Your Authentic Voice: Five Steps to Better Communication and More of What You Want in Life
Imagine a world where everyone spoke their truth.
If that stirs up an, "Oh my Gosh, I couldn't do that!" feeling or a belief that the world would be full of rude people, read on. It's because of repressed words needing to be said that there is so much confusion and resentment in our world. Even with the short term gains and society patting us on the head, many people would like to give up pretending in exchange for the freedom that comes with being real. People's honesty allows them to enjoy deeper relationships and contribute more to society. Most of us know that, but after years of conditioning, how do we break free of old patterns?
I spent the first thirty-five years of my life holding back my true thoughts. I developed a jaw disorder, wrinkles and a lot of pent-up frustration until I finally found a way out. A whole new world opened up for me. I felt so much joy I decided to share the process with others. I began facilitating seminars and found a common theme; the majority of participants had struggles with expressing their true thoughts in the moment.
Many of them confessed that they responded with what they thought others wanted to hear just to keep the peace, be accepted or gain an edge in some way. But, saying one thing and meaning another left them feeling disjointed. For example, when someone asked them to lunch, they'd respond with an automatic "Sure," only later to be frustrated because they really didn't want to go. We've been brought up to say the right things in order to be accepted. There's nothing wrong with being polite but when we lose our natural flow we have a tendency to be more like a robot than our true selves. Wouldn't it be easier and clearer if we just spoke from our heart? Wouldn't it be refreshing to quiet all the chattering voices in our mind and just speak with our true voice? Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."
It takes a lot of courage to communicate honestly. Our voice emerges literally from within our body revealing our inner-most world. And, living in a world filled with judgment can be a difficult place in which to open up. Most of us have been protecting ourselves from the scrutiny of others for a very long time. We've compensated by fibbing, hedging, or exaggerating in some way. We may get short term approval from others, but every time we do it, it costs us a little in our own self-respect. Once we tap into internal self love and knowing our values, it becomes easier to say what we truly want to say the first time around. It takes a lot less effort to speak from the heart and is backed with a lot more power.
The mind has a way of calculating for self-advantage. For example, if I say it like this, he'll approve of me. If I say it like that, I'll get what I want. Speaking from the heart without filtering it first actually gives us energy. There's a sense of freedom in being compassionately honest and direct with others. People can sense when you're speaking the truth and tune in. Just make sure it's your truth, not what you think the other person's truth should be. There's a big difference between telling people how you feel and telling them how they should feel. For example, saying "I feel frustrated that you didn't call" is much different than saying, "You should call when you say you will." Yes, they're both honest, but the big difference is one is acknowledging how we feel and the other one is accusing someone.
When we're real for others, we open the door for them to be real with us. We're entering an age where it's vital to connect with others. It will take nothing less than honesty, courage and compassion to allow it to happen. The infamous growing pains may come as you experiment with the process. Your family members and business associates have become accustomed to you being a certain way. Start with the gradient approach. Tell the most supportive people in your life what you're doing; that you're practicing thinking on your feet and saying what you want, in the moment. Tell them it's important for you to be honest and to be patient with you. The discomfort of the growing pains will soon be forgotten as you reach your new level of freedom. Stay with it and keep practicing. It's helpful to re-read this information after you've practiced the steps (listed later in this article) to reinforce your learning and notice your progress.
To get the full benefit from this process, you must practice it and experience it in your life. If you just understand it intellectually without the practice, you won't get the results you're looking for. It takes commitment. Then, everything in your life will improve. Check it out for yourself. Feel the times you are completely honest with yourself and others. Notice how you feel when you do the 5-step step process. You'll get a sense of reaching home plate. Like in a softball game when you come full circle and you're home safe. There's nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. Take a deep breath and enjoy the moment.
What's Your Intention?
With any communication, intention is the place to start. Ask yourself how you will feel when you express your goals, concerns and ideas clearly to others. Your authentic voice wants to be heard. Take some time to visualize what your world will look like. Will your breathing be easier? Will you feel more connected and alive? How does it feel to have the satisfaction of knowing you were true to yourself by saying what you wanted to say?
Will the True Voice Please Speak Up?
Before we communicate with others we must first communicate with ourselves. That is, asking ourselves who we are at our core and what we stand for. Listening too much to others, we can lose touch with our true nature. I remember a time when I altered who I was depending on the situation. There was a professional me who spoke in a certain way with my business associates. There was a fun-loving, clever me who would speak in another way with my friends. There was a dependent me who would speak in a way with my significant other. The list went on and on. It was exhausting. The words and voices were all for them. It got to the point where I had completely lost my own voice. How about you? How many voices do you have in your closet? As you're exploring, tune into the voice that speaks for you.
