(Editor's Note: While this article was written for singles in the dating arena, its information can be applied to communication skills in all forms of relationship.)
Honesty does not come naturally to most people, but it is a skill that can be practiced and learned.
I feel a deep sadness when I hear people tell me how much they have been hurt in their dating relationships and how this has caused them to approach each new relationship with fear or to give up on relationships altogether.
Given such past experiences, singles need a recovery program -- a way to reconnect with their open, undefended, essential nature; a way to build inner strength so that when things don't work out, they can use the situation for learning and growth instead of as an excuse for giving up or playing it safe. This is where the ten truth skills have an important role to play.
The truth skills are actually life skills. They involve awareness practices and communication tools that, when combined and practiced together, allow people to feel more grounded in their actual here-now experience. By using these skills people learn to be more present and aware of what they are sensing, feeling and thinking in each moment, instead of getting caught up in fears about the future and regrets about the past.
Some of the truth skills are most useful in the beginning stages of meeting and getting to know someone. Most apply to all stages. All of these skills assist you in learning to trust yourself to be more honest -- to trust that whatever the outcome, you will be able to handle it. Below is a list of the ten truth skills. The rest of this chapter will consider how each of these skills applies to Truth in Dating.
1. Experiencing what is
2. Being transparent
3. Noticing your intent
4. Giving and asking for feedback
5. Asserting what you want and don't want
6. Taking back projections
7. Revising an earlier statement
8. Holding differences or embracing multiple perspectives
9. Sharing mixed emotions
10. Embracing silence
Truth Skill #1 Experiencing What Is
Experiencing what is helps you make the distinction between what you actually experience (see, hear, sense, feel, notice, remember) versus what you imagine (interpret, believe, assume) to be true. This enables you to notice and comment about what you see or hear your date doing instead of jumping immediately to conclusions about what this behavior means. For example, you notice your date is not looking at you when he speaks. Instead of assuming you know how he feels, as in, "I see you're uncomfortable with this topic," you'd say, "I notice you are looking at the floor as you speak, and I'm thinking that maybe you're feeling uncomfortable.... Are you?"
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Experiencing what is teaches people to "stay on their own side of the net," that is, to speak only about what you see, hear, feel, or think and to refrain from telling the other person what he or she is feeling. "I see you looking at the floor" is an example of staying on your side of the net. That's your own experience. "I see you are uncomfortable" is getting over on the other person's side. That's your interpretation about the other. Can you see the difference?
If you get caught up in believing your interpretations about another person's behavior, this will interfere with your ability to experience what actually occurred. And when you respond to this other person, you'll be responding to your interpretation about what she did instead of what she actually did. This can cause all manner of misunderstanding and needless pain.
Noticing vs. Interpreting
To get practice with this skill, think of something someone did or said that triggered in you an automatic reaction of hurt, anger, fear, or judgment. As you think back to this, notice if you are having trouble recalling exactly what was done or said. Often when a negative reaction is triggered (when a "button" has been pushed), we tend to remember our interpretation about the other person's behavior, but not the behavior that gave rise to the interpretation. If the behavior was something like the person saying, I have to go now,' interpretations like, "He's bored with me," "She doesn't have time for me," or "He's losing interest" are quite common.
See if you can recall the other person's actual words. Now reflect back on the interpretation you gave to the words. When my colleague Simone did this exercise, she recalled an attractive man named Dirk addressing a sentence to her that began with the words, "At your age ..." Simone did not hear anything after that. She assumed she knew what he was going to say -- something that implied that she was too old to be attractive to him. She remembered her reaction, which was a tightening in her belly and some self-talk: "He's not interested in me as anything other than a friend. Better give up any ideas about having a romance with this guy." So she concluded right then and there that she and Dirk would be friends and nothing more.
Can you see how Simone jumped to a conclusion -- how she went immediately over to Dirk's side of the net? She did not tell Dirk what she heard or what she felt, and she didn't ask him what he meant. If she had, she might have learned something about him and his feelings toward her. As it was, she stayed safe from the truth by using her protective control pattern. The truth might hurt, so she didn't take any chances.
