Communication skills are great in theory, but how are they in practice? This Effective Communication Skill Blogshows you how to walk the SpeakStrong talk. I'm Meryl Runion Rose. Join our conversation about Communication Alchemy, and saying what you mean and meaning what you say... without being mean when you say it.
The Communication Alchemist is IN. Are you IN too?
Last week I wrote an article for a magazine I have a column in about overcoming bad communication habits by practicing good new ones. As one example, I wrote of how I make a practice of asking questions to overcome my habit of making assumptions.
Interesting how life works. Two days after I wrote that article, I was arranging contractors for foundation work on some rental property. The foundation contractor recommended I get a plumber to replace some pipes while the floor was torn up.
I asked Dave, my renter, to arrange this. Dave emailed me the next day to say that the plumber had been by and the work would be done by that evening. I was surprised since the foundation work hadn't been started, but ASSUMED that the plumber knew what he was doing. I drafted an email to Dave acknowledging the plan... but stopped myself before I hit send. I revised my email and asked Dave why the plumber was replacing pipes before the foundation work. Dave replied that he didn't know why the foundation guy wanted the plumbing done first.
It was clear to me that Dave was irritated about having his plan challenged. Another thing was clear - there was confusion. This is a very big... concrete... step to take without clarity.
I got the foundation contractor and the plumber talking. As it turned out, there was a crack in the pipe under the cement and it did make sense to have the plumbing work done while the cement was torn up.
I love the way life works. My article reminded me of my SpeakStrong practice to ask questions when I sense fuzziness. By asking, I avoided unnecessary work and expense.
I can't begin to tell you how many times in the past I have ignored my lack of clarity and regretted it later. Life is simpler now that I am getting better and better at communicating until I feel clarity.
Dave was irritated by my persistence, but everyone would have been irritated had it been done wrong the first time.
You know the saying. The only dumb question is the one you don't ask.
My friends and community often include an "ESP Report" in our check ins. Are we eating, sleeping and pooping well? It's easy to overlook the basics - and living well doesn't get much more basic than that.
Yesterday I took great delight in discovering that an author I have just embraced not only has written an article about that very focus, but has taken the principles to the next level.
"I think you were born organized," my father said.
What planet was Dad on while I grew up?
"It's a hard won skill," I replied.
I kind of like it that my father forgot my former chaos and sees me more as I am today. I think I've improved.
I told my husband Bob that my dad thinks I must have been born organized. Bob responded with laughter. He went on to say, "You're welcome." Bob has a lot to do with the fact that I rarely spend time looking for lost items anymore, etc. But he doesn't actively teach me. I learn much from observing him and from experimenting with my own habit transformation and life system creation. I fumble forward. I still have some major organizational clunkers. Bob patiently supports my efforts. It's a part of my mission to Bob's ... and God's ... and my own ... heart. Excellence through wholeness.
Developing skills we were NOT born with is like exercising muscles that haven't been used much. Our initial efforts can seem pretty wimpy. If we keep going, we find new strength and balance.
For the record, I was NOT born able to organize my thoughts, my ideas, my words OR my stuff.
Like many logical and successful men, Bob was NOT born knowing how to access and communicate feelings and vulnerability. He was NOT born with an ear for poetry and tender love songs. He fumbles forward. He has some pretty impressive clunkers. I support his efforts, grateful that he is willing to extend himself, even though his efforts are awkward at times.
Saturday night was not one of those awkward times. I hadn't intended to watch television. That changed when Bob invited me to watch a Justin Hayward PBS special. He told me the music was incredibly beautiful.
Day by day Bob's and my worlds find new overlap like two unique melodies that find ways to blend in perfect harmony. The results are magical and surprising.
Justin Hayward had "an intoxicating sound" that took us to where "no frozen heart remains. No sorrow and no shame." Justin was able to transport me because I have always loved his music. I was born with an affinity to his soul. Justin was able to transport Bob because Bob has deliberately developed tenderness and love.
Bob and I remain on missions to each other's hearts. Justin helped us celebrate the budding connections in melodic and poetic beauty. Please listen and savor his images.
You can tell a lot about people from their holiday greetings. There's the message, and the often unintended metamessage.
My friend "Bee" sends out slideshows set to lovely music with pictures of angels, spiritual teachers and stunning nature scenes. I have never seen a picture of her new home or her boyfriend. In that way, her greetings are impersonal. I do see and delight in her spirit through these shows. I get the metamessage.
My friend "Dee" sends out pictures of her family - twenty people I've never met. I don't know much about her spiritual nature. I enjoy seeing pictures of the people who mean so much to her. I get the metamessage.
My friend "Gina" sends out cards with pictures of her animals. They're cute enough, and the animals "write" her message. The message shares a lot about who she is, and so does the way she delivers it. I get the metamessage.
My CPA David sent this picture last Christmas. I love it. It tells many stories through many symbols - the cows, the hats, the crutches and the Colorado sweatshirt. Did I miss any symbols? The symbols tell me he is a family man, he is playful, he got injured and is creative. Did I miss anything?
