This post is perhaps the first one to actually address the underlying theme of this blog: how to create a life that allows you to fly; to be that person you dream of being; to be happy and content and engaged and loved. To have hope. To experience joy. I’m finally back in the headspace and heartspace to be able to write these. Let’s see where this journey leads us. ❤
I consider good, open, aware communication to be the foundation of all relationships. Any relationship. Lovers, colleagues, friends. Anyone you have to interact with. It facilitates understanding, compassion and resolution. It creates understanding where previously there may have been frustration. Hope where there may have been despair.
Much of my experience in this life has been about refining and practicing communication. Learning how to be clear, how to ensure it is heart-felt and compassionate, how to facilitate understanding and resolution. It’s what I do well, when I’m paying attention and coming from a place of love and confidence. (I know this is not always the case, but it’s becoming more the norm, of which I am quietly proud).
There are many books and resources on communication. I wrote about one of them 1.5 months ago. There are blogs and websites dedicated to communication, and courses that teach you skills (which you will hopefully then practice). I’m not going to repeat them here.
What I wanted to talk about was the space before and during communication, the self-awareness that is necessary and a technique that helps me enormously. Namely awareness and compassion. These apply to all forms of communication at all times, but are particularly pertinent for communication that involves emotionally weighty issues. The foundation of these concepts is my practice of always wanting to make my life better, smoother, shinier, clearer, to engage with my heart. As well as my assumption that life always gets better, if I’m willing to work to make it so, to change my patterns and remove my barriers.
Often we come to a communication with fear, or without clearly thinking through what we want to achieve and what would make the situation better. We dive in, or react in a defensive knee-jerk fashion to a situation as presented. Or start from a place of low-confidence in who we are and what we have to contribute, assuming that everyone is critical of us. Completely understandable, but not very helpful, for anyone. Compassion and awareness help to change these patterns, beliefs and assumptions. They allow for true feelings to flow.
Most literature on this topic will at some stage discuss listening as a foundation of communication, and it’s true, communication is very difficult if you don’t listen and are not listened to. However, at a deeper level is the practice of compassion. Truly listening to what someone says, to understand their needs and motivations. To understand why they are saying something, and whether they’ve understood what you are saying to them.
Compassion allows you to take a step back and care that the other party/ies get the support they need. Compassion reduces the possibility of passive-aggressiveness as it reduces the likelihood that you will only focus on the wrong you’ve suffered in the past, and instead find a balance between your needs and theirs. Or at least find a way to not escalate a conflict situation.
Compassion works both ways and also gives you permission to be heard. You are allowed to have a place to gently state what your needs and concerns are. Compassion understands that no two people communicate in the same way and this is OK. Compassion allows you to thoughtfully set guidelines for how communication could be improved.
Most literature on the topic assumes you know what you want to communicate, and that you just need a way to do so. What if this is not the case? What if you are reacting to a situation? What if you’ve never thought about what you want?
Prior awareness of your needs, wants, and expectations helps. The ability to quickly assess these at a deep level really helps. Perhaps your inital reaction is anger. Why? What is it, specifically, that is making you angry. If you approach the whole process with compassion, then it is unlikely to be every single aspect of the interaction. Find the bit that’s triggered your reaction, observe it, drill down on it, find out why it’s triggered the reaction. This then either allows you to specifically address the actual issue, or to disregard it and focus on a positive resolution.
A lot of the groundwork for this can be laid beforehand, through your awareness of what is important to you. Your values and boundaries. What a good life feels like and what impact this communication has on that life. This is easier if you are quietly confident in who you are and where you are going. (If you’re not at this stage yet, then perhaps this is what you should be working on?)
This then leads to an awareness of the long term outcome, rather than scoring points or reacting in fear for the short term. Is it more important to keep lines of communication open? Or to ensure your expectations are explicit? To get resolution on a specific issue, and perhaps ignore all the history and detail around this issue? All of these are pertinent at different times.
Practice: Stillness and Love
Philosophy is all well and good, but how do you do this? What does it feel like?
For me it is a quiet place inside, a stillness that I can access when I need it. I know that I’ve found this place when my fear and nervousness transforms into a welling up of love and a deep clarity about the subject/situation. Both my needs and expectations, and the likely needs and expectations of the person I’m communicating with.
I found this through practicing to find the quiet place inside, encouraging it. During a 2-year period from January 2007 until February 2009 I fostered it and learnt what it felt like by chasing it everytime I was stressed or disappointed or hurt. Looking for the source of that emotion and then letting it dissolve as I understood that it was the result of the assumptions, expectations and interactions of myself with other people, in my present and my past.
Then summoning the bravery to check this with the person involved, to tell them what my real concerns and desires were, opening up. Changing a lifetime of belief that only conflict would come from opening up and not conforming to other’s expectations. Instead finding that this fostered trust and love.
Or in situations where I did not want an ongoing relationship, but instead needed to set a boundary of expected behaviour, then it allowed me to be very clear on what was acceptable, what was needed such that the immediate anxiety and stress around the situation was dissipated.
Underlying these philosophies and practices is the concept of permission. This is perhaps the most important aspect of flying, and something we can really only give to ourselves. We can give ourselves permission to be ourselves. Not in a confrontational way, but in a calm, centred, confident way. We can give ourselves permission to state what we want and what will make a situation better for everyone, both immediately and in the future.
A dear friend gave me a copy of ” Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah” by Richard Bach. One of its most powerful concepts is that you are free to make the rules for your life, as is everyone else. I struggled with this for a while, until I got it. I am free to decide how I react to a situation- my rules, and the other person is free to decide how they react-their rules. I am not responsible for their reaction, unless I choose to be. (more on this some other time I think)
So, find your rules for this life that allow you to communicate with compassion and awareness. Mine include:
- If I don’t tell you what I truly want or expect then I cannot be upset with you for not understanding
- There is always a way to find a solution that will make us all happy. We probably won’t get everything we wanted, but we will be happy
- Fear and anxiety create a block which reduces communication and can create downward emotional spirals. Pause, find the quiet centre, find your courage, and then start again
- I can explain anything if I give myself the permission and space to do so
I’ve realised that often communication falters because we don’t make our expectations, assumptions and fears explicit. We hide behind big walls, protecting ourselves against potential hurt, instead of opening up to the other, or being strong and confidently stating what we need in a compassionate way.
So, I have resolved to practice proactive communication that comes from a place of compassion and awareness. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is very rewarding. You can feel situations changing and developing. Change for the better, change that brings hope.
As I was completing this post, I came across a lovely post on leadership styles. Which contained the following line:
Each time you choose to speak from your heart, rather than say what you think someone else wants to hear, you act as a leader.
It seemed an appropriate addendum.