Communication 101

img_0274Growing up, my mom sat down with us every few months and taught us a new principle of conversation. It should be noted that I did not like these meetings. I wanted to watch Scooby Doo, but it was a requirement, and so I tried to quiet my interrupting voice and keep my fidgeting limbs still so I could learn about things like Reflective Listening and the Broken Record technique.

To have a conversation means to give and receive words, ideas, views, thoughts, and feelings. If I look objectively on what happens on Facebook, other social media platforms, and often in person, we aren’t having many conversations. We do a lot of Deflecting. Watch talk shows, news programs, or anything on TV where anything of importance is being discussed and you’ll see what I mean. There is hardly any real conversation happening and this is a bad thing for us as a people, as a nation. This is the world where someone like Trump thrives because truth means nothing to him or the people around him. Truth is everything and in order to find out the truth, you have to talk about things without getting defensive or dismissive so you can really hear.

Our kids soak up how we talk about others and how we treat others and then they go to school and act it out, but even more, bigger, harder, wilder. So if you’re calling people who don’t think like you do idiots at home and laughing when the talk show says they should get thrown out of the country, then they’re going to go to school and call someone an idiot, laugh at them, and then take it two steps further. Because that’s what kids do. And right now, our schools are missing empathy big time. (Help me create this empathy game for kids!) When you have 90% of teachers reporting that the increase of hate in their classrooms has skyrocketed this past month, you’ve got to pay attention. (And then consider supporting a cause that tries to help teachers know how to handle it.)

Here’s my advice to you if you’re new to this and you honestly would like to not be enemies with everyone who disagrees with you. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Just sit with it. You won’t die from this discomfort, I promise, even if it feels like you will. Be willing to suspend that NEED you feel to make a decision and just sit with the new information.

Here’s a quick rundown on some communication types: (This would look great as an illustration. Someone do that.)

Deflective


Person 1 I can’t believe what just happened. I feel terrible.
Person 2 Why are you always exaggerating?
Person 1 I’m not! Here’s some supporting evidence that happened!
Person 2 You’re an idiot. I can’t believe you’re upset about that.
Person 1 (yelling) You don’t care about anything or anyone! You’re a terrible person!
Person 2 No, YOU’RE a terrible person.

RESULT:(And then they unfriend each other on Facebook.)

Reflective


Person 1 I can’t believe what just happened. I feel terrible.
Person 2 Something terrible happened?
Person 1 Here’s some additional information about what happened. I’m really scared and upset!
Person 2 Wow, that sounds hard. I can see why you’re upset and scared.
Person 1 Yeah, I wasn’t prepared for that. This is terrible.
Person 2 Yeah, that sounds terrible and I can see why you feel unprepared.

RESULT: Person 1 usually leaves this conversation feeling heard by Person 2. Nothing has changed for either person, but Person 1 doesn’t feel alone.

Empathetic/Compassionate


Person 1 I can’t believe what just happened. I feel terrible.
Person 2 What? Oh no! That sounds terrible! Tell me more!
Person 1 Here’s some additional information about what happened. I’m really scared and upset!
Person 2 I would be, too! That’s upsetting! I’m feeling upset with you!
Person 1 Yeah, I wasn’t prepared for that. This is terrible.
Person 2 How can I help you be prepared next time? What can I do to help?
Person 1 I could use help with A, B, and C. Could you do any of those things?
Person 2 Totally. I can do A and C and I bet we can find someone to do B. Let’s figure this out together.

RESULT: Both people are changed in this conversation. Ideas and feelings have been exchanged and heard. Person 1 feels supported and Person 2’s compassion has made it impossible to not help in some way. Good things come from this type of conversation.

Disagreement/Discussion


Person 1 I can’t believe what just happened. I feel terrible.
Person 2 Tell me more about it.
Person 1 Here’s some additional information about what happened. I’m really scared and upset!
Person 2 Well, I’m hearing your concerns, but I don’t think I would be upset in your situation.
Person 1 I wasn’t prepared for that. I’m worried and upset.
Person 2 Yes, I hear that you’re worried and upset, but have you considered A, B, and C?
Person 1 No, actually. I haven’t heard about A, B, or C. Can you explain more so I understand?
Person 2 Sure. Here’s all the facts I know about it, plus here are some websites where you can read more.
Person 1 I’ve read the stuff you sent me. Thanks for the links. Because these things happened in my life and how I was raised, I don’t really agree. I’m still worried.
Person 2 Thanks for taking my opinion in to account and reading the facts I sent you. I guess we’ll disagree with each other on these points but I still think you’re a good person.
Person 1 Thanks, I think you’re a good person, too. Let’s BBQ this weekend.

RESULT: This one can go all different ways. People get really passionate. There can be yelling sometimes. But the focus stays on the issues and not the people talking. They remain human beings to each other, instead of “stupid idiots” because they don’t agree.

The thing is – we all feel like good people and we all are “good people.” (There are exceptions to this, of course, but generally…) The person who believes differently than you on a political matter is not an idiot. They are your family, a member of the human race, and if one of us is hurting, we’re all hurting.

The ONLY way to move forward is to talk together until hearts and minds are changed, and that won’t happen when we use conversation stoppers aka insults and accusations. We are actually on the same team. We all want the freedom to pursue happiness in a peaceful nation where people are thriving and prospering. How we think we should get there will vary wildly.

Speaking to someone who has different beliefs than you or comes from a different type of life than you, who is so foreign that they just don’t make sense at first is ok. It’s good. Let it feel weird. Be willing to look dumb to try and learn more. Ask questions. And when they tell you things you don’t understand, ask more questions. And then, and this is of the upmost importance, don’t discount someone else’s lived experience because it’s never happened to you.

They lived it. They’re sharing it. Receive it.

Things to remember:

1. These tips do not apply when someone is verbally abusing you. If that happens, walk away.
2. These tips do not apply if you are a person of color and you’re talking to someone who is racist. Walk away and call in your white friends.
3. These tips do not apply if you’re having a really bad day and you just need to eat brownies and watch reruns of M.A.S.H. Tell the other person you need a time out and you’ll reconvene soon.
4. It’s OK to disagree with others. It is not your job to make them change their minds. People typically need time and space for that to happen and the harder you push, they further they back away.
5. The best way to change the minds of those around you is in the example you set and this goes a frillion times more for kids watching you.
6. You will make mistakes. This is fine. This is life. We are all learning. The question is – what will you do immediately after? (Answer: apologize sincerely and then do better.)

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