As witnesses to Simone's little drama, we know that the truth from Dirk might not have hurt. She might have been pleasantly surprised. Or once Dirk learned that she had romantic feelings toward him, he might have taken a more romantic interest in her. Such things do happen! But the natural course of events was not allowed to unfold. By interpreting Dirk's behavior, instead of experiencing what is, Simone "took control," and short-circuited the real possibilities inherent in the situation.
Truth Skill #2 Being Transparent
To be transparent is to be willing to be seen, warts and all. Many singles imagine that if they let a date or potential date know their vulnerabilities, they will be rejected. Yet my experience as a dating person and a dating coach has shown that most people become more appealing when they reveal their sensitive, vulnerable sides. It isn't your competence or attractiveness that creates an emotional bond between you and another person. Your needs and your vulnerability do that. Most people like to feel needed, so when you reveal your needs or insecurities, people feel there is a meaningful role for them to play in your life.
By this, I am not suggesting that you present the story of your wounds and misfortunes in vivid detail. I am talking more about being open about your feelings, impressions, wants, and self-talk related to your interaction with the person in front of you.
Noticing What You Avoid
Are there certain things you tend to hide from others? Are there things you know you could never say on a first date, for example? These represent areas where you do not feel safe about being transparent, about being seen. Take note of these areas or topics, because they reveal areas where you have unfinished emotional business. One man I interviewed told me he could never tell a woman that he was nonmonogamous until after he had been dating her for at least a month. When I asked why, he explained that he felt vulnerable about this since in his past, he had often been criticized and put down for his sexual lifestyle. He wanted to feel he really could trust the woman before telling her about this aspect of himself. I felt empathy for this man's position, but I also thought about how the woman might feel. Some of the women in my study said they felt manipulated when a man saved such news until a sexual bond had already been formed. These women said that if they had known sooner about the man's sexual lifestyle preference, they probably would have ended the relationship sooner. As it was, these relationships did eventually end.
Being transparent does not guarantee that people will always love you or that they will always want to stay with you. But even if telling the truth does lead to the early demise of a potential relationship, there is likely to be more warmth and respect for someone who tells the truth right away versus someone who waits too long.
Here is an example of how you might practice being transparent on a date. Let's imagine for a minute that your date has just said something that hurt or offended you. Instead of hiding the fact that your feelings are hurt, you might say, "Hearing you say that, I notice I'm feeling hurt" or "I notice I'm shutting down." Can you see yourself doing this?
Truth Skill #3 Noticing Your Intent: Is It to Relate or to Control?
Do you communicate to relate or to control? Do you know the difference? When your intent is to relate, you are most interested in revealing your true feelings, learning how the other feels, and connecting heart-to-heart. When your intent is to control, you are most interested in getting things to come out a certain way -- avoiding conflict, getting the person to like you, being seen as knowledgeable or helpful, et cetera. Communication that is controlling aims at creating a favorable impression. Communication that is relating aims at knowing and being known, seeing and being seen. Relating uses the first two truth skills, experiencing what is and being transparent, to connect with others.
Most people are not aware of their intent. They may be aware that they want to be understood, but that's about all. Even the intent to be understood can be controlling. So instead of thinking that all your communications are simple and transparent self-expressions, I urge you to humbly acknowledge the fact that sometimes you are trying to get the other to understand you the way you wish to be understood, trying to create a certain impression, or even attempting to manipulate the other person into giving you what you want. Controlling is not a bad thing when it is done candidly and with awareness. But it is destructive to trust when it is done covertly or unconsciously.
Are You Ready to Relate More and Control Less?
