“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion…” Franz Kafka
In Part I of Speaking Our Truth, I reflected on the reasons we are hesitant to speak our truth to others. By our truth, I was referring to our feelings, needs and desires. I also reflected on the reasons for and the consequences of hiding our truth from the most important people in our lives. I wrote:
“A common reaction, when we have been mistreated, ignored or violated in some way, is that we go into self-blame and shame. Then we begin to minimize our feelings or even lie about how we feel. The result is that we put all that is fundamental to us, our truth, in a locked box and we bury that box in deepest recesses of our being.
Then, as our willingness to trust important others continues to dissolve, we begin to distance ourselves from them emotionally and sometimes even physically…
Withdrawing from others is harmful to us. We are social animals by design and we require connection to significant others in order to feel safe in this world. Those relationships help us to navigate the vicissitudes of life — to survive this life in every sense of the word. We need the support of others. We cannot do it alone.
So, we have to understand and accept that it is okay to communicate what we feel, need and desire in our closest relationships. It is the way we build stronger, more intimate and healthier relationships.”
While we need to communicate our truth to the most important people in our lives, we should do it in a way that keeps us safe and in a way that is respectful of the other person.
That is the subject of this month’s blog piece.
How to Speak Our Truth Safely and Respectfully
It is essential for us to convey to people we care about what we feel, need and desire. That is how we build a sense of safety and respect in a relationship. However, in my experience, there are some ways to do that that are better that others .
So, here is one way of going about it:
Pick the Right Time & Place – Then Plan
Choose the time. In consultation with the other party, we choose a convenient time to have this conversation. Certainly, it should not be done in the emotion of the moment.
Choose the location. Selecting a “neutral” location is important. By neutral, I mean that it is a place that is not in either party’s “territory”. Privacy is also an essential consideration as sensitive matters will be under discussion.
Plan our words. It is extremely helpful to plan our words ahead of the meeting, based on the below principles. We do not want leave it to chance that the right words will emerge from our mouths when the time comes.
Use “Unloaded” Language / Own Our “Stuff”
What I mean by “unloaded” is that our words need to avoid blaming, accusing, anger, hostility or manipulation.
Avoid demands.Our words need to exclude demands (“you musts”). In that way, we are acknowledging the other person’s right to choose what to do for themselves.
Own our feelings. At the same time, we do not have to avoid expressing our feelings. But we do need to own them as ours. So, we stay clear of phrases like: “You made me feel (e.g. angry, shamed, wrong)” These are our feelings after all. The other person cannot make us feel or, for that matter, think or react in any particular way. While it may be difficult to control our feelings and thoughts, we can and must choose whether or not we act on them or project them on to another person. We also have control over what comes out of our mouths. So, an “owning statement” in regard to our feelings would be, “I felt hurt when you (said or did)”.
Own our behavior. Similarly, we need to own our behaviors and reactions. We choose how we act and speak, even in the most heated situations. So, we avoid saying “You made me (do /act/say) etc.”
Own our interpretations. We need to own our interpretations of the meaning behind other people’s words and actions. As well, we need to avoid judging or interpreting the motivations behind others’ words and actions. We all too often make up stories about why people do or say things. So, we might say, “When you did that, I made it mean this…” as opposed to “I know what you were trying to do. You wanted to embarrass me when you…”.
In reflecting upon and expressing memories about what happened between ourselves and the other person, we need to stay as factual as possible. We need to describe those events using sensory information only: what we observed or heard without interpretation. For example, “I saw you turn away” instead of “You were avoiding me”.
State a Future Preference
We can state our preference for what might happen in the future regarding the other person’s behavior, but we cannot demand it or control it. So, we might phrase it like this, “I would appreciate it, if in the future, you (did, said or behaved in certain ways).” In summary, we state what we would like to happen and then we leave them to it.
Ask for Feedback Then Apply the Listening Filter
If it feels appropriate, we can ask the other person what they think about what we have just said. They may agree, disagree, or want more information. This might open up a fruitful dialogue between us or it might not.
However, whatever the nature of their feedback, we do not need to agree, disagree, or engage in argumentation. In other words, we do not need to verbally or behaviourally react.
If the other person makes a request or a suggestion about what we might do or not do and we do not agree, we do not have to give an answer on the spot. We can say, for example, “Thanks for that. I’ll give it some thought.”
We also need to apply the Listening Filter. By that I mean that we do not need to take excessively negative or critical feedback to heart. After all, it is their “stuff” and not ours. We can instead politely thank the other person for their thoughts then disengage or even walk away if we need to.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this, when we speak our truth, it is to be true to ourselves. It is to honor ourselves. It is to stand in empowerment rather than in victimization.
Speaking our truth also empowers our relationships by creating a space for honest, respectful dialogue. It is a way of saying that this relationship is important and that we value the other person enough to “come clean” with them. It is thus a mark of respect and trust.
Speaking our truth can also provide us insight into whether a particular relationship has any future, at least from our perspective. In other words, by respectfully and clearly speaking our truth, we are testing the viability of a relationship. We will know that by the other person’s response and subsequent actions.
Speaking our truth, most importantly, helps us to build a healthy, balanced sense of self. It is a form of self-respect. Else-wise we are but captives of our past and of whatever it is that continues to block our wellbeing in the present.
Speaking our truth in honest yet respectful ways is ultimately liberating. It is when we speak our truth, that we truly come home to ourselves.
“Truth never damages a cause that is just.” Mahatma Gandhi