Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about communication, expression and connection. I’ve been feeling like there are so many superficial and artificial conversations–so many people talking with their heads instead of their hearts; speaking from fear rather than from love. My biggest frustration is–how do I express myself? How do I say what is really in my heart? How do I have meaningful conversations. How do I connect with other people? How do I deepen my relationships? How do I relate emotionally?
I think of how many times I find myself falling into surface conversations. We seem to have so many automatic questions and responses–How are you? (Good.) / How was your day? (It was pretty good.) / How’s the weather? (Fine.) / What are you doing this weekend? / How’s your job going? / Do you have any vacation plans? / What have you been up to?–the list goes on; most of them focusing on what we are ‘doing’.
Of course these kinds of questions are fine with acquaintances and coworkers and they can be useful conversation starters with family, friends, spouses or partners but what about the rest of the conversations we are having in our day to day lives. How many of them really leave us feeling fulfilled, connected? How many of them leave us with a sense that we have a better understanding of that person and that we might be better understood? Why don’t we start asking better questions? Why don’t we start giving honest, whole-hearted responses?
Another problem with most of our conversations is that we often end up talking about ourselves–our problems and our struggles; our views, our accomplishments and our future plans. Sometimes what the other person said is hardly heard at all; or the words are heard but we don’t read between the lines to try and understand what was actually being conveyed. Me, me, me!! Many of us just want to unload or vent to relieve our stress. How often do we really make the effort to really LISTEN to people and to see things from their point of view?!
Finally, there’s the big, old ego always getting in the way. It is constantly holding up that mask of protection. We tread carefully in attempt to avoid our fears. Underneath it all, I believe we all want to share our true thoughts and feelings–our true selves–but there are so many risks in conversations; especially those conversations with people with love. And ironically, the closer we get to someone, the harder it can be to open up and be real.
One of my greatest fears is saying the wrong thing–What if I embarrass myself? What if I look stupid or incompetent? What if I offend the other person or hurt their feelings? My other huge fear is rejection–What if the person disagrees or disapproves of what I say? What if the person gets angry and doesn’t like me anymore? What if the person doesn’t like the Donna I show?
I think a few keys to good conversation are: having a clear intention, sharing your feelings, being totally present and full acceptance of yourself and the other person/people.
When we are not being clear about our intention, the message we send can be misconstrued. For example, you come home from a stressful day at work and you just want your partner to listen and be empathetic. But because this wasn’t stated, your partner ends up thinking you are unhappy with your job and gives you advice—this leaves you feeling disappointed and more stressed out than before.
If you are in a bad mood and thinking negative thoughts and your coworker is telling you how tired she is, your response is likely to seem uncaring and aloof. If you are attempting to express gratitude but you have some underlying resentments toward that person, you words will probably fall flat. It’s important that your words match the thoughts in your head—mean what you say and say what you mean!
Sharing what you are feeling or what you need also helps to make sure your message is transmitted clearly. So many feelings are left unsaid, leaving the listener guessing at what you’re really trying to say. People are not mind readers—we must be precise and specific about what we expect. I think a lot of misunderstandings could be avoided if we were simply open and honest with our feelings and our needs.
Not being present leads to many problems; all of them based in fear: Desperately trying to control the conversation so we can talk about things we are comfortable with or interested in. Thinking about what to say next and miss out on what the other person is saying. Judging and rejecting what the person is saying before they even have a chance to complete their sentence because we are scared of not being ‘right’.
Other common ego-centred pitfalls include: Making an effort to tell what we know, voice our opinions or come up with witty stories in order to appear smart, interesting or funny. Giving unsolicited advice so we feel helpful and wise. Going on and on about our own routines, activities or accomplishments just so we seem busy and successful. Sharing our life dramas to gain attention or trying to get sympathy by describing our hardships and heartaches in great detail.
We are so scared of feeling inferior, so terrified of being ‘wrong’, so horrified that we might appear dull or stupid or lazy. Basically, we fear that we won’t be able to connect; that we will be alone. Yet the irony is that all of these tactics we use to try to ‘connect’ keep us from the true connection we crave! If we only left our egos behind for a while, we would start to develop deeper and more meaningful connections with people.
Finally, what I have discovered as I have been writing this, is the essential role of acceptance. When we reject parts of ourselves, we can’t express ourselves as an integrated and whole person. We end up holding back in fear of being completely seen. This holding back is what has caused me to feel detached and unsatisfied. The thing is, it’s almost impossible to connect when you are afraid or anxious. What I am now realizing is the importance of having the courage to be yourself. Feeling comfortable in your own skin allows you to relax and let others in. It makes it easier to see others with accuracy as well.
When we reject others, verbally or mentally, we fail to let them be themselves. Something miraculous happens when we let a person be the unique individual he/she is. When we stop controlling, judging and rejecting and simply observe that person as he is and listen to what he saying, deep connection can occur. Everyone has something to offer us, something to teach us and all we need to do is open our hearts, look him in the eyes and feel acceptance for this flawed and beautiful human being. He may have different fears, different ideas and a different perspective on the world but he is just like YOU!
My conclusion is this—it is only when you accept yourself that you can truly SPEAK and it is only when you accept others that you can truly LISTEN.