Learning the difference between relating and controlling can help you deal better with unpleasant emotions such as anger. Let's say your date just showed up an hour later than agreed, and you are upset. You have several options:
- You can express your feelings in the interest of transparency, with the intent to reveal yourself in a nonjudgmental way (relating);
- You can act like it doesn't matter -- even though the truth is that you are feeling upset (controlling);
- You can be cold and distant as a way of punishing him for being so thoughtless (controlling);
- You can tell him you're upset and ask him what happened (relating);
- You can tell him that you notice one of your childhood fears is being triggered -- e.g., the fear that he doesn't really care about your feelings (relating);
- You can tell him that if he is ever an hour late again, and doesn't call, you'll probably stop seeing him (controlling).
Can You See the Difference?
Can you see the difference? Relating involves self-disclosure, curiosity about the other person's reality, a willingness to be vulnerable enough to allow yourself to be affected, and an ability to step back and notice your reactions. Controlling involves one-way communication, an attempt to get the other to feel bad, or an attempt to look good or appear on top of the situation. Relating grows out of the desire to be real, to be transparent. Controlling arises from the need to be right, to play it safe, to punish, or to avoid feeling vulnerable or uncertain. Relating builds trust and intimacy. Controlling leads to mistrust and defensiveness.
Truth Skill #4 Giving and Asking for Feedback
Giving feedback is the act of verbally letting the other know how her actions affected you. Being open to receiving feedback means you are curious about and willing to hear how your actions affect other people. In a relationship, your honest feedback or response is one of the greatest gifts you can give to the other. Most people don't get very much valid feedback in their daily lives, and they long for it. If you decide to take on Truth in Dating as a practice, you are committing to being an instrument for helping others become more conscious. Of course, some will not want your feedback. It's important to establish up front in any new relationship whether or not the two of you are going to practice Truth in Dating. One way to establish this is to tell the other about the concept as described in this book, and then ask if they are interested in this type of relating. Or you could simply tell your date that you are seeking friendships where people agree to tell the truth about their feelings and give one another honest, uncensored feedback.
How Does It Look?
Here is an example of when this skill might be appropriate: If you imagine you just said something that was offensive to your date, you might ask, "I'm wondering how that remark came across to you. I got the impression that you didn't like what I said."
Or what if you were feeling upset about the other's remark? Then, you might offer feedback saying, "When you asked me why I didn't go to work today, I felt a tightness in my chest and a flush of anger in my face. I didn't like you asking me that. I imagine I took it as an attempt to control me."
Feedback is most useful when it is specific -- that is when you use Truth Skill #1, Experiencing What Is, to help you name and describe what the other did or said. Be specific about what was actually done or said, not what you imagined or interpreted. Otherwise, the other doesn't know what you are responding to. Instead of saying, "When you didn't listen to me, I felt hurt," say, "When you walked away while I was talking about our vacation plans, I felt hurt." Can you see the difference between being specific and making an interpretation? "When you didn't listen to me" is an interpretation. It's you getting over on the other person's side of the net and telling him what was going on inside him. You can't know whether or not he was listening. All you know is that you observed him walking out and you felt something in your body as a result.
Hearing You Say That, I Feel...
Another sweet and useful way to use this truth skill to help you maintain and deepen your here-now contact with another person is to use the phrase, "Hearing you say that, I feel ..." If my date tells me I look beautiful, I'd reply, "Hearing you say that, I feel a rush of energy in my body." Or if he said he was planning to go out with a friend at a time when I was hoping to see him, I might respond, "Hearing you say that, I feel disappointed." After giving feedback, it's really important to use Truth Skill #10, Embracing Silence. I'll describe this more fully below, but in this context, to embrace silence means to stop talking after you have said what you feel, rather than explaining yourself. To speak a simple feeling and then to be quiet allows a deeper contact than if I said I felt disappointed and then went on to explain or justify why I felt this way. It takes fewer words to speak the truth.
Truth Skill #5 Asserting What You Want and Don't Want
Expressing what you want and don't want is a wonderful way to be open and transparent. Many people are afraid to ask for what they want in a dating relationship for fear of either not getting it or of having the other person give it to them out of obligation. When we express what we want we make ourselves vulnerable. Asking to have our wants and needs fulfilled reminds us of when we were little and helpless and dependent. If we cried for attention and didn't get it, we felt lost, lonely, or afraid. Now, as adults we may he reluctant to risk doing anything that might remind us of that very vulnerable period of life.
