I'm writing this because I have had to yell it at, like, three people in two days, and, becoming frustrated at needed to reiterate it over and over, have finally decided to just take my own advice in a semi-public-ish forum.
This is the essence of human relations, the building blocks of society, and (according to Michele Small) one of the main features of humanity that distinguishes us from other species.
And now, you might think that if something were this important, that most of us would be good at it.
In my experience, most people are trained out of good communication skills throughout their lives; they are indoctrinated in every form of deception imaginable, their tongues reined in, and a deep-seated fear of rejection and/or humiliation and/or appearing gullible ingrained.
It seems that we are taught that it is better to be a doormat than speak out for our own needs and desires, and that's not right.
It seems that we are taught to deny ourselves rather than acknowledge how we actually feel.
Smile falsely rather than show that we are displeased, disagree, or do not feel the same as the others.
Bite our tongues and suffer in silence rather than speak out and risk a negative response.
I have seen people live in what is basically Hell rather than open their mouths to say anything against the situation, and then become bitter that no one helps them or understands how they feel.
There is power in speaking aloud, much power, and by refusing to state loudly what one needs and wants and hopes and fears, one is subjugated to an interior critic called Big Brother. But this isn't 1984 (despite any political goings-on that may suggest otherwise), and there is no such thing as thought-crime. No one can punish you for who you are and what you feel unless you give them that authority over you. No one has the right to critique you for feeling as you do; no one is can correct you because they aren't you.
Jess's Commandments of Communication:
1. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. If you feel angry, then say it! Bluntly, boldly. Knowing full well you have the right to feel that way.
2. Speak with your whole being. When I write say it, by this I don't just mean speaking calmly like you're sitting at some fucking garden-party-- shout it, growl it, snarl. Frown. Cross your arms. Bristle and bare your teeth. Embody your emotion; accept it, embrace it. Feel the strength in the deep currents of feeling, and let it brace you. If you are sad, cry or scream. Howl. Wail. Dance with joy. Smile with your whole body, radiating your pleased attitude. You cannot communicate well if you are saying one thing aloud and your body language is screaming something totally different. Be as honest and pure as spring rain.
3. Speak to yourself. Learn to embody your thoughts and emotions all of the time, even when you are alone. It makes doing it around other people so much easier. You cannot be honest with others if you cannot be honest with yourself. We learn deception by deceiving first ourselves.
4. It's OK to be afraid of a negative reaction from others, but it is not OK to let this stop you from speaking. Every time I open my mouth to speak from my heart, my stomach clenches up and tongue becomes sandpaper. If a lot is "on the line", so to speak-- potentially ruining a friendship, possible rejection in love, something like that--, it's worse. My hands get sweaty and clammy; my heart pounds against my ribcage; suddenly the air is thick and it's hard to breathe. I start to shake and turn red.
Am I afraid? You bet your ass I'm afraid! I'm bloody well terrified!
But... I know that I can't let that stop me. The stronger the fear, the more invested I am in the relationship, the more I care, the more I need to speak out honestly, and the better I will feel when the conversation is over and resolved.
This fear is healthy, and I think that it serves the same function as physical pain. When you feel pain, your body is trying to tell you that something is wrong and that you need to pay attention to, say, the knee you scraped or arm you broke. When you feel a fear of communicating your emotions, your heart is trying to tell you something is wrong and that you need to pay attention to the anger you feel at being ignored, the enviousness you feel toward others who have what you want.
Fear of rejection and other negative reactions doesn't necessarily ever go away, but you can become more accustomed to dealing with it. Practice makes perfect.
5. Know you have the right to feel the way you do. This is another one that takes practice, because (again, in my experience) it seems that most people-- especially women-- are taught to invalidate their own feelings. This is a horrible travesty, and man, does it ever piss me off to hear someone say, "Yeah, I'm angry, but I shouldn't be..." or "I feel so sad, but there's no reason for me to feel this way..." Use the word "but" sparingly! "But" should never be used as an invalidating technique! NEVER, NEVER, NEVER. (Is that clear?) In fact, it is my advice that "but" should never be used in a deep, heartful conversation. Use "and" instead, which validates how you feel and gives a chance to detail what you are saying further. This difference is this:
"I feel angry about the way you keep taking my parking spot in back, but I guess it doesn't matter all that much... (so on)"
"I feel angry about the way you keep taking my parking spot in back, and I guess it doesn't matter all that much...(so on)"
There's no shortcut to knowing that you have the right to claim you emotions; this is just something you have to keep telling yourself over and over (or better yet, find someone else to tell you this over and over) until it becomes an ingrained belief.
6. "Fights will go on as long as they have to"-- or, speak until you have completely drained the well. Speak until you feel limp, drained, exhausted. If you think you still have something left to say, you do. It's really that simple. If employing this commandment means repeating yourself ad nuseaum, do so; there is a reason for it buried deep in your subconscious. Keep talking until you have spoken everything on your mind and then brought up some things you never intended to mention and then discovered a few more things you didn't even know about yourself and how you felt going into the conversation. You'd be surprised how much you aren't consciously aware of, and how it plays into your life and your actions; like an iceberg, most emotion is below dark, frigid, turbulent waters and you cannot begin to see it unless you are willing to be courageous and brave the icy sea. Stream-of-consciousness talk it great for revealing this huge, hidden mass of feelings.
