I love to communicate with people. Admittedly, I’m not too interested in superficial cocktail party-type chatter, but I find a true and deep meeting with another enormously enriching. I mean, don’t we all? What fills us up more than a real connection – from a knowing glance with a stranger to an all-night pajama party with your lover or best friend? And what is more disconcerting than misunderstandings, disagreements, and fears and defenses that keep us isolated?
Satisfying communication is mutual in that the two people speaking share an understanding of the meaning of what is being said. The conversation flows and feels easy and connected. Both people are open and present, and their needs are being met. Communication includes the intention, choice of words, tone of voice, body language, and willingness to listen.
Investigating Your Habits
Improving communication takes more than simply applying some tips and tools. You might decide to integrate new communication skills into your conversations, but in the midst of a challenging interaction, the strength of your feelings and opinions stops you in your tracks.
Our habits of speaking and listening, the ways in which we strategize to protect our interests or present ourselves in a certain way, are well entrenched. If you find that you have communication problems in your relationships, or that you would like to deepen in your level of connection with others, the only real solution is to be self-aware, to turn your attention inside to investigate the expectations, fears, and defenses that you bring to the conversation and cause you trouble. Only then can you make a different choice. You must really want to change by being awake enough to bypass your old patterns as you are speaking and be present in a different and more fulfilling way.
Bringing Peace to Your Relationships
You can blame the other person for the difficulties in your interactions, as many of us do, but nothing will shift until you take an honest, heartfelt look at yourself. And I encourage you to do so. Communication is a topic of great interest to me because it is a gateway into realizing the inherent sameness of all beings and provides so many opportunities to reflect on the values and qualities we live by and bring into the world. Communication is how we make contact with one another, expressing our inner world and receiving the expressions of others. With every interaction, we can make peace or war, literally. It is true, that peace begins at home. Consider looking inside to see what is most important to you, what you really want, and illuminating the inner tangles that divert you from being receptive, available, and loving in your interactions.
The Four Essential Guidelines
Coming from a backdrop that, deep down, all of us want to be peaceful and at ease, the way in which you communicate can either support this desire or perpetuate disharmony. The Buddhist teachings offer some guidelines to consider prior to speaking:
- Is it true?
- Is it useful?
- Can I say it with kindness?
- Is now the proper time and place?
We consider each of these in more detail, the first one below, and the remaining three in Part 2. My purpose is this: as you become more aware of your inner experience, the mysterious reasons why you continue to recreate unsatisfying habits in your relationships are brought out into the light of day. You come to know consciously the thoughts and feelings that motivate your behavior and the subtle belief systems you live by that take you down a road to unhappiness. As your inner world is seen fully, by courageous exploration, and you welcome your experiences without judgment or resistance, you experience the freedom to respond in new, conscious, life-affirming ways.
Is it true?
One of the fundamentals of skillful speech is honesty. Telling the truth is simplifying and contributes to clarity of mind. When you say what is true, it is finished, with no residue. If you fabricate, distort the truth, or misrepresent yourself, something inside feels unaligned and off. You might feel guilty or confused. It takes energy to be dishonest. At some level, you know the truth, but you must invoke defenses and justifications to make the lie seem acceptable, which stirs your inner pot.
It is worth taking a look to uncover the lies in your relationships. See if any of the following resonate: lying on your resume, saying you will call someone back when you know you have no intention of doing so, exaggerating an accomplishment or fabricating it completely, failing to admit to a wrongdoing, blaming the other when you know you share some responsibility. Years ago, I was in a relationship with a man who told me that he used to cheat on his girlfriends. He related that he had an epiphany in which he deeply experienced the harm he was causing to others as well as himself. In that moment, the cheating was over. He experienced a great deal of remorse and even apologized to some of the people who had been affected.
By being honest, you take responsibility for yourself and communicate your inner truth. Honesty is not a weapon or an excuse to attack or criticize someone. It is speaking from the heart about your own experience. When you start a sentence with, “You are a…” or “You make me…,” you are going down a road of trouble. When you speak from your own perspective about your feelings and needs, you are keeping the lines of communication open. Be attentive to how open the other person is to what you are saying. If she argues, looks away, crosses her arms, or changes the subject, regroup and try again by speaking directly about your own experience (e.g., “I would like us to be able to communicate better”).
One of the benefits of being honest in relationships is greater closeness. Recently, I told my partner an inner truth that I had been suppressing for some time because of my fear about the potential impact on our relationship. For a few weeks prior, I had been irritable, argumentative, and frankly not so easy to live with. When I became uncomfortable enough, it was clear that I wanted to tell the truth, rather than live in fear of the consequences. The result has been some very honest, loving discussions that have deepened the intimacy and respect between us. I have heard of two couples recently in long-term relationships who made the commitment, finally, to tell the truth to one another. Only one relationship survived, but the one that ended did so beautifully, in full resolution for both partners.
It is true that honest communications are not always well received. To be courageously honest, means fully receiving any outcome that results from what you say. Sometimes when we start telling the truth, we are faced with some difficult choices. Stay grounded in yourself, and meet whatever you experience with compassion. Your inner truth is always your best guide.
We could say that honesty is the best policy. I support you in being honest, not as a policy, but as a commitment to yourself to live in accordance with what you know to be true, to live in inner freedom and peace.
What has been your experience when you tell the truth? How has it affected you and your relationships?
In Part 2, we will address the next three guidelines: Is it useful? Can I say it with kindness? Is now the proper time and place?
image credit: ingorrr