Asking for what you want is an act of trust. You are taking a step into the unknown -- not knowing how the other may respond. At times, your mind may go to the thought, "What if he feels controlled by my request?" I have heard several of my male friends say that they have a hard time saying no to a woman, so they'll give a woman what she wants and secretly resent her for asking. This thought can interfere with my spontaneity, so my practice is to notice when such an idea gets in my mind and clogs up my ability to perceive reality.
Asking for a Second Date
Imagine that you are enjoying a first date with someone you are very attracted to, but you are not sure how she feels about you. You could try to indirectly draw out her feelings about you, or you could ask her how she feels. Or you could practice being transparent about your wants. In Truth in Dating, the chief goal is to communicate from the most real, most transparent and undefended place you can come from. Your focus would be on stepping into the unknown by revealing your innermost thoughts and feelings without knowing how you will be received. This generates a and aliveness between two people. You might say something like this :"I'm sitting here thinking about how much I'm enjoying being with you. And I'm wondering how you are feeling. I hope you'll want to see me again. I'd really like to spend more time with you." Then listen to what she says and notice what she does.
Remember, the important thing about asking for what you want is the act of asking, not the outcome. The very act of asking is an act of self-support. You are affirming your worthiness to receive. If you do not get what you want, you will be okay. This lesson will become apparent as you get more relaxed about asking. The more you ask, the less important it becomes to get everything you want. It's when you don't ask very often, and only ask for a few really big, important things, that you tend to put too much weight on getting what you ask for. It's important to learn to ask for what you want easily and often. This will help you become free of the attachment to getting everything you want.
Truth Skill #6 Taking Back Projections
The phenomenon of projection explains why opposites attract and later repel. If some aspect of my own personality is unconscious or suppressed, I may find that I have a pattern of being attracted to men who exhibit this quality in spades. For example, I was conditioned to see myself as competent, strong, independent, and responsible. I tend to be less aware of and comfortable with my weaknesses and vulnerabilities: my self-doubts, my fears, my insecurities. So what kind of men am I attracted to? I am attracted to men who have overlearned the very qualities that I have underlearned -- men who seem more comfortable with their own dependent feelings, men who allow their emotions to overtake them at times.
Opposites attract, but then after a while those very qualities that drew me to a particular man may become quite unappealing. At first, I liked how open he was to his emotions. But now, I find he is so overcome by his fears and insecurities that I wind up having to handle more than my share of the worldly responsibilities.
Have you ever been attracted to someone for some wonderfully appealing quality only to discover a few months down the road that this very same quality turned you off? That's the first half of the projection process -- the way that you're attracted and later repelled by someone who is your opposite personality type. The second half of the process involves taking back or rediscovering your hidden or suppressed quality. You notice that quality in the other, and now, instead of criticizing him for this, you recognize that "dependency" (for example) is a hidden aspect of yourself. Now, from this more enlightened perspective, being in this other person's presence can help you connect to this less conscious aspect of your own being and perhaps find value in it.
How Projections Affect Attractions
The dating game offers many opportunities for projections to operate. Most of our attractions are based on projections. A supermasculine male is attracted to a superfeminine female. He has disowned his softness and his nurturing side. She has disowned her ability to take power in the world and make things happen. They get together, and if things continue for a while, each learns from the other something about his or her hidden or less developed side. Or a high achieving woman is attracted to a sensual, feeling-oriented man. Through the relationship, just by being around each other, she gets more in touch with her sensuality, and he gets to connect more fully with his ability to get things done.
Truth Skill #7 Revising an Earlier Statement
Revising an earlier statement is also known as "going out and coming in again." This means giving yourself permission to revisit a particular interaction or moment in time if your feelings change or if you later connect to some deeper feelings or afterthoughts. For example, after telling your date that you'd be interested in going out with her again, you later realize that you aren't attracted to her, but were afraid to hurt her by telling the truth. So you decide to revise your original statement. You call her up and tell her, "I realized after you asked me about getting together again that I didn't feel safe about telling you the truth about my feelings. I was afraid of hurting you. What's true for me is that I'm not feeling attracted to you. I want to respect you by being truthful with you."
