You hear about communication a lot in college. Public speaking, writing, negotiation; they are all part of a curriculum in one concentration or another, and in certain contexts,they are important.
But you know what form of communication will separate you from your peers and define who you are to those around you? The kind that occurs in high stress situations, when a colleague, or a boss, or an adversary is arguing a point and you have to keep cool. OR, when you are talking to someone you like, and you want to let them know how you feel, but don't have the courage to summon to tell them. Or, when you are dealing with a person who is being less than graceful with your feelings or your belongings or your boundaries, and you just can't get up the cajones to tell them to back off.
These are all very important situations you are going to find yourself in, and find yourself in often. The skills that you need to expertly navigate these situations are not ones that you will find on almost any syllabus. But, this shit is important. This shit is your-whole-life-long important, and the sooner you can begin integrating these skills into your life and practicing them, the more confident you will become and the more ready you will be when it really matters.
These events; conflicts, confrontations, and romantic entanglements (some call them relationships) are what keeps most adults up at night with worry over whether or not they said all they had to say, or if they said too much, or if they made like a doormat and let someone walk right over the top of them. These things matter, and if you want to enjoy your life, if you want to truly make the most of life's small but important moments, you will learn and practice, practice, practice. Being adept at this type of communication is what can make your life feel like a series of victories. Being not so good at them? A series of disappointments. A series of scenarios where someone else is the star of your movie. Don't let someone else be the star of your movie.
The good news is that it comes down to just one thing. Yes, believe it or not, though there is much practice involved in this type of communication, though complexities abound in these situations, there is one strategic key that will help you improve and improve quickly when practicing. One magic instrument that you can play which will entice all the village folk to follow you wherever you lead them.
This instrument is self-awareness. I will give you an example:
You have your eye on a person. You like watching this person walk. You like listening to this person's voice. Hell, you even like the way this person smells. But you just can't get up the courage to talk to this person. Why? Because you are worried about the wrong thing. You are worried about whether or not this person likes you. That is what keeps you, ultimately, ironically, from finding out.
You are working at a job and become aware that your coworkers are talking about you. You are not sure what they are saying, but you are quite sure that they spend a fair amount of their time not doing their jobs, and instead, talking about you. You have become aware because of the fingers that point in your general direction across the office. You wonder what is going on. Have you done something wrong? Are you wearing the wrong deodorant? Are you two inches too short? Again, you are worrying about the wrong thing.
One more example to bring it home? Why not:
You have a roommate who keeps borrowing your stuff. This roommate not only borrows your stuff, but on occasion, ruins your stuff. This has been going on for months, but you have not said anything because you are worried that you will look like a bastard. Again, you are worrying about the wrong thing.
In every single one of these scenarios the one thing you should be thinking about, considering, and promoting is you. Your values, your hopes, your aspirations, your grand plans for the future. As you shift your focus away from yourself, and on to others, you have lost the meaning of your own life. When you find yourself in any tricky or uncomfortable situation, your awareness of your values, your desires, your boundaries will serve you better than any knowledge you may or may not have about others. Think you know what someone else is thinking or feeling? You are fooling yourself and wasting your time.
Your best tool in any tough situation is your awareness of you. How can you come to this magical place? Well, there is the tricky part. By your very nature, you change. You shift. You grow. There is always more to learn about you. Yet another reason why you should not be worrying about what other people think. You have your hands full with figuring you out. Here are some handy tools you can use to become more familiar with yourself:
There are millions of ways to learn more about yourself. But in the end, you should always be asking: "Self, what do you think? How do you feel about this?" The more times you get an answer, the closer you are to figuring yourself out. For today.
How does this help? In stressful situations where you must communicate, very often there is anxiety. Are you wrong? Have you offended someone? Have you made some sort of critical error that has put your relationship at risk? It is in these moments that it is most helpful to remember you. Remember that the only thing that is really required of you is to be yourself. When you are bending to other's expectations of you, or trying desperately to fit in, you lose your footing. You have a reason to be stressed. You are not in your own skin, rather, trying someone else's out.
So, when you like a person, you are aware that you like that person and it stops there until you can convey that to that person. After that, it is in their hands.
When your co-workers are talking about you, you approach them and ask them what they are talking about. You join in the conversation. It turns out they weren't actually talking about you and a whole level of stress you were feeling evaporates.
When your roommate is habitually borrowing and ruining your stuff, you simply request that they stop. If they have a problem with that, you allow them to have it.
Your concerns end with your personal space. Why? Because you are busy trying to figure out who you are today, not who other people think you are. Not who other people need you to be so that they feel okay.
Just who you are. That is all it comes down to. Not easy, but certainly easier than attempting to fill a role you were never meant to play.
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