There are natural concerns about really saying what's on your mind,
what's in your heart. Sometimes, it's appropriate to be careful, like
with someone who's vulnerable, or to stay out of a rage, or if there is
any whiff of possible partner abuse. But more often than not, the
reasons are not so enlightened. We're holding back simply because we're
scared, or uncomfortable with feelings in general, or acting out gender
training (boys don't cry, girls shouldn't be pushy), or transferring
patterns from childhood (e.g., fear of a stern father).
So how can you help yourself communicate authentically and skillfully -
so that the outside you show the world more closely matches your
insides? Think of the questions below as a kind of checklist; you may
have most of them covered already, but there could also be some helpful
suggestions. (We've starred a few that are especially important.)
Are your intentions good? Fundamentally, is your purpose benign - or
punishing, vengeful, argumentative, or mean-spirited?
Are you committed to discovering and saying what is true? Rather than
just arguing your case, or keeping things veiled and foggy?
** Can you take responsibility for your own experience? This means
knowing that different people experience the same situation in different
ways, that your reactions to the world are filtered and shaped by your
own psychology. It means saying hard things, but not accusing or blaming
Do you know in your bones that the other person is separate from you,
differentiated, over there while you're over here? That just because
they're upset doesn't necessarily mean you're implicated? That their
feelings do not have to become your own?
Do you know that the other person may not understand you? That your
nature might be quite different from his temperament or personality, so
that he needs your help in understanding you?
Can you stand not being agreed with, understood, or joined with? Can you
When You Speak
Can you restrain yourself? Can you listen without interrupting, modulate
anger, keep a civil tongue, hold back the impulse to hit or break things
or otherwise lash out?
Can you stay centered in a self-respecting, self-sufficient dignity?
Can you talk about talking - about what might need to happen for it to
be safe to communicate? Can you talk about how you and the other person
interact? Being able to comment on your "process" is a great way to set
a foundation that is comfortable, and ease into difficult topics.
** Can you communicate for yourself, to speak your truth for its own
sake, not to affect the other person or get a result from them? When you
do this, you may have a little attention on trying to be skillful and
civil, but mainly your awareness is within yourself and your sense of
the other person recedes to the background.
** Can you share your experience, both the surface and the depths? Of
course, doing this requires being aware of the deeper layers, including
the younger material that's often stirred up when there's anything
important. But remember that your experience is a kind of refuge: you're
the expert on it and it has its own validity: no one can argue with you
** Can you be in touch with your experience while you speak it, so it's
in your eyes and throat and chest, rather than reporting on it like a
journalist sending dispatches from a distant country?
Can you say the positive as well as the negative? It's often not anger
or reproach that's hardest to express, but cherishing, needing, and love.
Can you stay on topic, keeping your eye on the prize, on whatever it is
you want to communicate, rather than getting sucked into side issues?
Can you appreciate the other person for listening?
When the Other Person Responds
Can you let it in when he agrees with you, is empathic or supportive? If
she gives you what you want, can you move on?
Can you admit it when you're not clear, or if some emotional mud got
mixed up with the clear water of your truth?
Can you re-group and clarify things if the other person misunderstands
you? Can you come back to your experience, your truth, if the other
person denies or attacks your experience - or you?
Can you give the other person the kind of listening that you'd like to
* * *
If you can answer yes to most of these questions most of the time,
you've got the best possible odds of having a great relationship. And no
matter what the other person does - which is, ultimately, outside your
control - communicating your truth, from your heart, for yourself, feels
good in itself, makes you feel strong and dignified, increases your
self-knowledge, and lets you know that they know exactly how you really