Communicating. We do it all day long, in some form or another, whether it’s through words or body language, a hand signal or a message on a phone.
Sometimes it comes naturally; sometimes it feels nearly impossible. Sometimes it is soft and slow; sometimes it jars and bites. Sometimes it is fleeting; sometimes it stretches into moments you want to remember forever. Communication creates opportunities and helps us fulfill our human need for connection. Like all things human, communication is imperfect. It is at once beautiful and ugly and simple and awkward. It is limiting when the right words just won’t come–but when it flows it is the most liberating tool we have.
Our relationship with communication doesn’t have to be straightforward. It’s a piece of us, that, like our mind or body, should be tended to and nurtured, examined and developed. Our ability to communicate will mature if we look after it the way we might our physical body. And it takes time. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we misspeak, or if we “fail” to effectively communicate something we are thinking or feeling at any given time. Instead we should celebrate the incremental successes–the moments, no matter how large or small–that we were open, that we listened, that we affected positive change, be it in our own life or in the lives of those around us.
There’s no magic formula for effective communication. Every person and every relationship is different and unique.
Much of the beauty of communication is in its ability to be personalized. But there are certain pillars we can keep in mind to lay a solid foundation for productive dialogue, regardless of the setting.
The first is authenticity. When we are straightforward and truthful in our approach, we leave less room for misinterpretation and assumption. If we want others to see us as reliable and trustworthy, this is a big one. In the long term, honesty builds credibility. However, unclear intentions will result in communication breakdown. This is why it’s important that before big conversations, we take the time to self-evaluate and determine what it is that we are looking to achieve. What changes, in ourselves or in others, do we want to see as a result of the communication? When our external voice accurately reflects our inner beliefs, there is a much higher chance the communication will be effective at achieving our goals.
The second is compassion. Taking the time to consider a different perspective leads to a more open-minded and, often, kinder response. Communication is closely tied to emotion, and that can be a good thing, but sometimes those emotions cause us to react quickly, without taking the receiver’s thoughts, feelings, or experience into consideration. Taking a more objective approach, often by allowing ourselves the space and time to “cool off” before crafting a response, can make all the difference in the pursuit of thoughtful, constructive communication. Self-compassion is no different and no less important.
It seems to me that if we can focus our attention on bringing a little more authenticity and compassion to our interactions (both with ourselves and with others), we will be in a better place to consistently achieve open and honest communication. In time, my hope is that that openness and honesty continues to grow and expand out, touching our relationships and our pursuits and our communities and, ultimately, being reflected right back to its source.