I hear it sometimes in counseling and coaching sessions: “It’s just the way I am. I say what I have to say and if somebody doesn’t like it, it’s their problem.” This is a common attitude for someone who doesn’t want to make the effort to improve their communication skills. Some people don’t understand why the way they communicate is just as important as what they say – and at times it’s more important.
To illustrate, let’s talk about something that is on many of our minds this time of year – Thanksgiving. If you are planning a Thanksgiving feast, you have a choice about how to prepare it. You can simply stick the turkey in a pot of boiling water along with a can of green beans and then whip up a batch of instant mashed potatoes and toss a loaf of bread on the table. The end result is, in fact, a turkey dinner. But how much do you think your family would enjoy that meal?
Part of the joy of gathering around the table for Thanksgiving is the satisfaction you receive from seeing your efforts culminate in a beautiful, delicious meal that is worth every hour of preparation.
If you’re wondering how turkey and communication are alike, remember that the key is the process and the method used to accomplish the goal.
Relationships cannot exist without some communication taking place, and you have choices related to the quality of the relationships in your life. Just like the cook who carelessly boils a turkey, you can choose to blurt out whatever comes to your mind without considering how it will make the other person feel. You can be thoughtlessly rude or unkind and, in fact, get your point across. But I can guarantee, you will be disappointed in the results as your relationships become dry, lifeless and possibly suffer irreparable damage.
On the other hand, when you take the time to listen to another person’s needs and feelings, think before you speak to be sure that your words aren’t cutting, and use communication to bring about understanding and agreement, you can accomplish much better results. Your relationships will be characterized by openness, trust, cooperation and enjoyment.
For some people, difficulty with healthy communication is simply a matter of the way they were raised. When parents haven’t taught a child to speak politely or be considerate it may be because they were never taught those principles themselves. Family dynamics can be passed down for generations until someone takes the time to break the cycle. For others, destructive communication occurs because of anger, pain or insecurity. If you are struggling with negative emotions causing harsh communication, it’s important for you to address the underlying issues in order to improve your relationships.
You CAN learn to communicate in healthy, productive ways if you make the effort. If you sense that people are put off by the way you say things, ask for honest feedback from someone you trust. If your words are reflecting a deep emotional need or scar, a trained therapist may be able to help you root out the cause and learn more positive ways to communicate.
If you are getting together with friends and family this Thanksgiving it could be a great opportunity for you to practice your communication skills. It’s worth the effort! Enjoy your turkey and your improved relationships!
Live, Work and Relate Well!
P.S. If you’re ready to make the effort to improve your communication skills, I highly recommend the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.