We have all heard reference made to “that tone of voice!” or “that choice of words!” We have all, I’m sure, been on the receiving end of a stern tone of voice carrying what seems like a harsh directive or criticism. Truth be told we have probably all, at one time or another been on the giving end of such communication.
What can we make of these bumps in our interactions? Why is it such a common occurrence in our daily intercourse?
As in most of our behaviour, our communication style is essentially a habit—one that is learned from our culture and family of origin. As we learn the words that make up our mother tongue so do we learn the inflections and expressions that give those words emphasis and meaning. Hence the amazingly revealing and fascinating study of linguistics.
So how can we improve the quality of our communication and our expression? First we must become aware of our habits. What is our tone of voice and choice of words when we are interacting with family and friends? Equally important, what is our facial expression and body language when we are communicating? Most important of all, what is the feeling and the thought behind the expression?
I once watched a video of a very well-known therapist working with a couple who were having serious difficulty in their communication. The wife felt unheard and the husband felt demeaned and disrespected. As the video unfolded, it was clear what habits interfered with a smooth easy interaction. The wife had a habit of shaking her finger at her husband when she wanted him to listen. He responded by withdrawing and actually wincing, pulling away from her. She truly did not realize, nor did he, how their dance perpetuated a feeling of distance. As they became aware that they had within them the profound ability to recognize the role of their thinking in this process, they were then able to recognize their habitual behaviour and to change it.
We have made reference previously to Teflon versus Velcro thinking. This is an especially apt metaphor when it comes to communication. When our words are spoken from a place of judgment and insecurity, the most innocent statement may appear as rough as Velcro. When, on the other hand, we speak from the profound place of wisdom and understanding that resides in each of us, our words are sincere and heartfelt. The exchange is smooth like Teflon and even a difficult message can be delivered with compassion.
We will always have our own unique styles of communicating—our own dialect, our own turn of phrase, our own mannerisms. What I would wish for is that, as much as possible, we create an experience of rapport and respect, the language of love.
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