Nearly 13 years ago, I met my husband for the first time. Of course, neither of us had intentions of that day being a very important one in our lives, but often the days that have the most impact are not the days that you can plan for. His first impression of me (which he told someone else within the first two days of meeting me) was that I was opinionated. I won’t say he’s wrong, but I prefer ‘communicates feelings readily’ as a description of myself.
Communicating can be complex and challenging because it requires a subtle mixture of WHAT you say, HOW you say it, and whether you really listen to the other party involved. Listening doesn’t come as easy for me as ‘communicating my feelings’ does (I think it’s a genetic trait), but I’m working on it. Open dialogue has always intrigued me, though, because it holds such promise for true progress. Personally, it helps me learn and encourages me to try and see things from another perspective.
I recently read an article that was very helpful to me as I tried to navigate a difficult conversation about the complex and sensitive topic of water quality. The article focuses on using positive communication and how it can affect how you are heard. I thought this sentence was a particularly good description of the outcome I wanted to achieve in this conversation:
“Even if there is not ‘full agreement’ in the end, positive communication skills help move a conversation along effectively and work toward building a solid foundation of respect and a platform for increasingly meaningful exchanges in the future.”
Positive communication doesn’t mean using a happy voice to say nasty (or un-nasty) things. It’s not about being a cheerleader, but rather about handling yourself and your words in a way that builds up a connection with another person and meets your values and goals for the outcome of the conversation.
Conversations about sensitive topics can be SO uncomfortable. You can always retort, which means using ‘those words.’ You know what words I mean. The ones that are meant to illicit a response. The ones that divide us quickly on either side of an issue. It doesn’t matter whether you use those words in discussions with people you care deeply about or if those words are used with people you’ve never even met. They just don’t move a conversation forward.
While navigating difficult discussions recently, the tips in the article helped shape my statement of beliefs, and I tried to put positive communication skills to work. Engaging in challenging conversations, and thinking critically about how I communicate has helped me improve myself. By not retreating or retorting but instead engaging in positive communications we can begin to move the needle.
I’ll be using these tips in my personal and professional life, because even though I am still opinionated (Tim’s words, not mine), I believe that I have a lot of room for learning and growing, and I’m fortunate to keep bringing people into my life that have that same belief, no matter which side of an issue we might start on.