You can also tell a lot about people from when their greetings arrive. Some clearly had the family photos taken early and got their Christmas greetings out in a timely fashion. Others send out more of New Year's updates - right on time or late. Some don't send greetings at all.
You also can tell a lot about people from when they post about holiday greetings to their blogs. I have been imagining this post since I got David's card. Here it is, late February, and I'm just now posting. What does that tell you? What's the metamessage?
It could say I'm not organized well. It could say I'm free from convention. How about you tell me?
Do you remember any greeting cards that told you a lot about the senders?
And how can that metamessage help you connect with those people in meaningful ways... all year long?
I go see my CPA tomorrow and I have a few ideas based on this photo.
"Do you have any thoughts about that slide?" I asked Reba. Ann and I had done most of the talking as we scrolled through the PowerPoint. I wanted to get a sense of how Reba was relating to the material.
"I do," Reba replied, "But I don't have words for it." Reba continued by talking about what she heard us saying and how it applied to her own life. Reba's words were clear and insightful.
"You've didn't have words, yet what you said was powerful," I noted.
Reba responded, "I didn't have words, but when I started talking, they came out. I can't do that with everyone. But I know the words are in there somewhere and I find them by talking."
She sure does. Reba can't do that with everyone, and I say the people she can't do that with probably don't know what they're missing.
Do you have people you can talk with without knowing what you're going to say? Do you ever know the words are in there somewhere and want to be able to find them out-loud in good company?
It might be worth the risk to just start taking and find out.
I didn't know why "Rae," my former coaching client, wanted to speak. I didn't ask. Sometimes it's important to clarify an agenda, and sometimes it's valuable to just let things unfold. We let them unfold.
About ten minutes into our discussion, Rae asked me a big question. I imagine she anticipated a clear, concrete and "teacherly" response to her inquiry, but I didn't have one. I started talking, not knowing what I might say. My response was abstract and vague. Rae's comments to me were also abstract and vague as she tried to make sense of what I had told her.
I shifted the discussion to how we were both talking on the edge of our conscious awareness. We were discovering what we knew by grappling and grasping for words to express our deeper perceptions.
That observation was me coaching real-time...pointing out the immediate dynamic of our conversation.
We returned to Rae's question. Gradually our points became more concrete. We concluded with some real gems.
We all know more than we can say. We can discover what we know by trying to communicate what we know. Rae and I both consciously know more and can express more now than we could before our conversation. We evolved because we were willing to go into our confusion and sift and sort our ideas together. We could not have done that if one of us was too concerned with impressing the other with our brilliance.
That's why collaboration is so valuable. We each have pieces of the whole. When we fumble to share what we know despite its incompleteness, we have discoveries like, "Oh - I didn't k now I knew that!"
Like yesterday, when Angela and I were talking about her history, and she prefaced a point with "I never thought of this until now."
When we share what we know in its incompleteness, we can figure it out together. After I drafted this post, I opened the comics and discovered the above strip. That is what Rae and I and Angela and I were doing. Writer Greg Evans gets it.
Too often we try to make things "certain" and concrete before we are willing to express ideas. Don't settle for the fool's gold of pat, pre-digested ideas. Go into the fog and fumble forward until you find the real thing.
How willing are you to let things be foggy on the road to clarity?
I got my hair cut too short. It was harder than ever to get it to do anything that looks like anything. It grows in odd directions. And the right side - it just likes to stick out. I tried to tame it. I tried to leverage it so it looks like I want it to do what it does. No luck. It just does what it wants out of step with the rest of my hair. It's a stubborn cowlick that won't cooperate.
Nothing new in that. When I look at old pictures of myself, I see the exact same quirk. That's me on the right - the only "Icelander" who isn't blonde.
If you can't change something and you can't adapt to something, your option is to accept it. I've been shifting and fixing and repatterning and remodeling myself and my life and I am enjoying many benefits. But my cowlick keeps me humble. I suppose that's a good thing. Part of learning to love myself is learning to love my quirks.
What quirks do you have that you've learned to accept? What "cowlicks" keep you humble?
I couldn't understand anything my father said. Was he speaking his native tongue, Icelandic? I asked him, and he said, "no," but the fact that I understood everything he said after that makes me suspect he had been.
I don't speak Icelandic. I did know my father had had Icelandic visitors the day before.
Dad didn't notice he wasn't speaking English. Icelandic is still natural for him. His speaking Icelandic to me sounded weird. What might happen if he speaks Icelandic to an aide at his assisted living community? Would they know to ask him to switch to a language they can understand?
We all have our own languages, and it's not always as obvious as someone speaking Icelandic when you expect English. I tend to speak metaphorically. People who are more concrete in their thinking and speaking sometimes have little clue what I'm saying. It frustrates me to have to translate, but life gets easier the more I've learned to.
Sometimes my husband will ask, "Are you speaking metaphorically?" When he does, I know to bring my focus and words down to earth. I know to get more concrete in my wording. Other times I read the baffled look on his face and shift.
What "languages" do you speak that others don't understand? What words have meaning to you that are "babel" to others? How can you know when to switch, and have you learned what languages you have in common?
