11/28/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Speak Your Truth - Three Tips for Communicating Authentically

Speaking your truth is an essential aspect of living a life of passion, fulfillment, and authenticity.  However, for many of us, myself included, it is much easier to talk about speaking our truth than it is to actually do it.

I was talking to my friend Greg a few months ago and he told me a poignant and powerful story about speaking his truth.  He was in a grocery store and saw a woman yelling at her kids in a cruel way.

He walked over to the woman and said, “Excuse me, would you please treat those children with kindness and love.”   She looked at him and said, “Mind your own business, these are my kids.”  Greg replied by saying, “If you were doing this in your living room, it would be just your business, but you're doing it here in front of me.  I'm standing over here with my heart aching for these children as I hear you speak to them like that – so I decided to come over and say something to you about it.”

The woman then told him to stick it up his “you-know-what,” grabbed her kids, and rushed out to the parking lot to drive away.  Greg then said to me, “Mike, I don't know if I did the right thing or the wrong thing.  My legs were shaking as I talked to her.  I was so scared, upset, and emotional.”

"But," Greg said, "I'll tell you what - when I walked away I noticed something interesting, I wasn't blaming anyone.  Normally, I wouldn't have said anything and I would've blamed myself for not speaking up, the woman for treating her kids like that, or our culture for creating the environment where things like that happen and no one does anything about it.  However, since I spoke up I was at peace and not wasting any time or energy blaming anyone.  I have no idea if what I said made an impact on that woman, but I don't have to live with her, I have to live with myself.”

I sat there stunned when I heard Greg tell me this story.  I said to him, “Wow, that was bold.  I'm not sure I would've had the courage to say that to her, but I'm glad you did.”

What if we had the courage to speak up like that in all areas of life – our work, our relationships, our family, with people in public, and in general.  Imagine the freedom and power we would possess.  This is not all about getting in people's faces and challenging them, although sometimes it might take that form.

An important distinction for us to remember is the difference between our “opinions” and our “truth.”  We all have opinions; lots of them (have you noticed?).  Many of us think our opinions are actually "facts;" they're not!  There's nothing wrong with having and expressing our opinions.  However, many of our opinions are filled with righteous judgment and an arrogant sense that we're “right” and those who don't agree with us are “wrong.”

Our “truth” runs much deeper than any of our opinions.  Truth is about how we feel and what is real for us.  Truth is not about being right, it's about expressing what we think and feel in an authentic, vulnerable, and transparent way.

For example, I might have an opinion that you are rude.  I'm entitled to this opinion and I may even have specific evidence of times you have done things that I think are rude.  There may also be other people who agree with me that you're rude.  However, this opinion will probably not help our relationship, bring us closer, or have us be in honest conversations with each other.

My “truth,” however, might be that when you're around me I get scared because I worry you might say something that will hurt my feelings.  Or, I get angry because I don't like some of the things you say and do.  In other words, I sometimes don't feel safe or comfortable around you.

This distinction is not just about semantics or words, it's a total shift in perspective and context.  When we let go of being “right” about our opinions and take responsibility for our experience, we can speak our truth from a much deeper and more authentic place.  Speaking this deeper truth will not only liberate us, but it has the potential to make a difference for others and bring us closer together with them.

How do we enhance and deepen our capacity to speak our truth with kindness, love, and authenticity?  There are lots of things we can do to accomplish this – here are three to think about:

1)  Stop managing other people's feelings.  I know this one well myself, as I can be the king of trying to manage other people's feelings.  It's arrogant, manipulative, and somewhat ridiculous to think that we have the power to manage other people's emotions.  We also use this idea as a cop-out or an excuse to not really speak our truth.  We can be aware of and mindful of other people and how they might feel (so we don't end up being mean and hurtful on purpose), but when we let go of taking care of others in a condescending way, it frees us and them up to be grown-ups and have adult conversations, which sometimes can get a little sticky or tense when we're speaking our truth.

2)  Be real, not right.  This is huge when it comes to speaking our truth.  When we focus on winning or being right, we no longer can access the deepest places within our heart, which is where our real truth comes from.  When we let go of our attachment to the outcome of a conversation, what the other person thinks, and our erroneous obsession with always having to be right, we give ourselves the opportunity to get real.  Being vulnerable and transparent are the key elements of speaking our truth, not dominating the conversation and the person (or people) we're talking to.

3)  Practice.  Like anything and everything else in life – the best way for us to get better, deepen our capacity, and grow, is to practice.  In this case as we're talking about speaking our truth, it's not about “role playing” per se (although if that helps give you the courage to have a difficult conversation, go for it), it's about speaking up and stepping out into your life with your truth.  Will you mess it up?  Of course!  Will you say the wrong thing sometimes?  Yes.  Will people get upset, offended, or defensive at times?  Absolutely.  This isn't about being perfect, it's about being yourself and speaking authentically.

Have empathy and compassion with yourself as you practice – this is not easy for most of us.  And, even for those of us who have really worked to expand our capacity to speak our truth and have had many experiences of doing it in a powerful way, we have to remember that each situation is always new and different.  Also, in certain areas of life (or with specific people), speaking up can be incredibly scary and challenging for us.  Even if your legs shake, your voice quivers, or your heart races (all of which usually happen when we get real and vulnerable) – take a deep breath, dig down for the courage you have within you, and be willing to speak your truth.  When we do this, we can watch our relationships and lives literally transform.