This truth skill can be useful any time you realize later on that your feelings have changed. You simply let the person know, "After I said such and such, I later realized there was more to it than that. What I now feel is ..." Or, "When I said such and such, I realize now that I wasn't very present or aware. If I had it to do over, I'd tell you ..."
Truth Skill #8 Holding Differences or Embracing Multiple Perspectives
The reason many people fear intimacy is that they fear losing themselves in a relationship. If you know how to practice holding differences, you won't need to fear losing yourself. Holding differences refers to the ability to listen to and empathize with opinions that differ from yours without losing touch with your own perspective. For example, imagine that you and the person you have been dating disagree on whether to tell your children that you two are having a sexual relationship. In holding differences, you might tell your partner, "I respect that you don't think I should be completely honest with my kids just yet, while I, on the other hand, want to tell them anything they ask about."
Active Listening Helps
If you and a person you are dating encounter a difference of opinion or values, a good way to practice holding differences is by using active listening. In active listening, you listen to the other's viewpoint and then, before you state your own view, you restate what you just heard the other say, and ask if you have heard it correctly. Then you state your view or position.
Active listening can also be used if you find yourselves in a really tough conflict situation. Let's imagine, for example, that you believe in sharing the details of how intimate you are being with the other people you are seeing; but the other person does not want to talk about such details, even though she has agreed to practice Truth in Dating. It's a common occurrence that when two people commit to truth-telling, they will eventually encounter differences in how they define the concept.
Rather than trying to get the other to change her mind, this truth skill would counsel you to both practice holding differences. You would each take a turn expressing your feelings, views, and wants, while the other listens and then repeats back what he hears. Make sure both people get a turn -- or several turns, until each feels heard. Do not attempt to reach agreement. Simply feel into and hold in your awareness your own view, and alongside this, your partner's view. See if you can take the position that you really want your partner to get what she wants, but at the same time you really want to have what you want. Often simply holding the two positions in your consciousness side by side allows for an interesting transformation to occur. People report that somehow their positions mysteriously shift, or their fear of not getting their way dissolves. This is not a logical process, but rather some sort of emotional alchemy.
By holding differences over a period of time, you learn to be less resistant to the discomfort associated with differing positions. As you learn to relax into rather than resisting such discomfort, your resistance to your partner's position also relaxes. You learn to bind tension better. ("Binding tension," or the ability to contain conflicting feelings, has long been seen by psychologists as a sign of emotional intelligence.) Thus, you becoming a "bigger," more emotionally mature, person.
Truth Skill #9 Sharing Mixed Emotions
This truth skill comes in very handy when you want to tell someone the truth but at the same time are concerned about her feelings. If you are like most people, you can probably think of at least one or two people in your life with whom you're afraid to say something for fear of hurting their feelings or offending them. Take some time right now to think of such a person. How do you feel as you consider telling this person your feelings or thoughts? Do you notice any mixed feelings -- such as the desire to clear the air alongside a fear of being misunderstood? If you do have mixed feelings, expressing both feelings can add depth to your communication. This type of communication can also help the other see your humanness and your positive intent.
Mixed Emotions on a First Date
I have used this skill often on a first date when I want to tell a man that I do not want a second date with him. Here's how it might go: One of us raises the question, "How are we feeling toward each other, and is there enough interest to want to see each other again?" Sometimes, before responding to this question, I'll just be silent with him for a while. I want to establish a nonverbal connection before I start talking about such a potentially sensitive subject. Then I might tell him that I'm willing to share my thoughts and feelings if he wants to hear them. At that point I might look at him and say, "I'm having a mixture of feelings. I know I need to be completely honest because I respect you so much. At the same time, I'm afraid of hurting you. I'm pretty sure I don't want to see you again, and as I say this I'm concerned that this will hurt you. You see, I have come to care about you as we've been getting to know each other."
