Communication can seem a very simple part of our expression. We communicate both verbally and non-verbally 100% of the time and yet, what we communicate, is sometimes not our original intent. In this short article, we break down some of the foundations of communication and how much of this is influenced by the bias of what we have lived.
Do we truly listen and, therefore, hear what another is saying? Do we pay attention in the moment or do we flash to the picture of how it should be and then find ourselves itching to interrupt and give our opinion, perhaps even share a similar experience, rather than support that person to unravel theirs? Perhaps the conversation we have is not external but internal and we hear what they are saying but have a dialogue of opinion and discussion running in our head. If everything can be felt, whether it is expressed verbally or not, then listening to the person in front of us, offering them space to express without interruption, can be a whole-body experience and a skill well worth practicing.
So why do we listen but potentially not actually hear what is being said? What is clouding the space? All too often how we are listening and what we are hearing is coloured by the experiences we have in our lives (our story). For example, someone who has not grown up with very much love in their life, may feel irritated by others complaining. This is especially the case if they judge the other persons’ life is so much better than their own. Could it be we are hearing through a fog of comparison and judgement and or us wanting to relate our own ‘story’ to their picture? If we are choosing to listen more, to allow space to hear what is said, then the other person can unpick what is going on for them, because they have the space to express. Try it and hear what happens.
Do we talk over each other, not waiting for a break or a pause or to check they have finished but jumping in to give our opinion, experience or perspective? Are our mealtimes a free-for-all where everyone is talking and no-one is listening? Are we worried about forgetting what we want to say and, therefore, justify our interrupting even if our reply is seemingly on or off-topic? When a person is interrupted, and particularly when the reply is off-topic, the person speaking very quickly clocks that they were not heard and there can be a sense of “what is the point of speaking because no-one actually listens?” Then we get a withdrawn teenager who doesn’t communicate anymore and wonder how we got there. Consider setting a practice at the dinner table, only one person talks at a time, no-one jumps in, no one interrupts and everyone listens to what the other has to say. Perhaps start by you practicing not interrupting and see what happens before you introduce it to others.
We can be triggered by what people say, without them even being aware of it, because we hear things through a fog of our own pictures and experiences. We are not taught to put ourselves ‘to one side’ and to listen with our whole body to what another is sharing both verbally and non-verbally, and to bring understanding to why they are communicating in the way they are. In this way, we commonly react to their reactions! It can get out of hand very quickly with one reaction firing up the other persons’ reaction. Before you know it, someone is storming out and there is a pile of poo to wade through before you can come back to the original message or communication! Go back to the basics of listening and hearing before seeing if your reply is feeding the reaction cycle.
When we observe conversations through listening and hearing, we listen with our whole body, without the incessant chatter in our mind, we allow space to observe what is being shared. We have a sense of how to respond that isn’t influenced by our own pictures but has a greater understanding of what is being said and what response is needed. It is the difference between wanting to be the ‘rescuer’ or ‘fixer’ and just listening. There is no need for criticism or irritation because there is no cloud of expectation, therefore, what we say doesn’t come loaded, our words are simply offered.
What we intend to be heard and what is heard can differ enormously and what can be intended as a supportive comment can easily end up as being perceived as criticism. Criticism has its roots in expectation and is the killer of all joy. Children often share they hear criticism more often than any other form of communication from their parents, so it is worth being aware and taking practical steps to consider why this is a form of communication that is expressed more than appreciation – its antithesis. Wouldn’t it be great if we could appreciate as easily as we criticise?
Expectation is full of pictures of how we think or want people, situations and life to be. They can be high-level ideals or they can be well thought out beliefs that cloud our way of listening, seeing and experiencing life. When people, situations or life does not live up to our expectations, we find ourselves in separation from a ‘team’ approach to life and start to consider that we have the answer to how it ‘should’ be. We bring less understanding and more judgment about all the ways people are not living up to our expectations when we live from a place of ‘should’.
Sarcasm is a painful form of humour that is a learnt behaviour in childhood and not an innately natural form of communication. It asks for subtleties of observation and quick wit to mock and belittle another in a supposed subtle and ‘humourous’ way. However, the humour is for the person being sarcastic and the bystanders who equally enjoy the ritual of mocking and belittling another. It is not for the benefit of the person who is on the receiving end of the so-called ‘humour’. The person on the receiving end of sarcasm, would register the hurt, which potentially scars them for many years to come. Suggest cutting this form of communication out altogether.
Decency should be the lowest standard of communication we accept and express to ourselves or to another. Being super sensitive to the incessant chatter we allow in our heads could be the first step to clocking if what we are hearing is decent or not. First and foremost, we have to ask ‘do we speak to ourselves in a decent way?’ If we are short, harsh, abrupt or dismissive to those around us, there is at least an honest reflection and less of a surprise that you are like this with yourself. Yet, what if you are really kind and decent to everyone else but your familiar way is to trash yourself? An example of that in a living-space would be to tidy up for everyone else but leave it messy when it is just you at home. If we want decency in our communication then we need to start at home, and treat ourselves as we would want to treat another and would like to be treated by others. We all want love and decency and we are each responsible for being it first before we ask for that from another.
Respect builds on decency. It holds space for another to express themselves and come to the end of their sentence, train of thought or to their own understanding of the experience they are sharing. Respect is a form of communication that doesn’t come loaded with expectation or judgement and would certainly not indulge in humour at the expense of another. Once again, respect internally makes respect externally a natural expression.
Appreciation is a master healer, it offers each and every one of us the opportunity to bring awareness to who we are, where we are from and what we bring in life beyond all the ‘doing’ that is championed in our society, culture and world. Appreciation has no need, no expectation, no demands, no pictures, and, therefore, there is no need to ‘perform’ to receive it. The best relationship to have with appreciation is a deeply personal one which offers a foundation that is then available to offer to others. If we can make appreciation of ourselves our ‘normal’, it will change the communication we have with others on a fundamental level.