"Bee" has an incredibly generous spirit. It's a beautiful quality - which she needs to reign in, lest she over-give. Currently, she's coming to terms with how much over-giving she has done lately. She is mad and frustrated with herself that after all her efforts to find balance, she has set herself up to be on the short end, yet again.
This again? I relate. I haven't been over-giving lately, but yet again, I do find myself in old behaviors that don't serve me. I also catch myself getting frustrated with, critical of, and mad at my myself for still practicing an old pattern that I had hoped to have outgrown by now.
The SpeakStrong Method uses the "This Again?" recognition as an opportunity. When I coach, I watch for situations where some part of my Community Member (CM) is at odds with themselves. We personify the aspects of self and get them talking. So, Bee's over-giver and her critic get a conversation going.
It's amazing what a difference that can make in external conversations. If you ever get mixed messages from someone, you can be pretty sure they're sending mixed messages to themselves. There are parts of themselves that aren't communicating. When we personify and express our inner dynamics, the outer dynamics get clear. It's a powerful technique that helps us speak in a unified voice, which is a strong voice. I use it with myself regularly.
Bee is frustrated with herself. That tells me she's ready to get conscious and transform a life-long pattern. It takes time, but it's so worth it. Her generous spirit is one of her finest qualities. As her inner critic gets the right tools to balance her excesses, amazing things happen.
All bubbles must burst. All things must pass. If I didn't understand what was happening, I would find Bob's conversation about it tedious.
Yes, Peyton Manning lost his game and football season is over for the Broncos.
Bob is emotionally involved. However, he would be the first to admit that his football team is an outlet for him to experience, deal with and make peace with Mars - his warrior nature. He used to be a martial artist. Now his relationship to aggression is lived and evolves through the Broncos. And that's perfect.
I have my own areas where something external seems to have too much credence unless you recognize the symbolic nature of the focus. I express my relationship to Venus - or to beauty - through my appreciation of beautiful clothes. I don't need to pick the right outfit to hike the trails, but I enjoy doing that.
Is there an area in your life that seems bigger than seemingly warranted? Does someone in your life seem overly focused on something that seems minor to you?
What might the deeper meaning be? Answer that question, and the conversation has meaning. The tedium disappears.
When my amazing sister Kris and I reviewed the draft of Mom's obituary, we noted that it sounded boilerplate. Beloved wife, devoted mother, loving grandmother: it sounded like the funeral director who drafted it just filled in the blanks with our info. Which is probably exactly what she did. We didn't mind. All these things were true, and it served the purpose of letting people know Mom was gone. We made a minor change and approved it.
The memorial was another story. That had to be personal. And it was.
I stayed away from Facebook. The experience felt too tender to share and yet, too precious not to. I've been waiting for the right words to come to me. They finally have.
It's an honor to be a part of someone's life and an even greater honor to be a part of their passing. It's a blessing when the person who is transitioning is ready, and faces their demise with courage and even humor. It's inspiring when each stage of decline is lived consciously in a way that leaves no regrets. It's a gift when the loss of one family member brings the family together in new ways, deepening their love. It's heartening when the surviving spouse settles into his new life so authentically that it leaves you in respectful awe.
My Step Mom, Harriet Jonsson, passed away December 19th 2014. I was honored, blessed, inspired, gifted and heartened. It was a grace-filled and transformational experience for all of us.
We know Mom is resting in peace because that is how she passed.
I met Mary Ann in Renaissance Assisted Living a little over a year ago. She was new to the facility. She struck me as having a great attitude. She wasn't there by choice. She was grieving her home. Yet, she wasn't resisting her current fate. She told me, "I'll get used to it and this will feel like home soon enough."
I paid careful attention in part because at that time, my parents were also grieving their house and former independence. They were still resisting their new reality.
They did settle in eventually. I was touched by the sincere expressions of sadness people expressed over my Step Mom's passing. I was moved and heartened by the genuine caring I felt toward my father, both from staff and other residents. I also experienced an unexpected show of support toward me, from Mary Ann.
Mary Ann came in to the dining room, and shuffled over with her walker to my side of the table where I sat with Dad and Dave. She asked me, "How are you doing?" "I'm okay," I told her. "Well, if you need someone to talk with, call me," she told me. "Thanks! I appreciate that," I replied.
It was hard for me to explain that we were experiencing more joy and love than grief and loss. It was hard for me - and us - to convey to anyone who hadn't been through the whole journey together how much sweet tenderness and grace there was in this loss. It hadn't occurred to me that I might need support. It hadn't occurred to me that I might reach out to an assisted living resident to get support. I was surprised - and touched - by Mary Ann's offer. If I had felt the need to talk, or even just had more time free from my focus on Dad, I would have taken her up on it. I wanted Mary Ann to know how deeply her offer affected me.
When Dad and I got up to leave, I asked him to excuse me for just a moment. I went over to Mary Ann's table and touched my heart. I said, "Thank you. Your offer means the world to me."
One of Mary Ann's table mates said, "Mary Ann has a beautiful heart."
"I figured that out about her right away," I replied. And I had. I just hadn't realized how confidently and generously she would share it.