I’ve been in several situations lately where I’m being re-exposed to learning, communication, and behavioral styles, and it got me into an interesting conversation with a friend earlier today.
Regardless of where you live or what you do, it’s likely that at some point someone has given you advice or feedback that sounded harsh, maybe even judgmental or critical. And maybe you’ve even been on the flip side: you had something important to say, but when you delivered it to the recipient they didn’t take it the way you’d expected or hoped. Maybe your request or advice was met with defensiveness, or maybe the person felt wounded when that’s not what you’d intended.
Personally I like people to be very direct with me. If I ask someone how they’re doing, I really want to know. If they ask me, I want to be able to say more than a polite “fine, thank you” like my mama taught me. My preference and my expectation is to be able to hear and receive truth.
Others might prefer a softer, less blunt style of feedback and communication in general. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t “get” these styles as much, and that’s OK. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t come across them in life, and that I don’t need to learn to communicate effectively with them. I would like to give clients/students advice or instruction in a way they could hear and incorporate so their lives will be improved, more than I want to be wedded to my particular style. I also like to be able to communicate with my partner, who has an opposite style to mine. That said, learning to do what doesn’t come naturally or what one prefers themselves can be challenging!
Three things come to mind when I consider this challenge.
- We all exist somewhere on a continuum, or spectrum, when it comes to how directly we’d like to deliver information and how we’d like to receive information. Maybe that’s the same point for both (i.e. I like being blunt and I like people to be blunt with me), or maybe it’s seemingly contradictory (i.e. I like being direct but when someone communicates with me I prefer they warm me up to the point a little first).In the same way, there’s a spectrum for how the message is delivered (i.e. the “tone”). As my friend pointed out, one could be direct in the words one chooses, but the way the words are said can reflect more or less thoughtfulness, regardless of how much care is actually felt deep inside in the person delivering the message. In other words, I may really care for you, but that doesn’t come through in my tone as I tell you something directly. Someone might also be indirect but very thoughtful. Is it even possible to be indirect and tactless? “Bless your heart,”, I think I recently had this experience at a Texas spa where my appointment time got confused.
Anyway, let’s say you wanted to make a request that I change some behavior. And let’s say that I’m the type of person who’s direct and a little more toward the tactless ends of these spectra in how I deliver requests for others to change their behavior. If I prefer the same levels of delivery, and you’re indirect and super sweet to me, I will not understand what you’re trying to say. I will likely also get frustrated and annoyed. If you prefer indirect and more loving deliveries, and I try and ask you do to something, you will likely feel wounded and hurt. And that’s assuming that the way we prefer to deliver and receive information is the same. If we each differ on those points, then it becomes an even trickier puzzle to solve! Isn’t it a wonder we communicate as well as we do?? And no wonder we have problems!
- So whether or not you followed me on all that spectrum stuff, here’s the deal. I think we’re all just looking to level out. I (generally) need to learn to be a little more chatty before I go to my point, and I need to be a little more tactful in how I deliver it. I also need to be able to hear or pull messages out of indirect deliveries, and accept a little more sweetness. You might need to be a little less circuitous and a little more powerful. There’s nothing wrong with either; it’s just where each of us need to grow, and if we’re rubbing each other the wrong way, it’s because we are giving each other this opportunity to grow! Isn’t it beautiful? 😉 What’s more is that we must learn to adjust to different people we encounter as partners, workers, bosses, parents, children, etc. Every person in our lives can be viewed as someone who helps us continuously fine tune our language, kind of like a tight-rope walker uses a balancing tool to keep their movements from going too far to one side or the other. Sometimes we’ll “fall” and the relationship will end. Sometimes we’ll find ways to recover And we’ll learn from each of those experiences.
- Hey, is there any help out here?? Do we just keep going back and forth without any guidance until we all figure it out for ourselves? Yes. The yogi’s call it Satya. It means being truthful in one’s thoughts, speech, and actions. What you think about a person can have a profound affect on how you say it even if you’re trying for it not to. For example: if I think my partner’s an idiot for not taking out the trash, when I ask him, “honey, could you please take out the trash?” it will have what you know is that tone laced with judgment and frustration, which he”ll pick up more strongly than my words. The words are direct and polite, but the person on the receiving end will feel that lack of tact. It’s not likely, but if I were to think loving thoughts of my partner while saying the same words and throwing up my hands and shaking them (an action), that is also likely to be received poorly. Thoughts, speech, and action must match, or else confusion registers in our systems–and from confusion comes misunderstandings and complications.
Does this make sense? Do you know where you are on these spectra when it comes to delivering and receiving messages from loved ones? Do your thoughts, actions, and speech align? Where might you practice today?