In the movie Runaway Bride, Julia Roberts keeps leaving her grooms at the alter. Richard Gere enters her life and notices she changes her choice of eggs depending on the man she's with. With Brian, she liked them scrambled with salt, pepper and dill, with George, she liked them fried, with Gill, she liked them poached, and with Bob, it was a garden omelet, egg whites only. Of course it was how each one of her fiancés liked his eggs that determined what she wanted. It wasn't until she really tasted them for herself that she knew her favorite was eggs benedict. When we take time to look for the answers inside rather than outside, we speak with a sense of ease and knowingness. Only then can we share our thoughts and ideas clearly; not what they want to hear but what we truly want to say. Bill Cosby said, "I don't know the meaning of success, but the meaning of the word failure means trying to please everyone else".
Honesty Shines Through
The characteristic of all truly powerful communicators is that they are honest. Most of us believe we are honest, but with a closer look get more discerning. My guess is that we have all lied. I know I have. Looking back on it, it was mostly done out of the need for approval or out of fear. I've said yes when I really wanted to say no. Telling myself I'd stop eating chocolate and then eating it the next day is a lie to myself. Have you ever set a new year's resolution that you didn't keep? My purpose in asking these questions is not to give you a free ticket for a guilt trip. It's simply to point out that we're much stronger people when we're honest. Integrity means a sense of wholeness and there's strength in that.
In the book Your Body Doesn't Lie, author and medical doctor John Diamond proves through kinesiology that we test stronger when we're honest. We're relaxed and the voice isn't ‘uptight.' There's a sense of effortlessness when our words match our actions. We're congruent, we feel it and others feel it. Little white lies, even when we think they will help someone actually weaken us. They also build walls, sometimes with the people we love the most. Is honest dialogue easy? Not always. In the beginning it can be very difficult. The good news is; it gets easier as we practice and make it a part of our everyday lives.
Laying the Foundation
Take some time to explore what's true for you. I invite you to take whatever time you need to be lovingly honest with yourself. You'll begin to understand where you want to make adjustments in your life and in your speaking habits. These questions may be the most important questions you'll ever ask yourself.
1.) Am I the same person wherever I go?
2.) Am I at peace with my interactions with others?
3.) With which people and situations am I less than honest? (Not only with what I say, but with what I don't say.)
The next step to laying a foundation is knowing your values. Write down the three values that are most important to you. The following are some examples to get your creative juices flowing:
Adventure, Community, Health, Love, Spirituality, Self-expression, Creativity, Gratitude, Knowledge, Humor, Family, Peace, Making a Difference, Respect, Freedom, Passion, Tradition, Integrity, Compassion, Loyalty, Taking Care of Our Environment, Security, Connection, Acceptance, Travel, Happiness.
My Top Three Values
Do these values show up in the way you communicate? If you're brave, you'll ask a family member or close friend to give you feedback as well. Are you walking your talk? Are there any missed opportunities for demonstrating more of your values? For example, if you wrote "family" as your top value and you don't have a specific, quality time set aside for them, something's amiss. If you wrote "health" and you're eating unhealthy foods, well…you get the idea.
You'll find that once you're clear on who you are and what you stand for, it's much easier to think on your feet and communicate with ease. Without this essential foundation and knowledge, it's easier to be someone you're not. Listening to one person's ideas sound good, so we go along with them, then someone else comes along with an idea and it sounds good. So we go along with them. There we are like a rudderless ship in the sea of confusion. Socrates wisely stated, "Know thyself." When we know ourselves and our values, we are free to say what we want with anyone at anytime.
Why Didn't I Say …
Now, let's explore how to think on your feet and answer questions in the moment. Have you ever noticed it's much easier to answer a question with the perfect response when you're not under pressure? What if we could use a 5-step process allowing us to respond in a way we feel really good about…the first time around? We can leave that situation saying, "Yes! That's exactly what I wanted to say." You'll find this 5-step process can save you time, reduce your stress level and increase your self-confidence.
How to Say What You Want in the Moment:
1.) Listen to the question
1.) Listen to the Question
The first step is to listen to the question. It sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? And yet, so many of us formulate the answer to a question we haven't even heard yet. We wonder why we feel disconnected. You've probably seen this at networking events or in your personal interactions: one person asks a question and the other person is way off in left field with an answer to something else. It can be caused by a number of things; lack of focused attention, lack of interest, or too much emphasis on responding with the right thing. The more we try to say the right thing, the more we say the wrong thing.
