I like communication. I think most of us probably enjoy it, or some aspect of it. My favorite, as much as I enjoy words and talking and writing, is being heard.  I’d be surprised in that weren’t true of most people, but I’m not ‘most people’ in a lot of ways, so I likely shouldn’t go out on that limb. 🙂  I do enjoy being heard, however I have a lot to learn about listening; this is another statement I suspect is true of a lot of people, just based on observation.

It is a journey taken one step at a time.

It is a journey taken one step at a time.

I’ve noticed something strange…people who don’t feel heard are generally not listening (at least at that point at which they feel they are not being heard, themselves).  “Communication” so easily turns into tit-for-tat bullshit that there are actually enough books written about communication as a subject to fill a library without help from any other topic. Amazon has 339,665 books on “communication” across a variety of subtopics, such as “communication skills” (very popular, right at the top) and “law” (which I suppose gets involved when communication goes seriously awry).  Human primates work hard to communicate – hell, we created language to facilitate that! We consider both verbal and non verbal forms of communication when we discuss language, and make a big deal over one versus the other, and when it is appropriate to use them, and how to interpret them. We make rules about communication and set up hierarchies of information to sort fact from fiction, lies from well-intended misstatements based on erroneous beliefs, and novels from religious tomes. Us versus them. We get our emotions involved. All that fuss and effort – and we’re still communicating poorly, and taking shit personally based on untested assumptions, and expectations that source from fictions in our own heads.

Part of my own challenge in communication rests on the distinction between ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’. You, too? Have you ever been in a heated discussion, or contentious meeting, and rather than actually listening with awareness to the speaker of the moment, you were investing time in formulating a reply – to something you heard moments ago, or something you are only half listening to in the moment? It’s a poor practice. I can make that assertion comfortably, feeling pretty sure you’ll agree with me – all I have to do is make that observation from the vantage point of the disregarded speaker, themselves. We’ve all been there – making a point that matters to us, doing our best to be clear, concise, and hold the attention of our listener, and… aware that we are not actually ‘being heard’; the vaguely distracted facial expression, and loss of eye contact, or lack of focused gaze, are a hint – the real giveaway is when our listener begins to reply or rebut, and it is apparent they are not speaking to the salient points at all, they are just downloading what they spent time considering – while you were talking. They weren’t listening, they were waiting for their turn. Awkward. Rude. Ineffective communication. It’s so easy, though, to get wrapped up in what feels like matters the most – and lose awareness that what actually matters most is listening while someone is talking.  It gets more complicated if the person talking is an unqualified asshat, I get it, or espousing views that are “offensive” or inflammatory. That’s hard to take. Perhaps in that scenario the more effective communication is to say frankly that there is offense, or express clearly and simply that the information is in some way unacceptable – then disengage without further rebuttal or reply? (Is every battle mine? lol I’ve been making some different choices, lately, myself).

Deceit, treachery, willfully misleading someone, treating them poorly or bullying them with language; my perspective is that these things are not good uses of communication between honorable beings making compassionate choices, and treating people well. We don’t always make our best choices in the moment, though, do we? It’s easy for a person, in a moment of anger, to be willfully cruel, or in a moment of frustration to be impatient or callous. We’re all very human.

I dislike imprecise communication, particularly regarding emotion. I’m not always good at it, myself, and I practice some things I find key, and I do so in a very planned and studied way. The things I put that kind of structured emphasis on are simple enough. I practice communicating willfully in words – for me this means moving gently through physical space, and not using my body to communicate strong emotion instead of using words; no deliberate slamming or banging of cupboards, doors, drawers, etc to communicate distress or anger. It’s very upsetting and imprecise, and it tends (in my own experience) to foster panic, anxiety, and insecurity in the human herd without truly communicating anything with accuracy, or honesty. It seems mean, and it causes considerable extra wear and tear on household goods.  (Do you slam shit when you’re mad? Why do you do it? What does that satisfy for you? I’ve been there, but I can’t say I find anything of lasting value in that method of communicating; I gave it up in principle some time ago.) I won’t claim any mastery; I practice continuously whether I am upset or not.  The other key practice is listening, really attending to the words another person is taking time to share with me, without being distracted by the pressure of my own desire to speak and be heard, or caving to some need-in-the-moment to challenge or disagree. It’s very difficult for me – the disinhibition issues I struggle with often get in the way; practicing is very important for reinforcing better habits. Not interrupting people is a good start on a basic level. (I am so not there yet! I work at it every day.) It matters that much to me, that people speaking with me feel heard.

It was slow going to reach a place where I understand that because I desire to be heard, learning to listen is critically important. It was also a struggle to reach a place where I understand that communicating emotions is not about pushing the visceral experience of strong emotion into the consciousness of other human beings against their will, or without their consent; it is about using gentle words, clearly and simply, while allowing that other consciousness to continue to have its own experience. There’s a lot of practice ahead of me. The day I realized I am practicing these qualities and behaviors because they are who I want most to be – and by intention, who I am – I became so much more able to step back from frustrations built around ‘I will when they do’ and ‘they don’t so why should I?’ or issues of unfairness, and suddenly I felt more heard – because I am listening to my own voice. That matters, too. So often it has turned out the person not listening to me, is me.

Savoring each precious moment through awareness is a nice place to start a journey of discovery.

Savoring each precious moment through awareness is a nice place to start a journey of discovery.

Some rambling notes on communication early on a Tuesday morning. It’s a good day to communicate with love, and with great attention. It’s a good day to really hear the message I am sharing with the world, from the world’s perspective. It’s a good day to be kind, and to treat others with courtesy – not because they deserve it, but because it is who I am. Today is a good day to change the world.