THE BLOG
07/06/2010 10:21 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Say What You Mean

And, mean what you say. In other words, it's time to communicate directly and find a way to do so, with respect.

The alternative doesn't sit well. After all, just think about how many times people sugarcoat unpalatable messages only to have someone feel sick later on.

It's far more constructive to give others the courtesy of our own accountability. Doing so grants them the opportunity to respond to what's really going on.

Direct communication is also a gift we give to ourselves. Its value lies in building confidence and developing integrity; and it supports -- and is an outcome of -- mindfulness. In addition, picking your words to match the message you want to convey simplifies life and strengthens healthy relationships. Here's how.

Remember as a kid when your parents appeared to inquire, "Honey, would you like to set the table (wash the dishes, clean your room etc)?" For most of us, the real answer was pretty simple, "No, I wouldn't like to set the table (or whatever)." Then again, most of us knew better than to say what we felt, and dutifully offered the expected answer. Sure, we set the table, but we also probably simmered with frustration and annoyance -- and not about having to set the table, but about how we ended up doing so.

At the time, our parents' communication was an effort to achieve a simple goal: prepping the table for a meal. The problem with their approach was that it prioritized something else. After all, why force kids to pretend that they like doing something when they don't... Obviously, kids need to do their chores carefully and respectfully, and they want to feel respected for their efforts. Thing is, they don't need to like the process. Maybe I sound old fashioned, but honestly folks, isn't it simpler if we accept the reality that life is full of tasks that need doing, whether or not we enjoy them?

Wouldn't it be better if parents had confidence to give kids a respectful command? Something along the lines of "Please set the table." It's a polite statement that tells kids exactly what they have to do and clearly communicates that they have to do it. In addition, such a command doesn't require that kids make their parents feel better about extending family responsibilities. After all, who benefits from the expected answer, "Yes, I'd love to set the table"? Don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure that it's not the kids.

Likewise, what about communication among adults at home or at work? Has your boss or spouse or friend ever looked at you and dared you to contradict the assertion that, "of course, you'd like to do a favor for so and so" while you felt the bile rising? Then what? Did you say, "no, not really" or did you swallow hard and say, "of course"?

Or, what about when you tell someone that something isn't going to happen, and then get drawn into a long convoluted discussion to justify your decision. Look, if something isn't going to happen, then that's that. Say it clearly, definitively, and then don't humor others by letting them try to change your mind. You do them no kindness by allowing them to continue the discussion once a decision's been made.

On the other hand, if you're not sure about a decision, then own that too. It's an expression of strength to admit what you don't know (yet). We live in an uncertain world and there are no guarantees. We do the best we can, and it's a heck of a lot easier to do our best when we acknowledge exactly what we're doing. If you don't know, then fess up -- strange as it sounds, communicating what you don't know actually increases other people's confidence in your competence.

Communicating directly takes guts. Funny thing is, despite the nervousness that many of us feel when we commit to saying what we mean, speaking honestly actually settles the stomach. In contrast, saying one thing while thinking the opposite can make you downright queasy. And, agreeing to do something that you know isn't right, can -- and probably should -- make you vomit. Listen to your body (it knows) and walk the walk, while you talk the talk.

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