When I first joined Toastmasters International I was especially nervous when it came to the extemporaneous speaking portion of the meeting. It was one minute of sheer terror. One person asks a question and you answer it, on the spot, in front of the group. I was more than a little afraid. I had no public speaking experience; my knees were shaking and my heart was beating triple time. Everyone is asked a question relating to the theme of the evening, such as latest technology, favorite movies, great philosophers, etc.
As everyone else had their turn, I searched my memory banks, trying to remember anything that I had ever experienced regarding that topic. It was like I was in another dimension. I realized there were other people in the room, I could hear some talking but couldn't really hear the words. Mostly I was in my own head. Have you ever experienced this over-preparation? When it came time for my question, I randomly pulled out one of the 15 stories I'd been rehearsing in my head related to that topic and tried to connect it with the question. People looked at me with a puzzled look and kind of a half smile. They applauded me ever so politely.
This method of mine went on for months until finally I'd had enough. I gave up trying to have the perfect answer. I decided I was just going to stay in the present moment…what a concept! I'd listen to the other people when they were speaking. I told myself I would not prepare but just stay in the present moment and do the five step technique. When it was my turn, I experienced such incredible freedom! Wow…it was so much easier. I felt such a deep connection between the questioner, the audience and me. The applause was so much stronger. I felt, "Yes, that's exactly what I wanted to say." Listening to the question may sound simple, but it's the first step to truly powerful dialogue.
The second step is to pause. Pause long enough to take a breath from your diaphragm. It doesn't have to be a lengthy pause, but it does have to be a pause. Silence is where the thinking begins. Anything else is purely reactionary. Psychologists tell us that most people respond to a question with what they think we want to hear. If you ask them a second time, they'll tell you what they truly feel.
The irony is, we think people will listen to us if we have an answer right away. Check it out for yourself. The reactionary types aren't listened to nearly as much as the ones who have given it some thought. Two to five seconds. That's all it takes. Not long. But long enough to let people know you're being proactive rather than reactive.
During a Richmond, Virginia seminar a quiet and tall guy in the back of the room raised his hand. He said, "I've got something to share, but I don't want anyone to laugh." We all leaned toward him in anticipation. He reluctantly said, "I watch a soap opera called The Young and the Restless. There's a guy on the show named Victor. Watching him is like going on a psychological field trip. I noticed that everyone listens to what Victor has to say. He was the only one that paused before he gave his answer. The other people were reactionary, giving their answer right away and they weren't listened to nearly as much."
Take a drink of water to give you a moment to gather your thoughts. And yes, there may be those of you saying, if I took a minute to breathe, they wouldn't wait for my answer. Well, that tells you something, doesn't it? A recent study indicated that 80% of the questions are really statements in disguise. If people really want your answer, they'll be ok with you taking a breath before you respond.
3.) Repeat the Question
Now we come to step number three; repeat the question. When someone asks you a question that requires contemplation, repeat the question back to them. This serves two purposes. First, it helps you have clarity about the question. Second, it gives you time to think about the question and actually ask yourself about it. Once you try this yourself, you'll get a feel for it. People in my seminars who have done this step say their answer changes from what they would have said to what they really feel after they've repeated the question.
Keep in mind that you won't use this technique for every single question. For example, if I ask you what time it is, you won't say, "So, you're asking me what time it is". You only use this technique for the contemplative questions! If I ask you how you feel about your communication skills or a similar question, it would be appropriate to repeat the question back to the person. For example, "So you're asking me how I feel about my communication skills". This gives you the time to feel into it and answer with your honest answer.
4.) Respond Honestly
That takes us right into step number four, which is to respond honestly. We've all been around people, haven't we, who give the zippy one liners, the clowns who are always trying to get a laugh, the intellectual types who give us a long and profound answer for a simple question. We've been around the sarcastic types and the cutesy types, but the ones who get people to really listen are the ones who respond honestly, from their heart.
When I was training a group of people in Kennewick, Washington, a woman named Linda came to the front of the room to practice the 5-step process. I asked what she liked best about her job. She answered immediately without taking a breath or repeating the question. Almost as if on automatic, she replied, "What I really like about my job are the people. I'm a people person." The audience members shook their heads back and forth as if they didn't believe her. I asked Linda if she'd like to try it again, only this time, to do all 5 steps of the process to include breathing, pausing and responding honestly. She said, "Sure, let's try it again." This time I slowly and deliberately asked her, "Linda, what do you like best about your job?" She looked at me, repeated the question, took a long, deep breath and responded with, "You know…I really don't like my job at all."
Everyone in the room started laughing. But, it was an epiphany for Linda. For the rest of the day, she had a far away look in her eyes as if it were the first time she had ever truly communicated with herself about this topic. Gazing out the window, it felt like she was saying to herself, "I can't believe I've been at this job that I hate for the last 17 years!"
