I’m going to preface this by saying that for some people (me) it can feel really hard to say what you mean. Thank God it’s a skill we can grow!
There’s actually a really bad joke in our house about how often and severely I am misheard, misunderstood, or flat out talked over. It happens a LOT. Someone even gave me a funny gift about it once and I keep it on my desk as a reminder that I can always do better in my communication.
But it does happen frequently, so mostly I just shrug, laugh it off, and move forward with my life.
This is just fine when you get cut short on a story about something that happened at the store or something someone said at a meeting. It’s not quite as funny when you feel dismissed over your actual feelings or something that really matters.
All of a sudden a couple years ago, that bad joke wasn’t so funny anymore. Time for a change. And of course, just like anything else, change starts with me.
UGGHHGHGHGHGHGHGHGGGGGHHHHHHHH FINE I WILL WORK ON IT.
If you don’t like something, change it. Seriously. It’s just a choice. A really painful one sometimes but it will make you better and you will feel better too.
Being heard, truly heard, starts when you can truly say what you mean. And if you truly want to say what you mean, you have to know yourself well:
If something is important to me, or I have a need that’s not getting met, it’s up to me to communicate that effectively. IT DOES NOT MATTER what I think people should hear. It matters what they actually hear. So let’s help them hear us better.
I am a wife, a mother, a business owner, a writer, a servant, a teacher, a musician, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. I am a person deserving of respect, a person deserving of love, and a person deserving of other people’s time and care.
AND MOST importantly:
I am fearfully and wonderfully made, in the image of my Creator, placed here for a divine purpose for such a moment as this. I have been granted gifts unique to my personality, given to me to be used for a purpose only I can fulfill on this earth. I am allowed to be the most incredible version of myself, reflecting the heart of God to the world around me. I am flawed and broken and lovely just as I am with a lifetime of “becoming” ahead of me. I am guaranteed infinite grace and forgiveness, and an unlimited amount of try-agains with God.
I am all these things. So are you. Don’t forget it.
We will encounter situations daily that make us feel small or unworthy or undeserving. If I recall these these truths of who I am, then I can confidently speak my mind knowing that the root of it all is my unconditional, undeniable worth as a human being.
It takes guts to get clear about what you want and need. Wanting and needing something from another person makes us vulnerable and open to potential disappointment or ridicule. Believe me, I get it. I have walked that road of stubbornly refusing to need anything from my spouse or a friend. That is heartache upon heartache so if you are willing to lay down that armor, the road gets a little easier to travel. We are meant to need each other.
(BTW – if you are refusing to need something from someone, you are probably also telling yourself that person can’t or won’t meet that need or that they don’t even care about that need. 99.9% of the time, that is not truth. But if you speak that prophecy over them enough, it will come true. People – even grown people – will become what we tell them they are. CHANGE YOUR WORDS and change your life. Choose to soften your heart and believe better about the other person.)
Do some soul-searching. If there is unrest in your marriage, what would you like to see happen? And before you list 100 things, start with 1. What one thing would you like to improve that you can address today?
Prepare these thoughts in advance and you’ll feel bold to share them when the moment is right. You’ll be able to articulate them clearly without emotion taking control of your tone or volume.
When you don’t know what you want, your default as a human is to complain and blame other people for what they are doing to make you miserable. Super tricky spiral here. Focus on you, your honest thoughts and needs and desires. Change starts with you.
Get honest with yourself about the good and the not-so-good.
I like to tell stories and it takes me a little longer to illustrate my point. This frustrates some people and they lose focus or interest before I’m finished talking.
I can dress things up so nicely with words that people often have a hard time understanding my actual point.
I’m also a helper, a care-giver, and a people-pleaser (hello Enneagram 2) so shooting straight comes as a bit of a challenge. Let me try that again in plain speak: honesty is hard.
Conflict makes me panicky and I can jump to worst-case-scenario pretty fast. I am a master at shut down and freeze out.
Words matter to me and I choose them carefully. If I’m making a point or asking for something I need, I’ve spent time thinking it over and it’s very important to me. So I can feel especially wounded when they don’t listen or seem to care.
What is your communication style? I’m sure there’s a quiz out there or something (maybe I’ll make us one!) but the best thing to do in my opinion is to simply understand how you operate as your unique self. When you partner that knowledge with a clear understanding your audience, you’ll grow your communication skills leaps and bounds.
There are some people that need bullet point conversation. Others ask lots of questions or need more information. Still others prefer heart talk or emotional conversations rather than small talk. If you’re a heart talker married to a bullet pointer, this can feel really discouraging to the heart talker and majorly frustrating to the bullet pointer.
When you’re communicating with people who have different communication styles than your own, it’s a fun stretch exercise to adapt your style to each person.
I tried for a long time to avoid emotional conversations with my husband. He would tend to get frustrated with how much I needed to process, or why some things even upset me in the first place. SO it became easier to just keep my mouth closed.
What I learned is that is NO GOOD. Clamping off that part of myself was a disservice to me, to him, and to our marriage. It hardened and embittered me and opened up a canyon between us. Mostly it chipped away at the trust I had for him (and the trust he had for me) until it was almost irreparable.
So I had to change my style. I have to be willing to trust people with my thoughts and ideas even at the risk of feeling vulnerable. And at the same time, I had to figure out how to communicate those thoughts in a more clear, concise, unmistakable delivery.
Every conversation, communication, call, text, and email is an opportunity to build relationship with another person. Don’t waste it.
The irony here (I KNOW) is I’ve used lots of words to describe a really simple process. Here’s that process in a nutshell:
Even in a conflict situation, you can still add value to the relationship. Relationships are nurtured with trust and honesty. So if a conversation is hard or heated, honor the other person in the process and when it’s resolved you’ll be stronger because of it. Don’t lie, or patronize, or belittle them. Ever. Just say what you mean. Sometimes people are not ready or willing to listen. That’s okay. Say what you mean and let it go.
SO OFTEN we just shrug our shoulders when we’re misunderstood. Then we lick our wounds and pout or complain about it later to someone else. No problems got solved, and in fact now you can add hurt feelings to the mix. It’s hard to say what you mean but it’s even harder if you don’t.
One of our deepest human needs is to feel loved and connected. Saying what you mean is a good start. Better communication means better relationships, no matter who you’re talking to. Cheering you on for a day full of courageous, thoughtful, and honest conversations.
Who are YOU? I encourage you to create your own “I am” statement, or you are welcome to print and use mine. Send us yours, I’d love to see it!
Jessica is a writer, musician, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. Jessica's mission is to write "real" - shining light into the dark places of the tough stuff we all experience. She and her husband Jack live in Houston, Texas and have weathered the storms of grief, infant loss, adoption, and a marriage that almost fell apart. Jessica and Jack have 4 children, LJ in heaven, Grace, Jackson, and brand new baby Elisha.