This scenario is only one of many possible ways to express mixed feelings. I never do it the same way twice. But the time when I did express myself using those words, my date told me he was very touched and felt very close to me. He said that my words did hurt him some, but he also said it was the sweetest rejection he'd ever experienced!
Truth Skill #10 Embracing Silence
Authentic communication depends as much on silence as it does on words -- the silences between your words and the silence you leave after you have spoken as you await the other's response. Silence is required to allow your words to sink in. As you speak, you hear yourself better when there are silences. Listening to yourself is an essential ingredient for presence. Silence between words also provides room for new ideas and feelings to gestate and take form -- yours and the other person's.
When you can embrace silence, you do not need to know everything in advance or have all the blanks filled in. You understand that there are many things that cannot be known all at once or once and for all. These things emerge gradually as we get to know the other person.
Avoiding the Silence of Presence
Have you ever noticed yourself asking a question and then, before the other person has had a chance to respond, answering it yourself? When I notice myself doing this, I know it's an indication that I'm avoiding the discomfort of simply being present with the other person.
Just the other day when I was with my boyfriend, I noticed a pain in my hip that I wanted him to massage. I started to ask, but as soon as I asked the question, 1 felt anxiety about how he might react. I had the impression from a previous conversation that he had other things on his mind, so I began to imagine that my question was an imposition.
The truth was I had no idea how he would respond. And there was really no reason to be anxious. But I was. So instead of allowing him to respond, I said something like, "Oh, I don't really need this right now," thus staying in control and avoiding the silence, the experience of not knowing. This mundane example shows how the ego mind works. If it gets the tiniest bit uncomfortable, it initiates a control pattern -- in this case the pattern of filling the silence to manage my anxiety.
The most important thing about embracing silence in a human interaction is that it allows for feelings to be fully experienced -- your inner feelings and the feelings being exchanged. This helps you develop your ability to notice what is and prepares you to communicate with more of your whole being, so you're not just coming from your head or your automatic control pattern. I recommend that you pause before speaking -- to check in with yourself, to get grounded in your bodily sensations, and to connect with the other. This takes a few seconds of silence. During this silence, energy is building to support the contact between you and the other person.
The ten truth skills in a nutshell are:
1. Experiencing what is (You can sense and identify your present feelings and sensations. You can notice and not identify with your assessments, projections, and interpretations.)
2. Being transparent (You can disclose to others what you are feeling, sensing, imagining, or saying to yourself.)
3. Noticing your intent (You can consciously reflect on the intent of your communication: is it to relate or to control?)
4. Thriving on feedback (You are open and curious about others' impressions and reactions to you. This is different from being dependent on others' reactions.)
5. Asserting what you want and don't want (You can express a desire clearly and with full contact, without expecting to get everything you ask for.)
6. Taking back projections (You understand that you may be attracted to someone who has overlearned the very qualities that you tend to deny in yourself. You know how to use this understanding for self-awareness and healing.)
7. Revising an earlier statement (You can revisit an interaction if your feelings change or if you later discover a deeper level of expression.)
8. Holding differences (You can hear and empathize with someone else's feeling or viewpoint while at the same time holding a different feeling or viewpoint.)
9. Sharing mixed emotions (You can communicate your multiple feelings about an issue or situation.)
10. Embracing silence (You can allow empty space between your words or between your words and those of another person. You can acknowledge the nonverbal emanations in the silence. You can tolerate uncertainty, ambiguity, and not knowing.)
This article was excerpted from:
About the Author
Psychologist Susan Campbell has worked as a teamwork consultant to Fortune 500 companies, a professional speaker, and, for over 35 years, as a dating and relationship coach. She is author of several other books, including her ground-breaking The Couples Journey (over 100,000 sold) which introduced the idea into the mainstream of using intimate relationships as a spiritual practice. Her website is www.susancampbell.com.