And now we reach the last of the admonitions to loving communication, is it kind? After we are reasonably sure that an exchange is necessary and that it is as true as it may be, this third requirement is to achieve a peaceful dialog. How do we frame our words?
I once again point to one of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements, to be impeccable with our words. This time highlighting his warning that words can be white magic or black magic! And not only the words, but also the intent, the congruency with what we are intending to impart and our inflection. Sometimes in my authentic communication talks I will use an example using the same exact words, but with a different inflection.
At dinner, the fellow says to the cook, “Where did you get the recipe for these potatoes?” It is hard to convey this in a blog, but think of one way with this being said with a bit of a sneer and another way with a smile; the former with an inflection indicating disgust and the latter with a “Wow!” nuance. A teacher once taught me that the meaning of a communication is the response it elicits; which question falls into the black or white magic realm and what response do you think those questions will receive?!?
Further, the question begins with “you,” it may not be the first word in the question, but it will be what is heard first. How much better to own what we want to say and then ask a question? First stating, “I think these potatoes are great! Where did…” leaves no doubt as to the intent of the question. Even stating, “I’m not sure these potatoes are my favorite way of having them cooked; where did…” takes ownership and does not make the cook wrong. Whenever we communicate, using “you” before an “I” statement, makes it accusatory and, therefore, not kind.
Unfortunately, for all the same reasons I have already given, words that are a trigger to one may not be for another, but that is a great place to start. While our word choice will still be based on our life experiences, if we strive to be kind in our words, at least our body language and tone will be congruent with being kind. Additionally, if we are being present and conscious with our communication partner, we will be able to ascertain if our words have hit a nerve.
As another teacher always states, the touching of that nerve is now grist for the authentic communication mill! Being present, we can name what we have just noticed in the other and ask if we’ve hit a nerve; again, starting with an “I” statement! Further, even if we miss the way in which our communication was perceived, if the other is present and conscious, she or he will be able to feel the trigger, know that it is from their past, and ask for clarification to insure if what was said was meant as black magic or an innocent mistake.
Authentic communication takes effort, perseverance, and can sometimes seem stilted and a detriment to a flowing conversation. However, as Harville Hendrix PhD and Helen Hunt point out in their Imago Relationship Therapy (Getting the Love You Want, A Guide for Couples, 1988), not being authentic and perception checking while communicating in short, “I” statement sentences is what stokes the fires of discord in relationships.
As in everything in life, we have to constantly practice authentic communication to become fluent in it. Asking ourselves “Is it necessary, is it the truth, is it kind?” will insure our words are “White Magic” and enhance our conversations!