I think one of the most important skill sets in life is communication. And for whatever reason, our modern conventions have actually screwed our heads on backwards and taught us that it’s better to be polite, or to skirt around issues than it is to just be direct. We don’t want to say no and hurt people’s feelings, we don’t want to express opinions in case others don’t share them, and we definitely don’t communicate our desires and intentions, because it’s considered selfish.
Looking at past blog posts, I already have a few examples. My friend that can’t say no – she absolutely cannot say “no I don’t want to, or can’t come over to your house Thursday night.” She’d rather NOT answer than say no. My example in yesterday’s blog about my make-believe friend who owns a Chinese restaurant is another. Life would be easier, wouldn’t it, if I just told my make-believe friend that I don’t like Chinese? Then their feelings would never be hurt thinking that I didn’t eat at their establishment because I didn’t like THEM.
I think women are more guilty of this bad habit than men are. When women plan a lunch together, we tend to ask a few friends when and where we would all like to meet. The chances of 3 or more women wanting the same thing at the same time is astronomically unlikely, but we all try to compensate and rearrange schedules and then agree to go places maybe we don’t really want to go to, whereas a man will say something like, “dude, want to meet me at the mexican place for lunch Tuesday?” Ok, actually I can’t see many men texting their friends for a lunch date like that. They would probably text on their way TO the restaurant, but this is my example, so deal with it.
I’m digressing. Here’s the point. We have lost the art of simple and direct communication. Instead of saying what we mean, and meaning what we say, we encode things, and white lie and pussy foot around everything. In turn, when we are receiving communication from someone else, we think we have to decode everything and we wonder what the person REALLY meant. Was that a compliment just to be nice, or do they need something from me? Are they buttering me up? Did they say they don’t want to eat Chinese food with me cause they don’t like me? Maybe my boss didn’t talk to me this morning because he’s going to fire me this afternoon. Maybe Sally didn’t answer my call because she’s avoiding me (maybe Sally is just busy)! Do you see all of the needless worry and stress that comes from assuming people’s feelings and intentions? I am guilty of this often, and I’m aware of the problem! Whenever I find myself going to “maybe” land, I have to redirect and remind myself to be a great communicator.
We’ve also become so dependent on written communication. Text, email, messaging – methods where we tend to shorten things for brevity, but can’t hear emotion. The person receiving our messages might often “overestimate” our emotion, and read more into our responses than we intended. Whenever things get mucky, or when there is an important message to convey, or question to ask, I always pick up the phone and call. It’s so much easier.
I’m learning from a mentor to not even assume commitment from people. When I have an event I am planning, rather than assume that my helpers will be there and be on time because (hello, that’s what I would do), it causes much less pain and frustration later if I ask the simple question – “is there any reason you would cancel? And I can count on you to be there 15 minutes early?” or whatever my requirements are, because why not just state my expectations rather than have them quashed by misunderstanding?
My husband is actually great at not assuming anything. While I tended to hope and bank on things happening a certain way, even many many years ago he would always say: “well it could happen, or it could not.”
When we learn the lesson from all this, we become better communicators. State what you want, and how you want it, express your feelings and your intentions clearly. Remember the person on the other end (lesson from yesterday) is playing their own version of the story. What they hear might not be what you said, even when you are as straightforward as possible. Why be unclear and let the message go even farther from what you intended? And don’t assume what another’s intentions are! ASK THEM! Simple, direct questions. Hey Bob, you said you didn’t want to go eat Chinese. Do you want to go to lunch anywhere?
Just be ready after you learn to communicate like this, to feel like everyone else around you is CRAZY! Why won’t they just say what they WANT? Then remember to be patient, and pass the lesson along to them. Build more people up around you who can cut through the crap. It’s the kind thing to do.
The Third Agreement teaches us Don’t Make Assumptions. Again, get the book – The Fifth Agreement. It will be one of the best things you ever do! Oprah featured it too – read an excerpt here and then follow the links to your favorite book purchasing website.