Effective communication and the power of our words is not a new concept. It has been studied and researched for centuries, and most of the world agrees on the benefits of learning to do it well. Interestingly, though, while most of us understand the importance of good communication, there is no denying the truth that most of us suck at it. We react, project, criticize, assume, take offense, and most importantly we veer from connection, leaving the world a lonely place.
But our words have power. They have the power to build up and the power to bring down.
Let me explain.
I am an introvert. I hold my deepest feelings and thoughts very close and fear exposing my dark side. I am scared my emotions will turn people away, and I don’t open up very often. While I have worked hard to open the doors to my soul with those closest to me, I still tremor at the idea of transparency. I have spent my life living this way. It took me twenty years to realize that transparency, vulnerability, and empathy were missing in my life and causing me immense pain and loneliness.
When we hide the parts of who we are that make us the most vulnerable, we become a magnet for emptiness.
I can still remember the first time I was vulnerable with my husband and shared something bothering me. I was honest, accountable, and transparent. I didn’t lash out at him about what I was feeling. I didn’t blame him. Instead, I sat with my feelings and allowed him to see them as I sorted through my emotions for clarity. When I finished speaking, he looked up at me with tears in his eyes, and said “that must have made you feel so alone.” He saw me. He didn’t try to fix me. He didn’t try to argue about why what I was feeling was wrong, or to see the positive in it, or to look at it from a different angle-“devil’s advocate” he calls it. He met me where I was, and that was all I needed. I needed to be seen.
Those words were so powerful that they completely changed the way I viewed communication.
It is easy to forget that humans are meant to connect and relate to one another when disagreements arise. Or that community and belonging are essential to our growth. It’s easy to write people off as crazy or too sensitive or mean when we don’t take the time to look beneath the behavior. Real communication takes work. It takes understanding that the way we perceive our world is often different from the way others perceive their world. Understanding this is foundational to connection and belonging.
The majority of people don’t listen to understand. They listen to reply.
Oftentimes instead of listening to understand, we resort to defending, withdrawing, attacking, judging, or criticizing – all qualities that hinder connection and belonging. Only when we learn to look at conflict through a lens of compassion are we able to identify and speak to the underlying emotions, pains, and frustrations driving the behavior that we see on the surface. Behind every undesired behavior is a need that isn’t being met, and we have the power to draw it out with compassion and empathy.
Learning to communicate can help us live in a way that manifests compassion, empathy, connectedness, and belonging because it allows us to see others where they are and requires that we sit with their feelings rather than try to change them. This is powerful work. To see someone where they are and what they are feeling is the greatest gift we can give one another.
Often we think about communication as the way in which we express ourselves, and while this is part of the process, the part that is often missed is how we hear others.
When we give others our undivided attention, we are able to recognize not only the deepest needs of others but also our own needs. This clarity opens space for a kind of connection that is birthed from compassion and empathy.
Communicating involves a process of identifying and articulating our needs without resorting to words that lead to hurt and pain. It requires honest introspecting, accountability, and painstaking vulnerability. When we do it well, it allows us to connect with others in a way that allows humanity to flourish while also opening space for introspection into our inner world.
It is hard and scary sometimes but connection and belonging outweigh any uncomfortable feelings that might arise. This I can promise you. We were meant to connect to one another as humans, and somewhere along the way, we lost sight of this. Powerful communication is a skill that most of us haven’t learned because we’ve never been taught.
And like any skill, it takes practice to do it well.