9. There's a difference between being honest and being a complete jerk. It's sometimes a very fine line, so tread carefully. It helps to make your feelings and intentions crystal clear from the get-go: "We need to talk about ____. I've been thinking about this for a while, but I've been afraid to bring it up because I don't want you to take it the wrong way / get mad at me / hate me, but I really need to get it out and say how I feel." There. You've brought up the problem, your fears of a negative reaction, and why you are speaking.
Asking "permission" after this little intro helps: "Is that ok?" or "Do you understand that?" It's not really permission, which is why I use the quotations. This question is actually asking acknowledgment of what you have just said, and gives you a chance to see how the person you are speaking to is probably going to react (thus allowing you to plot your word choices and structure what you have to say).
Mentioning your fear of anger or hate or whatever is actually a really good idea, though it may not seem it. It alerts the person you are speaking to that this is a delicate topic, but it also lets them know-- subtly-- that you're trying to be as tactful as possible because you don't want them to feel angry/hateful/etc., and that you don't want them to feel this way because your relationship is meaningful and because you care.
Also, just because I have been saying be honest and embody your emotions and writing about stream-of-consciousness talk does not mean that you should just start screaming at someone and not stop for an hour because you're angry about them eating the last brownie and no being considerate. Tact and subtlety are also key notes here. Speak calmly and rationally, detail how you feel and why, and make them understand and empathize. Even when they can't completely empathize, they can get the gist of why you function the way you do.
(Example: I may not empathize with someone's fear of dogs, but I can empathize with the feeling of fear and what it does to you, mentally and physically. They might not understand why I get angry at Tom's (annoyingly) paternal concern for me, but I can explain that I feel patronized, and that's something most people understand.)
8. Listen. This is an important part of communicating well, and, like speaking, this is a fine art that most people don't seem to be able to grasp. Unfortunately for this treatise, it is also edging out of my area of "expertise", however, I think I can dredge up a few pointers.
----a. Stay calm. Even if the other person does get angry, keep your head about you and listen to what they are really saying. Do they feel threatened, cornered, attacked? Have you trespassed their respect boundaries? Is that just the way they tend to react? Question them and draw them out if possible. Ask them to explain how they feel. Reflectively listen-- repeat what they just said as closely as possible in the form of a question in order to show that you heard what they said and yet subtly ask for more information.
----b. Shut up. Give them the time and space they need to respond and express how they feel.
----c. Pay attention and show it. Listen like you talk: with your whole body. Lean forward, make eye contact. Nod. Make those little murmuring encouragements. Pay attention to their body language, tone, and word choice in addition to the plain text of what they are saying. Ask for clarification if you need it. Don't interrupt; they have the right to feel the way they do, too.
----d. Focus on common ground. We all disagree...sometimes even when we agree, we disagree. The conversation goes a helluva lot smoother if you focus on shared feelings and ideas-- even real basic ones, like on your agreement of anger instead of on your disagreement of why you are angry. The more you look for similarities, the easier it is to resolve the conversation and find compromises, whereas the more you focus on differences, the rockier the road gets.
...I'm drained, which means I've spoken all I can think of right now.
Some of you might notice that, like all people, I am better as giving advice than taking it, and I won't try to grin and pass it off with a "Do as I say; don't do as I do." Y'all deserve better than that. The truth is that I try to follow this set of commandments, but I am only human(-ish) and sometimes I fail. I am not Buddha, but I am a buddha just trying to do the best I can.
I hope you found this helpful and not patronizing.
9. Don't assign blame. If your goal is to communicate your feelings successfully and not be an uber-bitch, then one of the primary things you DO NOT EVER want to do is assign blame. It is NEVER the other person's fault that you feel the way that you do; you can communicate the same sentiment without blaming by using "I" statements. This is really easy: instead of saying, "I got stranded 'cause you didn't pick me up" try "I felt abandoned and I was wondering if you had forgotten or were just running late." Explain how the action made you feel in detail and try not to use the word "you".
The object of the conversation is not to make the other person feel bad, guilty, or attacked, and blaming them does this. No one likes feeling guilty and any attempt at fault-finding-- no matter how unintentional-- will seem like an attack and will make the other person not listen to you, close their mind as a defense mechanism, and try to retaliate.
Your demeanor in a heartful conversation must be open and honest even when you are hurt or angry. This is a must. You cannot be these things if you are hurtful, spiteful, or blaming; it just doesn't work. Wanting to hurt people-- as I said, even unintentionally-- is an indication that your heart and mind are closed to actual communication (which is a two-way street and involves listening as much as speaking). You must honor the other person, and employ the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you.
Also, these "commandments" work well in MOST interactions...but by no means all. They are based around the idea of empathy, understanding, and a willingness to resolve issues easily, and if the person you are trying to communicate with doesn't have/won't use their caring side, these are probably not good policy (Abusive relationships come to mind).