! If this resonates or triggers or confuses you, I'd love to get in to a dialogue! Leave a comment, send an email, a Facebook message, a smoke signal, whatever your preferred method of communication (ah! get it?) is. I'd love to hear from and connect with you! I hope you have a wonderful February, Valentine's Day, and relationships of all kinds at all times. ;) Namaste!