Saturday, February 8, 2014

Effective Communication

Have you ever tried so hard to explain something that you about lost your mind trying to explain it? Maybe they just didn't get it, or maybe you couldn't find the words.... Have you ever thought you were completely misunderstood? Have you ever felt so alive, or passionate, or crazy (or miserable/ frustrated/ depressed) that no words could do justice to your feeling? It's pretty common. And what about the daily stuff... Trying to talk with your mom again after a fight last week, or making big changes in your company that will effect all your employees. I'd say inadequate communication is the number one reason for breakups, broken businesses, family turmoil, and anything else that requires at least two humans to talk to each other. Good news! There are ways to communicate that can help you say what you mean, and get their compassionate attention!

Communication is directly connected to our health. When we speak, listen, or use body language we are making conscious and unconscious choices that impact mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.  Every cell in our body is communicating all the time. So at any moment we are influencing our health on a cellular level, especially when we speak. The words we speak are powerful. The feelings we want to communicate have life in us. The thoughts we share have meaning and potential. Internal chatter and external expression can be used for or against our well-being. We know how we can use it against us, so lets get to talking about how to use it for us, effectively!

The book I recommend is by Marshall Rosenberg, called Non-Violent Communication.  The information is wonderful, it gives a structure to communication that allows one's true experience to be expressed. The best part of this formula is how thorough it is. The book goes into great detail about each step and really makes sense of why and how we can communicate with compassion.

I'll sum it up in four simple steps; Facts, Feelings, Needs, Requests.
Consider each step your own victory! You might even practice one at a time.

1. Facts)  Stating a fact, something that is true and has no judgements attached. This is very difficult if you haven't tried it on purpose. Saying "You came home too late last  night" sounds very different from "You came home at 2:37am, and I heard the garage door open." The point is, facts are facts, they are not your opinion. Getting honest about why you say what you say can help you separate facts from opinions.  If your aiming for guilt, blame, or shame, the first example might be your choice. However, that is not compassionate, and likely will not get you what your after.

2. Feelings) Feelings are personal experiences that can be very hard to explain. Most of the time we like to add in our thoughts with our feelings to give them more leverage. Such as, "I feel like you don't respect me." Usually, when someone uses the word like or You in a statement about how they feel, they are actually saying what they think. Your feelings are rooted deep inside you, sometimes hidden under pride or fear. Feelings are neither positive or negative, they just are what they are. Happy, sad, frustrated, calm, anxious, excited... these are all feelings. Using step 1 and step 2, here is our scenario, "When you came home at 2:37am, and I heard the garage door open, I felt frustrated (or, I was frustrated)." You obviously will use this formula in your own words, but you get the idea. Getting honest about how you feel is often a humbling and difficult task, and it paves the way for authentic communication that can heal relationships and make space for others to do the same.

3. Needs) Needs are our boundaries and preferences. When someone says "I need you to be home by midnight," it is not really their need. It's what they want. Yet, "I need peace and quiet to sleep," is a need. So, add this to the end of our last statement. "When you came home at 2:37am and I heard the garage door open, I felt frustrated because I needed peace and quiet to sleep."  This is much different than how it often goes, "You came home too late last night, you don't respect me at all, you can't keep doing this!" Saying any of those blaming, guilting, or shaming phrases is a quick way to get anyone defensive and closed off to your ideas. Your needs cannot be argued, they are your truth. Tuning into what you need is a great way to understand why you feel how you feel. The same goes when you want to understand others, find out what they need!

4. Requests) Requests are optional. You can make a request so that whoever you are talking to has a chance to meet your needs, or you can opt out. It's up to you. Maybe you don't have a request. That's fine. In the case we have been discussing, the person who needed peace and quiet to sleep might request that they be home by midnight, or park on the street if they get home later than 10pm. Requests are not demanding, they are open for discussion and allow the other person to be part of the solution. Asking them if they can think of anything that might help is another compassionate request. They can always say no, and it's important to be unattached to their response. However, meeting your needs means you are ultimately responsible, and if they are unwilling to park out on the street or be home by midnight, you better be prepared to wear earplugs or find a better way to get peace and quiet.

Hope this helps! Communication takes practice, patience, and perseverance. If you don't say it right the first time, just catch yourself and try again. Notice too that each step can be used when you are the listener! Develop your listening skills by noticing the other persons facts, feelings, needs, and request. Everyone says it differently, and when you listen to understand you are much more likely to understand ;)

Some health issues directly related to communication are depression, anxiety, paranoia, diabetes, bipolar disorder, thyroid health, cancer, heart health, muscle pain, oral and ear health, and eye sight, just to name a few. Think of the body as a physical metaphor of the issues needing to be addressed for the growth of your soul, and peace of mind. Our inner chatter, our suppressed anger/resentment, our unspoken thought/feelings can greatly influence our health, and depend greatly on our ability to communicate. When you have compassion for yourself you can say "I tried my best, and I accept who I am at this moment," verses "Why did you do that! What a mistake!." Learning how to communicate with yourself in a healthy way is what I consider the first priority in learning to communicate. Once self-talk is healthy, it can be very easy to have a healthy conversation with someone else. Body language is more often subconscious. So, 95% of your truth will come through your movements and gestures already! 

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