Think before you speak. Be careful what you say. Practice nonviolent communication. There are different ways to describe how what we say to others has a real impact on us, has a real impact on others and has a real impact on the way we experience life. I am grateful for a number of different teachers who explore this topic from slightly different vantage points. Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements is just one approach that I find very useful. The agreements are:
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Don’t take anything personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Always do your best.
The four agreements are very much about how you can live more peacefully when you choose to live consciously and choose to understand the truth of a situation and your relationship with others.
In another helpful book What We Say Matters by Judith and Ike Lasater, they lay out concrete steps to the art of communicating with clarity and truth that create a more peaceful way of living. Their method is very aligned with the topic that I frequently write about—living consciously and being mindful in the present moment.
Their first step is to make observations of what is. For instance, consider a situation where you have plans to meet someone at 6pm. And your friend arrives at 6:10pm. The observation is that your friend arrived at 6:10pm. Thinking that your friend arrived late is not an observation; it is a judgment because your friend might not believe she is late. In her belief system she might not consider 10 minutes late whereas you might consider even one minute to be late. So unraveling the truth of the context is the first step towards peaceful communication.
The second step is to identify your feelings. Feelings are a way to access whether your needs are or are not being met. So for instance, you might feel happy, content or connected to others and that shows that your needs are being met in that moment. On the other hand if you feel irritated, upset, concerned or lonely, your feelings are telling you that your needs are not being met. People differ tremendously on how easy they can access their feelings. If it is difficult for you, try to tap into what you are experiencing in your body and see if that helps you to identify an associated emotion.
The third step is to identify your needs. Needs are what we humans must have to thrive and survive. They include protection, connection, affection, understanding, creation and freedom and more. Identifying your needs can be a difficult area for many people, particularly women. So many of us were taught that to express our needs is to be needy and that is unladylike, ungodly and just bad. And thus it is not uncommon for many of us to be unable to identify what our needs are, let alone tell others what those needs are. But indeed when we become aware of our needs as well as the needs of others, we are moving towards a fuller and more peaceful way to live life. By denying our own needs we are being hurtful to ourselves and that does not help anyone. In fact it is easy to end up blaming others when we deny our own needs and they in turn do not get met. How can others help you get your needs met if you don’t know what they are and you don’t tell anyone? (See also Asking For Help For Greater Success.)
The fourth step is making a request to try to get your needs met. The goal is to make a request that is clear and doable in the present. It is not a demand. If you put together all steps, you might try saying something like, “When I hear ______, I feel _______, because I need _______; Would you be willing to______? When you reveal what you are experiencing and include a specific request it makes it much easier for the other person to respond.
Notice that step 1 is about facts and steps 2 and 3 are about your own self-awareness. None of this really has to do with the other person other than your experience of the other person. Only after you have become self-aware can you share your experience and make a thoughtful request of the other person. Thus this practice is really about getting very clear about your own experience so that you can then speak the words that will communicate your experience clearly and truthfully without judgment or assumptions about the other person’s motive. (#3 of The Four Agreements: Don’t make assumptions.)
What I appreciate about this method of looking at your own communication is that it is very much about living in the moment, being mindful and present to what you are experiencing now and only now. If you observe and identify your feelings, even accessing where the feelings reside in your body, you are forced into the here and now. It lessens the degree to which you hang on to stories of your past. It forces you to understand your reaction in the moment and slow you down a bit before you might hurt others with your words. It also allows you to recognize that you are the creator of your own experience of your life. What others do is almost irrelevant (I say almost because obviously others can do very inappropriate or terrible things.)
The emphasis and importance of self-awareness for peaceful communication is just one more reason why so many of my blogs explore this topic and why I always begin my coaching work with focus on self-understanding and emotional intelligence. It is critical that we tap into what we are feeling in any given moment before we speak. Because when we speak, we have a huge impact on the world. Our goal is to have communications that are thoughtful, useful and informative. Lasater and Lasater say, “Without this self-awareness, we forget that what we say is always about ourselves, especially about our feelings and needs, and is never about the other person, because whatever we say is coming out of our perception of what is.” In other words, what we experience and judge to be right or wrong is always our interpretation of the experience. And that also holds true for the other person. (See also Let Go Of What Other People Think.) What they say is all about them and their own experience. That alone can be a powerful awakening to understanding your relationship to another that helps you to live more mindfully and peacefully.