A friend of mine once said that he believed verbal communication did not evolve as a way to be better understood by other people, but rather as a way to hide what we really think and feel. As a motivational speaker on communication, I was very curious as to his reasoning. His answer was intriguing.
He said that when all we had was nonverbal communication, people got really good at understanding what was going on. Really good. Then, in an effort to conceal their true feelings, they developed words to confuse people. As evidence he pointed to how frequently people say one thing – and actually mean another.
- "Oh, I'm fine," says the woman when her boyfriend asks her how she is when he walks in an hour late.
- "I'm not really hungry," says the very hungry daughter to her mom when she sees that scary green soup coming to the table.
- "Yes, I understand," says the man who doesn't really understand when his son says, yet again, that he can't come over to visit.
I have no idea if there is any validity to his reasoning, but it did get me to thinking how often people do this. Myself included. Our reasons make sense – we are too emotional to be articulate, we don't want to hurt someone's feelings or we don't want to appear vulnerable. But when we take the easy way out, we really complicate things. One more thing gets shoved under the rug, adding years of pain, confusion and mud to the pile.
I believe that with kindness and grace we can assertively tell the truth about how we feel. Let's look at the above examples:
- "I'm upset and frustrated. I worked hard to make you a great dinner and have it ready when you said you'd be here."
- "Mom, I'm not crazy about that soup. I love you – but that soup scares me." (A little humor can be a good thing to defuse emotions.)
- "Son, I'm hurt. You've declined my invitations for the last 3 months and that makes me feel unimportant to you."
I know it takes courage to, as my friend and colleague Colette Carlson says, speak your truth, but the payoff can be well worth the effort. As for me – I vote for a little bit of immediate discomfort in exchange for longer, healthier, happier relationships filled with mutual respect and honesty. Loving honesty.
How about you?