The Art Of Communication

This week a lot of friends have seemed to have had their share of communication breakdowns – on their side, or on the part of another person….parents, children, instructors, training partners. . .and it prompted me to think about it.  You’d think Mercury was in retrograde! (Don’t worry, it isn’t for some weeks 😉 ) 

It never ceases to amaze me, though, how similar situations can be, even when involving vastly different topics, completely different areas of Life, and totally different players.  Communication, however, is the underlying thread weaving it all together. . .

Communication isn’t relegated to one type of relationship, nor to specific people – it isn’t just about friendship, or marriage, or work, or family. . .  Communication is what sets us apart – it’s what binds our species, allows us to function at high levels, to accomplish collective goals, to learn, to love, and to live. Communication isn’t in and of itself horribly complicated, but humans ARE. . .and that’s where it gets tricky. (Modern life does bring a few challenges as well…)

shoeboxblog.com Chuck & Beans

Emotions, preconceived notions, previous experiences and conditioning. . .it all plays a part in how we respond to stimulus.  While humans are capable of incredible strength, that doesn’t mean we aren’t also highly sensitive (I know I am!) – the way in which we communicate is therefore as important as the words we are using.  Words, keep in mind are defined differently, even among those were are most similar to – in this case, the nonverbal, the tone, and the delivery makes a difference.

A HUGE one.

 

Everyone has had their fair share of “stuff” – we’ve all been marred by life’s rough edges, nature’s unpredictability, and lessons we needed to struggle through in order to fully learn (I’m still learning quite a few, including the topic at hand.)  As a result, most of us walk around with what I call “walls-at-the-ready” – we are kind of like collapsible fortresses just waiting for the moment to erect our barricades, and employ our moats.  

Seriously…

So communication then can become a very delicate – and powerful – affair.  

There is a true art to navigating what could easily become choppy seas (at our own hands – or our chosen communication.) There are tons of articles, books, seminars out there (such as this one) but no matter which relationships they are intended to better, they speak to the same key principles.  So it doesn’t matter if it’s your child, a new co-worker, a parent, a friend, a spouse, a sibling – the keys to communicating well focus on the same fundamental ideas, and can apply across the board.

LISTEN

Listening matters – listening with the intent to reply is not the same thing.  We need to listen to hear and understand from the other person’s perspective. Whether or not we agree, feelings are just that – as such, they are valid even if we don’t “get it.” 

EMPATHIZE

Everyone wants empathy and to be understood – no matter how much you may disagree, recognizing that the person speaking has a valid and true reality – for them – helps to bring them down a notch. Or several. 

MAINTAIN CALM CONVERSATION

People are open and responsive to calm conversation – the second the heat of anger is turned up, or promise of threat implied . . .POOF! . . .Barricades!

AVOID ATTACKING, BLAMING, SHAMING

People are (at least generally) open and responsive to discussion provided they aren’t in a corner – the slightest attack, criticism, blame, there go those walls again.  What you want to convey will be shut out like an enemy coming in full force. No bueno, as they say…

STAY FOCUSED

Keeping the focus on the issue at hand makes for a cleaner conversation – muddling the mix with outlying topics that really have no part to play make a mess, quickly.  Not to mention a full suit of armor on the other side!

Usually communication is only difficult when it’s controversial – when it may cause discomfort (like embarrassment, anxiety, self doubt etc), when it’s about a touchy subject, (embarrassment, shame, etc), or it provokes a fear-based response (as in “fright or flight” – resulting from directed anger, frustration, for example.) At those times, that’s when we LEAST want to be gentle and “follow guidelines of effective communication”!!  

But, as they say, a moment of patience can make a lifetime’s worth of difference.

Adorable! Seven Deadly Sins Cartoon: Anger
Written by Bearman Cartoons

Listen to the other person and, whether you agree or not, make the effort to recognize their view.  Keep yourself calm, avoid blame and attacking, and stick to discussion mode – people will be far more able (and willing!) to receive, and are less likely to block you out. If you feel like you can’t contain the disappointment, anger, frustration etc, do something else until you can be calm. 

People are complicated, and so is Life.  Even your best friends and closest family members meet discord from time to time (if they didn’t they wouldn’t be breathing!) that’s okay – it happens!  We aren’t always going to see eye to eye, we aren’t always going to define terms the same way, and people aren’t always going to behave exactly the way we want all the time.

You say you’re a Martial Artist and I might take you at your “word.” (schoolofdisney.com image)

One of my favorite expressions is “how important is it?” It’s one I heard growing up, and it’s one I hear frequently today.  As spoken at a dear friend’s wedding recently – in fact, by a very wise and learned woman – you can be right, or you can be happy.  Again, this applies to all areas of life, and to all kinds of relationships…

For example, I’ve seen a marked change in my own relationships with family members over the years, and every so often I catch myself really thinking about how our interactions have (or haven’t!) evolved since childhood – sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes it feels down-right painful. . .but Life doesn’t stop because I don’t agree with something, or I feel hurt. 

The more I can communicate effectively and in a kind way, the healthier all my interactions will be, and the better I – and others – will feel.  That means learning to do things that maybe I’m not so great at, or challenging my mood at that moment, or, even tougher, changing things I’ve done my whole life – sometimes what used to work for us doesn’t anymore! I know I’m a work in progress…but I am working at it, because there are areas in which I know I can do better.

