I don’t believe we ever “master” the art of learning to communicate effectively. But we do get more skilled at witnessing ourselves and making new choices.
The fastest way to create discomfort and resentment in your life is to say yes when you mean no. If someone asks you to do something, and you say yes out of a feeling of obligation, or because you don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings, then you are not speaking your truth in that situation. Being your true, authentic, Warrior Goddess self means you can say no from a place of love rather than say yes from a place of fear.
One note of caution: Speaking your truth does not mean you always say everything you are thinking. We must be careful not to use the practice of speaking our truth as an excuse to be cruel or hurtful. Simply put, the spirit of this practice means you are willing to delve deeper into your own truth and your own inner guidance, and you are willing to speak this truth even in situations where your listener may be uncomfortable with what you have to say.
To find and maintain this balance, we must evaluate and unweave any old agreements that we have around verbal communication. Remember that your destination is to experience openhearted, fluid communication and vibrant expression, using your inner knowing as a guide. As coach and author Martha Beck says, “No matter how difficult and painful it may be, nothing sounds as good to the soul as the truth.”
Owning Your Words & Your Messages
One of my favorite books on communication is Messages: The Communication Skills Book by Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning. It is a great guide for cleaning up what the authors call “contaminated” or “partial” messages.
A contaminated message is when your energy does not match your words. “I see you are late again,” can be said cleanly, as an observation. Or the same words can be a vehicle for sarcasm, bitterness, blame, or frustration. “I see you are late again,” said with clenched body and an angry tone, is a contaminated message because you are putting your frustrated and hurt energy into a simple statement of fact.
When you are learning to be clear with your words, it is vital that you become clear with the energy you put behind them. The practice of speaking your truth isn’t just about the words you use, but also carries the responsibility that your speech is free of contaminated messages, or words that are loaded with negative feelings.
A partial message doesn’t convey the full range of deep communication. McKay invites us to share whole messages when we are in an intimate conversation. Whole messages include our observation of the situation (the facts), our thoughts (which may be true or not true), our feelings (our emotional experience), and our needs (what do we want?). Separating these four different aspects of communication is a great education in where we hold back or distort our voice.
The Facts and Nothing But The Neutral Facts
A fact is the observable, measurable, honest-to-goodness truth of what happened. When I initially started naming the facts of a situation first, I found it was surprisingly challenging! We tend to lead with statements such as “you always” or “you never” when we are upset.
Stating the facts of the situation invites us to slow down, step back, and see what is really going on. Here is the difference: “You are always late!” to “The last two times we met you were a half hour late and didn’t call me.” The observation is just that: neutral, without story or emotion. It may take awhile to track what the facts are, especially when we are really upset by someone else’s actions.
Our Thoughts Are Not Necessarily The Truth
Our thoughts are the words running around in our head about the situation. Our thoughts are not necessarily the truth; they are just what we are thinking in the moment. They are also not our emotions, so we want to keep our emotions and our thoughts separate.
“I wonder if you were scared, and I felt hurt and abandoned by your actions” is much clearer than “You wanted to hurt me and your messed-up childhood is ruining my life.” We get to become more intimate with our thoughts when we practice clear communication.
Sharing Our Feelings: Being Vulnerable
And we also get to be more honest and intimate with what our emotional responses are. The third part of clear communication is sharing our feelings. Since we often share our stories and not our vulnerable feelings, this can sometimes feel scary.
Keep asking yourself, “How did this situation make me feel?” Avoid telling others that they made you feel any particular way. They didn’t make you feel—no one can actually make you feel anything, because no one is inside of you creating the emotional reaction but you. Shift from “You made me feel” to “I felt.”
Be mindful of how easy it is to blame others for your state of mind: “I felt that you abandoned me” is actually not accurate, because you are giving the other person power over your emotions, which only you have. Take the other out of your feeling statements, so they are about you: Say “I felt X” rather than “I felt you made me X.” “I felt betrayed and shocked” takes your power back, and communicates with the other person what happened inside of you.
Stating Your Needs
The fourth part of clear communication, stating your needs, can sometimes really throw you for a loop! As I learned to communicate more clearly, I was surprised to find that I had the facts, could name my thoughts, and felt my feelings, but I had no idea what I wanted. It was tremendously empowering to name the need.
“I’d like it if you picked up your clothes off the floor and put them in the hamper.”
“Please call me if you are going to be more than ten minutes late.”
“I need more structure: Can we set up a time to create an outline for the project?”
Important note: Just because you share a need doesn’t mean the person you are talking to can fulfill it, or even that they should! What is most important is being clear with what your need is, then exploring how to fulfill that need in creative ways with yourself or with others. Be clear about what you want, and find out if you can speak about it and make conscious agreements.
What I’ve found in being more conscious in communication is the importance of bringing in humor, clarity, and both ears to all conversations.
*Subtitles added by InnerSelf
©2014 by HeatherAsh Amara. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Hierophant Publishing.
Dist. by Red Wheel/Weiser, Inc. www.redwheelweiser.com
Warrior Goddess Training: Become the Woman You Are Meant to Be
by HeatherAsh Amara.
About the Author
HeatherAsh Amara is the founder of Toci -- the Toltec Center of Creative Intent, based in Austin, TX, which fosters local and global community that supports authenticity, awareness, and awakening. She is dedicated to inspiring depth, creativity, and joy by sharing the most potent tools from a variety of world traditions. HeatherAsh studied and taught extensively with don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, and continues to teach with the Ruiz family. Raised in Southeast Asia, HeatherAsh has traveled the world from childhood and is continually inspired by the diversity and beauty of human expression and experience. She brings this openhearted, inclusive worldview to her writings and teachings, which are a rich blend of Toltec wisdom, European shamanism, Buddhism, and Native American ceremony. She is the author of several books: Warrior Goddess Training, The Toltec Path of Transformation, and is the co-author of No Mistakes: How You Can Change Adversity into Abundance.