Say it Out Loud - A Case for Open Communication
Life is too short to be quiet.
I know this sounds like the biggest platitude. But I mean it.
More and more I have the feeling, that if we would communicate more openly, we would not only gain more time, but also better time.
Why I think so? because I believe that most of the underlying conflict (lived or felt) could be resolved or even avoided if only we communicated better.
Often when I listen to people, I hear them complain about something.
My general observation is that people like to complain, but they don’t necessarily like to act on what’s bothering them. And neither do they like to speak out their frustration to the people it concerns.
When I start to ask questions in order to better understand their conflict, I notice that the situation is getting more tense. When I then ask the question if they did any attempt to address their discomfort, most of the time the answer is a hesitant no. And I do understand that they don’t. But then I ask myself what the underlying reasons for this might be, why we more often than not remain silent about what’s really bothering us.
I think the biggest driver for this behavior is the fear of getting hurt - or in more unselfish terms, to hurt others. But if you think about it for a while, it can be equally harmful to others not to be honest - or worse, to keep your feelings from them. In the long run, this will only have negative consequences for both of you as you will either slowly start to withdraw or develop some kinds of coping mechanisms over time.
Also, I have the feeling that many people avoid the ‘complicated talks’ because it’s always easier to look away, move on and focus on other, more positive things. And, to use a common term, it’s also more fun. Especially as our society loves shallowness and happy faces more than the actual truth.
Nobody likes conflict - but we forget that we cannot simply turn away forever. What we should fear more than the consequences of confrontation, are the long term consequences of avoidance. Everything we hold back, will find its place somewhere in the corners of our mind and will add up to turn into dissatisfaction or frustration. And at some point, our frustration will overcome us in one way or another. In some of the extreme cases, we can observe in others what suppressing anger might lead to.
This is the people that no one wants to be around. The people that lost all optimism in their life, or worse, project their hate and frustration onto others through bullying, mistreating or other forms of physical or psychological violence. Beware ourselves if people like that continue to land in leading positions. Or in politics.
We need to let go of what’s keeping us up at night. Being able to address what’s not going right, is a beautiful experience and it will undoubtedly improve our wellbeing. Even if the other side is reacting irritated first, most of the time you will notice that honest and well-intended feedback will lead to adaptation of people’s behavior. You will also experience self-efficacy, hence the feeling of getting control over your own life, which will turn you stronger and more brave over time. The fact that people are irritated when we talk openly, is because they are just not used to it. Many of us have simply never learned how to openly express our thoughts and feelings about others.
I myself am not perfect at this either. But I decided a couple of years ago to learn to communicate more openly, and I’m still eager to practice every day. Even more, I catch myself getting nervous if I am for whatever reason not able to do so. Most of the time it is then the situation of people denying to openly talk - directly, or indirectly by avoiding confrontation or stubbornly pushing away any kind of critique or feedback.
The next time, you feel frustrated because of someone else, consider this: How would someone who’s on the outside be able to automatically understand your inside?
Also taking into account, that our thoughts and feelings are shaped by who we are, how we were brought up and how life has been treating us so far.
Too often, we wait for others to make the first step, to actively approach us and to notice what’s going on inside us. But in the meantime we forget that everyone has more than enough things to deal with in their life. On top of this, everybody is different and experiences, interprets and judges situations different from how we do.
We simply can’t expect that people notice how we feel, that something bothers us or is not alright with us. This is a tough lesson which I also needed to learn myself the hard way, but once you learned it, you can start to flip it around and see it positive: Every frustration of yours is actually a chance to build on a relationship, be it to your partner, to your family, to your friends or to your colleagues.
By now, I’d even say that it is our very own responsibility to share our feelings with others, to help them to better understand our perspectives and give them the chance to adapt their behavior according to our needs.
Be careful though - this is not an invitation to shout out without caring about the feelings of others or overwhelm people with your unfiltered frustration. This is about good intentions. You want to improve a certain situation for all people involved.
What I am talking about, is open communication, which means for me to be open and direct, but with empathy and respect. It doesn’t mean to be brutal or unfair, but to be honest and sincere. It also requires a good portion of the ability to reflect on yourself. Before you express your thoughts, question yourself if your opinion is valid and justifiable.
Is it based on facts or rather on emotions that potentially origin somewhere else? Is it really the issue between you and the other person or is there some other hidden conflict? Can you try to understand why the other person is acting in those certain ways?
Broaden your perspective and step into the shoes of your opposite. What can you do to speak your mind clearly without attacking the other person? Even though attacking is necessary sometimes to make a crucial point, be aware that an attack is almost always directly countered by defense. And what you need the least in such a moment is defense. Defense mechanisms will only cause the other person to get angry, to stop listening and instead being busy with finding arguments to weaken your arguments. If you are finding yourself confronted by defense anyway, try to pull back and address your viewpoint from another angle or change your tone of voice. Also here the golden rule is to state how you are feeling and to avoid judging the other person.
Communication for me implies that it is a matter of mutual concern. Open communication also involves open listening. Recently I came in contact with the act of mindful listening and I think this is something to aim for in this context. Because mindful listening requires complete presence and an unbiased attitude. It involves not only spoken words but also body language. By actively listening and consciously observing people, you will be able to spot discrepancies and get the chance to ask questions to get beyond what people say - and towards what people really mean to say.
Another argument - or excuse - I often hear, is that ‘it won’t change people anyway’. It is such a strong one, that I keep using it myself. (Even though I don’t even really believe this, and might write another article about this sooner or later) But what I am telling myself at the same time, is that I should not merely talk with the expectation to change others, but with the purpose to free myself. To have the good feeling of having addressed what bothers me for the sake of making a first step. To be willing to take the responsibility that so many people happily avoid.
And more important, only if you speak up, people have the chance to take a stand, which is, in turn, also good for you. Everything is better than wandering through your thoughts over and over again.
If you are only discussing with yourself, you will never get the answers you need. Moreover, you will not move forward but only circle around in your own limited construct of thoughts.