I loved this excerpt, read by a friend recently, as it captures the essence of the idea perfectly:

” Today being aware of the words I use, I am learning to communicate more responsibly.  I not only share in a more straightforward manner, but I also argue in a healthier way.  There are better was to express myself than to say ‘you did such and such to me.’ I can talk about myself and my feelings.  I can explain the way I experienced something rather than telling the person how he or she made me feel… 

“…We learn in time that it is not the subjects which are controversial, but the manner in which we communicate about them and the elements of personal blame we add to them in anger.”

CTC by AFG p 176.

Effective, healthy, and happy communication can be accomplished, but it does take a little work.  We are thrown to the wolves in many ways, and learn to swim in the deep end by trial and error – there aren’t structured courses in school about interpersonal relationships, and workplaces don’t exactly help you along either! Unless we seek out our own kind of learning, it feels a lot like a shot in the dark, especially when we meet new people, are navigating a new job etc… Even when it comes to parents and children who’ve been together for a lifetime – life changes!  I recently was reflecting on how I could do a better job of understanding, as well as responding to a parent differently.

If things aren’t being communicated as smoothly as you’d like, or you feel it’s complicated and overwhelming, know it is NOT a lost cause. The phrase “DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE DONE TO YOU” works really nicely – that’s basically the gist of it.  So if all else fails, just think about how you’d want to hear criticism, or how you would want someone to convey some tough news.  When we are in that kind of a mindset, we usually are off to a great start.

Here’s to the journey of Life! ❤ 

 

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There’s An App For That

Ever stood in line longer than necessary because a younger cashier is struggling with basic math functions?  It isn’t a matter of being rude…it’s a little bit frightening!  So much is done for people by way of apps in daily life that they are beginning to lose the ability to function without a device. . .

SCARY, don’t you think?!

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Volunteering

This past weekend I had the wonderful fortune to work with children with disabilities doing an activity close to my heart – Taekwondo. ❤  My background is predominantly in dancing (classical ballet and ballroom), as well as in figure skating, but being a Martial Arts practitioner for many years, and an instructor, has proven to be not only incredibly fulfilling, but also life-changing. 

I moved to a new state some months ago, leaving behind a job teaching children Okinawan Karate.  I was eager to find an opportunity in which I could work with children again, specifically doing a physical activity.  I believe that movement of any kind is incredibly beneficial (for countless reasons!), especially for children, for whom creating this healthy, lifetime habit comes more easily. (If you are an adult who began fitness, for example, later in life, you know what I mean – if we start early on, embracing exercise as a positive, FUN activity, it is more likely that we keep up with it as we age.)  Learning spatial and body awareness, as well as how to interact interpersonally and physically with others are valuable life skills – Martial Arts definitely cater to both.  

I am blessed to be able to assist both at a Ninjutsu Dojo and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy, where I am also a student – working with children is always eye-opening, and I find that they teach me just as much!  That work aside, I was also eager to find a way to volunteer to guide those less able to participate in such activities – I don’t like to see ANYONE left out!  It is easy to take for granted that many of us CAN do sports…  When our routine takes over, we almost run on autopilot, dashing from one class to the next, sometimes even begrudgingly!  But. . .how blessed are we?!  For some individuals, the process of making a fist with which to punch a target may take many weeks of practice!

The disabilities this particular organization – KEEN of Greater DC – works with (for the Martial Arts Program) range from Autism, to Echolalia, to Cerebral Palsy – so the group is mixed, requiring different levels of guidance and instruction.  Though my background is not specific to disabilities, I find that working with these children comes very naturally – their genuine enthusiasm, eager curiosity, and love of playtime is absolutely contagious!

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(My own photo)

The activities we coached the kids through ranged from running about the room holding hands, to simple stretches, to punching and kicking targets.  We also hauled out an enormous, thick mat onto which they jumped from a mini trampoline – it was tremendously crowd-pleasing! 🙂

For a few of the children, these activities are “new” each week – they might need us to form the fists for them with our own hands, or have us demonstrate a couple of extra times.  For others, you can see exciting improvements over the course of the class (and over time.)  In both instances, though, you see a LOT of smiling, and hear a TON of giggling. ❤

The experience is so richly rewarding, I’d be hard-pressure to measure, or describe it! What we “get” from coaching is as much tangible as it is not – there is no recognition, nor compensation…but neither do I (nor any of the volunteers) want any such reimbursement.  There is, instead, a profound thankfulness that seems to fill each cell to the point of overflowing.  As an Empath, I cry as much for joy as I do sadness – I was moved to tears by the elated shrieks when contact was made with a target…or my extra “that-was-AWESOME” high-five! produced a flood of smiling.  How can you put a value on something like that?! 

The absolute jubilation that is felt all around makes every moment worth it.  These children face physical and mental challenges that most of their peers are unfamiliar with entirely  – the burden is a heavy one, and it prevents them from taking part in many school sports and extracurricular activities.  I was so delighted to find an organization that caters to allowing individuals with disabilities to experience the same fun and enjoyment with exercise and physical play.  Keen, incidentally, has only three main employees. . . and yet making a difference is SO important to them that they manage to offer twenty-seven programs!  

I will definitely be back for the next round – how precious a gift were the smiles and laughter.  Add to that the grateful nods of parents able to take comfort and joy in their child’s participation?  True blessing.  And then some.