My quote of the week comes from personal growth and communication expert John Powell.
The genius of communication is the ability to be both totally honest and totally kind at the same time.
That really speaks to me. We all want to know and be known, love and be loved. We all want to be able to speak up and express even tough truths in a way that is effective. The words you use when you speak up are just as important as the choice to speak up. Choose words that come from your core values, and words that empower others to live their highest values. Speak your mind, and mind your speech.
In Powell’s book Why I am Afraid to Tell You Who I Am, he describes five levels of communication.
Level 5: Small Talk. This is surface communication, like “How are you?” as you pass someone on the street. There’s nothing wrong with it. It helps to break the ice, but if communication remains on this level, it can be frustrating. Authentic intimacy requires greater depth, and tough truths require much greater depth.
Level 4: Factual Conversation. This is when the conversation stays at a head level. It lacks feeling. At this level you might describe all the rational reasons why something is true for you, but not explain why you care so much or how it affects you personally. Again, facts are important in conversation. But including emotions takes communication to a new level.
Level 3: Ideas and Opinions. This is where authenticity and intimacy begin. You start to expose yourself at this level, sharing opinions and hopes that go beyond the factual. Its amazing how much ice is broken at this level, when we really hear each others hopes (and fears) and dreams.
Level 2: Feelings and Emotions. This is where tough truth is expressed, as well as exciting vision. This is when you describe why you feel the way you feel. You describe what is going on inside you, including feelings of frustration, anger, resentment, or happiness.
Level 1: Deep Insight. This is the gold of communication where you bring together facts, opinions, feelings and depth. You speak honestly AND kindly, clear about who you are but not needing others to agree. When you connect at this level with another person, or a group of people, you have really struck the gold of authentic intimacy.
If we learn to communicate with compassion, we can know and be known in effective ways.
Two other authors are helpful when it comes to healthy communication, Marshall Rosenberg and Sharon Ellison. Marshall Rosenberg writes about non violent communication, by which he means communication that comes from a compassionate heart. He points to four steps in expressing yourself non violently-
- Observing- State what you observe, from your own perspective, and without judgment.
- Feeling- Explain how what you observe makes you feel without blame.
- Needs- Explain what is at stake for you and others you care about.
- Request- Ask for specific, concrete, changes.
Sharon Ellison’s book is called Taking the War Out of Our Words. She identifies some war-like communication traps.
Surrender-betrayal: Where you give in and take responsibility for a situation that you are not directly responsible for. You betray yourself.
Surrender-sabotage: Passive aggression is a classic example of sabotaging your own hopes and needs as well as confusing people around you.
Withdrawal-Escape: You avoid, or simply leave a conflict situation without saying anything.
Withdrawal-Entrap: You avoid in a way that forces someone else to do or say something inappropriate.
Attack-Justify: You rationalize and make excuses for what has happened.
Attack-Blame: You don’t hold back and use your speech to attack and judge.
Finding your balance of clear communication, conviction and compassion is liberating. But it takes mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh offers this awesome statement about truthful and loving speech-
Aware that words can create suffering or happiness, I am committed to learning to speak truthfully and constructively, using only words that inspire hope and confidence. I am determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain nor criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will do my best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten my safety.