One of the ideals of many people is to become a ‘great communicator’. Truth is though...very little of us truly are.
Why is that?
I believe that a ‘great communicator’ is someone who has the capacity to give another person an accurate picture of what is happening in his or hers emotional and psychological life – and in particular, can describe the very darkest, trickiest and most awkward sides in such a way that others can understand, and even sympathize with them.
Now I realize that sounds very daunting, so perhaps it’s no surprise that many of us or not such great communicators because we simply do not wish to expose ourselves that way.
But make no mistake: Where we don’t ‘communicate’ a message, we still manage to get our points across, but just in toxic forms. As the expression goes, ‘if we can’t talk it out, we act it out’
So when someone asked me recently why we are not all great communicators, I shared these three important reasons:
1. No good role models
We learn to speak by hearing others speak. And in particular, we learn to speak about tricky topics because we hear others discussing them elegantly and kindly.
But most of us did not grow up around ‘good communicators’. I sure know I didn’t...My parents loved me deeply, but they did not pull off the trick of describing difficulties within in timely, sane and reassuring way.
And then there is the even more dangerous possibility. What if the role model was a parent who loved us fiercely, but wanted us to be a certain way. They could not be disappointed. It was our job to help keep them intact.
This way we learnt that we could easily hurt someone by communicating a part of your personality which doesn’t fit the preconceived ideas. A precedent was set...
2. Can you be ‘bad’ and ‘good’?
In the ideal upbringing, those who loved us would be able to do so without demanding that everything about us is good. They could tolerate that we could – sometimes, for a while – be selfish, angry, lazy, close minded or mean – and yet still remain accepted.
But mostly we come from backgrounds which fall far short of this ideal.
We feel that if we ever lose our temper, we will be revealed as aggressive. Or if we confess to having some lazy sides, we will be condemned as layabouts. Or if we reveal our worries about a task at work, we’ll set off a panic about our lack of skill.
Our tendency to assume that others will judge us is the central obstacle to good communication. Shame robs us of the capacity to put our case sensibly and plausibly. It makes us long to hide our failings; we feel the only way to protect ourselves and retain dignity is to go silent.
3. I can’t do it
I guess it’s no surprise that we sometimes think that communication will never work out. Looking back at my own life I have failed so often in the past. My history is full of failed attempts where I tried to tell a colleague, a friend or a partner something and it hasn’t worked.
So, what do we do? We give up.
But, to inject hope into the situation, I learned that this fear is based on a false assumption: The idea that we can’t learn how to better communicate about what is going on inside us.
The fact that it didn’t work out in the past isn’t decisive. I just needed to train myself to accept the darkness, to reduce fear, to present myself calmly and to not give way to self-loathing…
Only that way we can become that great communicator after all.