Communication skills are the key to successful, healthy relationships. Do you find it hard to speak up for yourself? Are you afraid of what might happen if you say how you really feel?
If you spent a lot of your life around unsafe people, at some point you probably decided that it’s better to stay silent about things that matter to you. In certain situations this is adaptive, but for most it isn’t.
Communication Skills Concept #1: Identify Whether to Speak Up or Stay Silent
If you, like me, tend to stuff your feelings and needs to avoid conflict or stay invisible, it’s a given that you need to speak up more. You need to actively work on your communication skills.
A wise friend on LinkedIn made this comment on a post I’d written on this subject:
“Time, audience, tone of voice and truth.”
When you identify that you need or want to say something, run it through these filters:
1) Is it a good time?
Will there be enough time to properly discuss it? Will you have the other person’s full attention? What kind of mood are they in? What kind of mood are you in?
2) Will this person listen?
Know your audience. I hope most people in your life will be willing to listen to you, and care about what you need to say. If not, you need to get some new people.
Sometimes difficult people are fixtures in our lives. This could be an insensitive boss, or a chronically unkind family member.
This type of person may have demonstrated repeatedly that they will not listen to you and don’t care. It’s generally unwise to express yourself to someone like this, unless the circumstances leave you no other option. Save your breath, your dignity and your emotional energy. A trained counselor can help you navigate this type of situation.
3) How can you speak, in order to be heard?
Tone of voice, as my friend mentioned, is key. I’m emotional, so it’s best I wait for a better time if I’m feeling off kilter. If I start getting upset during a difficult conversation, I’ll take a time out and reengage when calm. I’m working on the key communication skills of speaking calmly and respectfully, even if I’m really angry or frustrated about something.
Sometimes the truth will suddenly come out during an emotional exchange, and that can be a good thing. It’s still more ideal to speak your truth while calm. Cultivate a tone of voice that helps you to be heard, respected and well received.
Communication Skills Concept #2: Know Your Truth
Before you speak up, get clear about what it is you need to say and why.
1) Pay attention when you feel resentful.
Ask yourself why. Get clear about what is bothering you and why you need to speak up. Plan how you might express this effectively. Then choose your timing well.
2) Identify when you need to say no
Are you someone who needs to learn to say no? In a situation where you feel pressure to say yes, but want to say no, clarify your “why”. You don’t have tell the other person why. If you know why you have to say no, it will help you find the strength and the words.
3) Honor your emotions
If you shove down your emotions, notice that habit. What is the emotion you are avoiding or hiding? Practice identifying the truth of your emotions, and the way you hide them from others. What are you missing out on, because of this? How are you and your relationships suffering? When you are ready, if the situation is safe, start telling key people how you really feel.
4) Get wise help and support
As I mentioned, a good counselor can be very helpful with all of this. Together you can uncover and explore your most important truths, and the people you need to say things to. They can help you improve your communication skills. They can help you to formulate how and when to share these truths in real life. A wise friend or mentor can do the same thing.
If you’ve spent a lifetime pretending and hiding, it can feel really awkward and messy when you start to speak your truth. It’s still worth it.
It takes too much energy to hold all that truth inside.
What a relief it is to be real, when you find the courage and wisdom to do it.
(P.S. A few years ago I shared some stories from my life around the issue of speaking up – here’s a link to my article “Do You Need To Speak Up“)