Personal Development: Effective Communication

Are You Making These Communication Mistakes?

Sharing Emotions= blech.

Yes, you read that right. That’s the G-rated expression of how I feel about the subject, and let’s be honest. I know I’m not alone. Haven’t we all said the words ‘I’m fine’ when we were anything but fine? There could be a number of different reasons why we do this, and it’s not always an issue. We probably shouldn’t divulge the happenings of a crappy day to the grocery store cashier when he asks how our day went.  

My Struggles With Effective Communication

There are appropriate times to share and to withhold. And there are healthy and unhealthy ways to go about expressing our feelings. I am 1000% guilty of blurring the f*ck out of those lines. Sometimes, if you put me in a situation where I need to express to someone that my feelings are hurt, I handle it as far from the correct way as one could get.

Sometimes I get it right. Sometimes I don’t. When I don’t, it often goes down in one of three ways

Here’s What You Don’t Do #1

The first is the most common to occur. I shut down. I may seem okay on the outside for a while, but on the inside, I have the emotional range of a paper clip. My brain is like ‘Woah, I’m not sure you can handle this so I’m gonna go ahead and turn off the emotions tap for a while’.

Here’s What You Don’t Do #2

The second is to turn the focus away from the actual issue and allow myself to become angry about a totally different subject. Recently, my feelings were hurt for some reason or another. Honestly, I don’t remember why. But I can promise you it had nothing to do with what happened next. Y’all. I got mad at Brian (husband) about how infrequently he was stirring a pot of boiling noodles. I obviously felt the need to let him know that I was upset with him. I knew that I should have stated how I actually felt. However, the words just wouldn’t come together, and I let my vulnerabilities get the best of me.

Here’s What You Don’t Do #3

The third is slightly more productive. I say what I’m thinking, but it comes out in an unproductive way. Instead of using an ‘I’ statement and stating how something made me feel, I turn to accusatory language. A while back, Brian went to a coffee shop for a work thing and then came by our house for a quick visit. He walked in the door with his iced mocha in one hand and nothing in the other knowing damn well lattes give me life. Instead of just saying “I wish you would have brought me a coffee.” I inquired as to how he spent thirty minutes in the place where dreams are made (Dunkin’ Donuts) and didn’t think of his tired wife at home.

So.. what qualifies me to even share advice on what is probably my greatest challenge? Well, I’m working on it, and I’ve made some improvement. And, do we really want someone who has never faced an issue or has no knowledge of it to even come at us with a solution? That would be like attending an AA meeting led by someone who has never drunk a drop of alcohol.

Learning Effective Communication

Our minds have go-to pathways to cope with overwhelming or unexpected feelings or vulnerabilities. The problem is that, while our brains may have good intentions of protecting us, the way they go about it isn’t always the best path. It’s up to us to recognize that there are better options, find a better option, and do it until it becomes a habit.

‘Fight Or Flight’ Affects Our Communication Skills

I have come to understand that there is no way to effectively share emotions without also allowing ourselves to become at least a little vulnerable. A lot of times the reason we shut down or resort to anger when communicating is because of fear. For some, the thought of exposing ourselves in that way is terrifying. Fear leads to our minds jumping into fight or flight mode with both feet. Hence the three different ways I handle negative emotions listed above. Number one falls under the ‘flight’ category, while two and three fall under ‘fight’.

Fight or Flight Response
Trauma or anxiety can change the way we naturally respond in simple conversation.

To communicate effectively, especially when the conversation may not be positive or pleasant, it’s important to plan in advance. There are ways to set ourselves up for success.

Plan For A Good Conversation

Imagine a scenario where that conversation you need to have with your spouse, friend, boss, kiddo goes well. Play it through from beginning to end in your mind. This works especially well if you’re really familiar with the person. You can easily imagine how they will respond, so you can prepare yourself for any stumbling blocks along the way.

Another technique is to begin with the end in mind. What are you trying to achieve from the conversation? Are you wanting to feel heard or understood? Are you wanting to have a better understanding of someone else’s point of view? So if Point A is pre-conversation and Point B is post-conversation, there should be little checkpoints along the way where you ask yourself questions. Is this headed in the right direction? If not, how can I steer it towards the end goal?

Next, before the conversation begins, make a commitment to yourself that you’re going to keep your cool and express your feelings with words, not a raised voice or negative behavior such as sarcasm. (Guilty.) If you were raised in a house where effective communicators did not reside, it takes developing an awareness that there is a better way and then a lot of practice to develop new habits. So, don’t beat yourself up for slipping back into old ways of communication. Just take some time to figure out where the conversation took a turn and what you can work on next time.

Remember that you can not control what someone else says or does. You can only control the way that you respond.

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