Communication is such a tricky thing to do well. Invariably people misunderstand each other, misinterpret or struggle to stay connected by the inadequacy of language. Despite lecturing in counselling and communication skills, being a psychotherapist and a lifetime of study on this very topic, I’m still working at mastery! I’m better at it these days than in the past but I still feel like there is room for improvement. It takes great courage to speak honestly and vulnerably from the heart, and as columnist Parker Palmer recently said, we need both the “courage to speak and the humility to listen” to move forward. He was referring to the state of political discussions today, but I think it’s equally true in our everyday relationships, if not more so.
As October is social compassion month at Bare Hands HQ, this is worth a deeper look.
How to find the courage to speak from the heart…
Often the hesitation to ‘say it as it is’, directly and honestly, comes from the intention of wanting to do the right thing for the other person and keep them happy, while also avoiding; vulnerability, risking dislike or disapproval for ourselves. Sadly, the fear of these things really gets in the way of communication that is both essential and the fabric of deeper bonds.
It’s our fear of losing connection that loses connection.
When we hide behind vagueness or avoid discussions that are uncomfortable, we actually push people away. In the pushing away, we also miss the opportunity of growing together through the differences. It’s in those moments when someone has the space to really share from the heart and be heard, that trust grows. So if you’re afraid of speaking up, remember it’s a gift to someone else when you do. It shouts, I respect you and our relationship matters.
Relationships are a two way street though…
It’s easier to speak to someone courageously when they listen, really listen, with humility. It takes just as much courage to listen to someone else’s ideas and opinions as it does to speak. This is especially true if they have a difference of opinion or if, in someway, they disapprove of you or what you have to say. To listen with humility, means having ears wide open and a mind that’s able to put rebuttals and defences aside for a moment. It’s hard not to want to defend one’s reputation or position in the face of a negative comment but if you can, instantly the speaker’s estimation of the listener will go up.
Want respect? Listen without justifying or defending. You’ll be amazed at how much that will build trust and help resolve any differences.
If you can show that you’ve really heard someone by reflecting what they’ve said back to them without having to alter or manipulate it in anyway, relief will follow, conflict will de-escalate and space will open up for possible solutions, even in impossible situations.
So for this week, if you have the opportunity to practice – speaking with courage and listening with humility, be brave and give it a go! Chances are, despite the challenge, connection will grow exponentially.