Every New Year, people around the world make resolutions; sweeping statements promising big changes that are, realistically, unlikely to happen and set the resolution-maker up for disappointment. So, instead of the usual grandiose commitments to quit chocolate; start working out, etc., why not take a different tack, and try making some simple changes to how you communicate? As we embark on the first few days of this year why not make this the year you take positive, achievable, steps towards more honest, authentic, communication?
We all have thoughts which may be easier to leave unsaid because they are a bit too tricky: they might shake the status quo, or make life more difficult. As a result, we often keep quiet, not saying what we really feel. But this can be unhealthy, inauthentic, and can prevent really great things happening that arise out of being honest. And let’s be clear: finding the courage to be honest and share your more difficult thoughts with another person, whether in a work or personal context, can be scary, but it can also be transformative. It can make a stale relationship breathe again, it can free you up for new opportunities, and it can feel fantastic.
So, here are some tips designed to help you say what you really think, in a positive way. Try them out for size, swallow the ones you like, and make them your taste of change for things to come.
Tip 1: Know your mind
It may sound obvious, but the first tip is to spend some time mapping out what you think. If you’re dealing with a relationship, romantic or otherwise, be honest with yourself – have you had enough, or are you totally committed but several issues are concerning you? At work, do you think your new employee could be good, but take issue with their attitude or approach? Whatever it is, get the issue crystal clear in your head before you start. One way to do this is find the emotion attached to the thought. When you get close, there will be discomfort around it, and that’s a sure sign that something isn’t sitting well with you.
Tip 2: Relationships are built on trust: don’t abuse that
When we are honest with another person, we are showing the other person that we respect them, that we believe they are strong enough to know how we really feel. When we lie to another person, we are moving the relationship away from authenticity, because it is disconnected from the truth of who we are. It’s very difficult to have true and meaningful connections when there have been lies, and even harder to get back to a good place after they have been discovered. So next time you want to smudge over the truth, or not admit how you really feel, take a moment to ask yourself if that is the right route for you and your relationship. And if you respect someone and yourself, think again about how to approach it.
Tip 3: Be true to yourself and kind to them
It’s a good idea to prepare what you are going to say beforehand. If you clarify in your mind what is going on, the reasons why you feel they way you do, you will be in a position to articulate your points authentically and efficiently. You will also reduce the chance of using 'blaming' or 'attacking' type words which often act as an unnecessary inflammatory. Rather than thinking the other person has done something wrong, shift to the peaceful perspective, which is simply to state that whatever is happening is not working for you, because of who you are and the values that you have. Whatever the other person is doing or not doing, it is also because of who they are and the values they have. Finding the courage to say those difficult thoughts you have been harbouring for some time can be hard. Through empathising with the other persons feelings and the situation, and empathising with yourself (you are just as important in this) you will be able to say how you really feel; by taking ownership of your emotions and not hiding behind blame or accusation. F.
In terms of language, swap ‘you did…’ for ‘I feel…’ and ‘you are…’ for ‘I feel like you are…’; this will make a huge difference. Don’t accuse, try not to say a lot of ‘you’ and instead explain what actually happened to make you feel the way you feel. Don’t soften the blow, or sweeten the deal, but stay honest. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, make sure you take responsibility for your part, and don’t lay all the blame at their door.
Tip 4: Let your body language do the talking
When you are clear on the issue, how you feel about it and what you are responsible for, then it’s time to speak to the other person. Make eye contact and speak calmly. If there is emotion around what you are saying, try to not let your voice get too loud or speak too fast. Deliver your ideas, pausing and looking at the person to make sure they are with you, and know that you are being honest rather than on the attack. Make sure your arms are not crossed (which can seem defensive) and that your posture is relaxed and comfortable. They will pick all of this up and their response will be influenced by how you have come across, so it is important to get it right! Finally, it may seem obvious, but giving yourself time to breathe steadily is really useful here! The key is to feel relaxed and calm in the knowledge of what you are saying is honest and the right thing to do.
Your hard work will pay off.
The results of this sort of honest, authentic communication with another person can have dramatic benefits on your relationship, such as reducing the weight of unvoiced concerns and issues. They will feel respected, and know you see them as an equal. It will give you both room to breathe, and the chance for them to respond authentically. It won’t be easy, but it will be worthwhile.
In my experience, working with clients on all aspects of their communication both personal and professional, if one’s feelings can be articulated with responsibility and sensitivity, without accusation or anger, then the results can be phenomenal.
Looking to the future
Make next year the year you become an honest, authentic communicator. By putting into practice the tips given to you above, you will be able to see a remarkable difference instantly. As a New Year’s resolution, I can’t think of anything that will have a more positive impact on so many aspects of your life.