This is part one of a two part series on direct communication.
A few years ago, I was on a walk with a good friend. We shared our current happenings, and she related a recent strain in one of her closest friendships.
“She just never listens to me,” she explained. “I’m always there for her, but I feel like she dips out whenever I need her to be there for me. And it’s been like this for awhile. I don’t want to lose her as a friend, but I don’t know,” she sighed.
I kicked the leaves as I listened. “Have you told her any of this?”
She stared at me blankly. “What do you mean?”
“Like have you told her that you feel she’s not there for you, or that you want her to be a better listener, or just how you feel upset in your friendship?”
Her expression turned to confusion. “I mean….no? Why would I? That would just make it worse.”
I have had this kind of conversation more times than I can count: a friend relates a strained relationship, I ask if the other person knows about it, and they say for sure not, and never. I can relate, because I’ve been the same way for the majority of my life. But is that really the best way? Does wishing the person would just read my mind already actually work? More importantly, does it lead to fulfilling relationships of any kind?
I used to think it was a young person thing, but I know people nearly three times my age that struggle with being direct; passive aggression, simmering bitterness, and achingly strained relationships are often the unfortunate alternatives. I say this having experienced all three of those in multiple fashions throughout my young life. No, there’s a better way.
One of my mentors once told me that one of the best feelings is walking away from a conversation knowing that you represented yourself accurately and clearly. I can attest he was right. To do so, we need to learn to be direct and clear in our communication.
We all have different definitions of “direct”. Sometimes we’re stuck in a false dichotomy as my friend was: either say nothing or say too much, and being ‘direct’ is simply saying too much. Although that can happen, being direct in a healthy way looks like this:
- Saying what you mean and meaning what you say
- Sharing the truth in a caring and fair way
- Dealing with issues before your anger gives you the courage to do so
- Broaching difficult topics with vulnerability, honesty, and love
- Thinking about the other person when you approach them — both their short-term and their long-term well-being
If that’s the kind of direct communication we’re after, angry tirades are clearly not the same thing.
Before we discuss the how, let’s focus on why: why should we be direct in the first place?
How Direct Communication Benefits You
Feeling misunderstood is painful. Although sometimes it happens because of other people alone, we often have a part to play. Something bothers us but instead of speaking up, we assume the other person should just know. Thus, we continue being bothered and our relationship with that person grows tense, sometimes with the other person not having the faintest idea why. When we’re direct, you include the other person in your experience and can work through struggles better.
We can preserve and protect our relationships by saying what we mean and meaning what we say. People like to know what to expect. If they’re not sure if what you’re sharing is how you really feel or you’ll tell someone your true feelings later, trust is broken down, and thereby the relationship itself.
By being a direct communicator, you will lead the way to having better boundaries, too. Instead of saying yes to four different projects that you don’t really have time for, you tell people you don’t have time. This saves you from becoming bitter at the commitment (and often the person who asked) and/or doing less than your best if you had overcommitted yourself. Having proper boundaries is an entire set of articles on its own; but clearly communicating what you think about accepting responsibility for something is one of the cornerstones of boundaries.
Finally, by being a direct communicator, you save yourself a lot of internal and mental struggles. I’ve noticed that since I’ve strived to be a clear communicator, I don’t obsess as much about “What did he mean by that?” I now believe that if people have something to say, let them say it. Me trying to guess or play a mind reading game — even if that’s what they want — is not worth the time or energy. I’m also more at peace with myself because I say what I need to say instead of bottling it up until I explode.
How Direct Communication Benefits Others
When you’re known as a clear communicator, people trust what you have to say. Even if they don’t like it, they trust it. Something I love about my stepdad is that he’ll never tell you an outfit looks nice if it doesn’t. He’s not unkind, but he is honest and direct about it. That’s why I like to ask him about new clothes I get — if he says they’re nice, I believe him. I know he wouldn’t say something just to make me feel good.
I’ve noticed that more people ask for my advice about different topics since becoming more direct. I do have a pretty strict policy of withholding my advice unless someone actually asks what I think — but once they ask, I will speak directly and honestly. If someone has offended me, or they keep doing something that really frustrates or annoys me, I tell them — I don’t wait until I can’t stand the person anymore. This helps my friends know that we’re good unless I say something. They don’t have to worry that I secretly don’t like them but flatter them to their face — if I have an issue, I’ll say so.
The overarching theme here is trust. When you clearly and directly communicate your thoughts and feelings, it encourages and creates trust between you and that person.
So before we ever touch the how, it’s important to be settled in your own mind as to the benefits of clear and direct communication. The how can be difficult, especially when you’re going against decades of being passive or passive aggressive. Think about it. Pray about it. Then, next week, we’ll see how we can implement this kind of communication.