We have to communicate with ourselves first before we can think on our feet and answer in the moment. And by repeating the question, it gives us an opportunity to do just that. There is a scarcity of honest communication in our world today. When you are the one who is honest, you can be assured that people will be listening to you. I've seen this happen in my own life and with people in my seminars. When someone answers honestly, people pay attention. The ironic thing is, when there is a pause, and people answer honestly, they command rapt attention. Try it for yourself.
5.) Know when to Stop!
Step number 5 is to stop. This may sound about as simple as step number 1, listen to the question. Yet, it can be difficult for many people. A good point to remember is to leave them wanting more. Stop, before they stop listening to you. I've heard people give brilliant answers to questions only to diminish everything they said by talking too much.
Again, the ironic thing is we might imagine people will listen to us more if we talk longer. The opposite is true. A woman at a seminar in Kirkland, Washington answered this question: what do you like best about where you live. She did the first four steps perfectly. She listened to the question, paused, repeated the question back, then responded honestly. She said, "What I like best about where I live are the birds chirping outside my bedroom window in the mornings." It was perfect. It was powerful. She had the entire audience listening. But then she rambled on, "You know it's so much better than my last place. My last place was so noisy, I lived by the freeway with constant traffic noise, barking dogs, and there were teenagers on the block that would bounce their basketball outside my office window all afternoon." She went on and on. If she would have known when to stop, she would have commanded much more attention and added to her credibility. Ask yourself if you're adding value or just rambling with no particular destination. Many times, less is more.
Summarizing the 5-step Process
1.) Listen to the question
Use this when people ask you contemplative questions. Prove to yourself that this five step process works. Use the gradient approach. Start with the caring people in your life and work up to the more challenging ones later.
When You Would Rather Not Answer At All
We've talked about how to answer honestly in the moment. What about those times when we'd rather not answer at all—those times we feel uncomfortable and it's really not appropriate to answer? How can we gracefully get out of a situation?
What's the first thing you want to do? Remember to breathe! Many of us go into fight or flight mode and our breathing either stops or becomes very shallow. Take a moment to notice where you're breathing from now; is it from your upper chest or lower, from your belly? The lower, slower breathing brings more oxygen to our brain. Oxygen is fuel for the brain. Have you ever been in a situation when you just didn't know what to say? Chances are you weren't taking those good supportive breaths that help us to stay grounded and think clearly.
The fight or flight syndrome can be compared to passive or aggressive behavior. Using this example, which would you say is the passive and which would you say is the aggressive? "Hey, how much did you pay for your house?" "Well, it was $359,000." Ask somebody else, "How much did you pay for your house?" The aggressive person responds with something like, "None of your business!" Passive people think about everybody else but they don't consider their own needs. The first person reluctantly answered the other person and just told him what he wanted to know. She wanted to get out of the situation but didn't really know how to get out of it. The second one, the aggressive fighting personality responded abruptly with "None of your business!" Where passive people consider everybody else's needs, aggressive people only think about their own needs. Neither one of these approaches work well to build relationships.
The assertive person (not passive or aggressive) will consider their own needs as well as the needs of the other person. A good way to get out of answering a question you'd rather not answer is to get a question you can answer. Put it back to them; in their court. For example if someone asked you, "How much did you pay for your house?" You could respond with, "That's an interesting question. Are you thinking of moving into this neighborhood?" You're responding to their question and, at the same time, considering how much information you feel comfortable sharing. When you take a breath and are curious about their question, many times, the question will be dropped. In some cultures, asking how much you paid for your house is perfectly normal. But many people go directly into react mode and put up their defenses.
Have you ever heard people snap back with a sarcastic answer? With this type of response, you get out of the question, but not in a way that wins friends and influences people! People may forget what you say, but they'll never forget how you made them feel.
When you feel like a question you'd rather not answer is being aimed at you, remember to take a breath. Put your attention on them and be curious about the question. Take the Doctor Spock approach as you say to yourself, "Curious, that's an interesting question." Become a detective rather than a person who reacts. If they keep pressing, there's simply nothing wrong with saying how you feel. For example, "You know, I just don't feel comfortable answering that question." Keep your voice non-dramatic and notice how you feel about yourself. The more we build our own self-respect, the more we'll be able to respect others.
And don't try to fake an answer. People can sense it. For example, if someone asks you, "How much did you give to charity last year and you respond with, "Oh, well I budgeted about $3000." People notice the hedging and your credibility suffers. You could say, "I'd like to get you the precise figures. Can I get back to you on that?" We don't have to be walking encyclopedias. Albert Einstein didn't even know his own phone number. He didn't want to keep all the facts and figures in his head. There's nothing wrong with taking a minute to go get the answers from your reference file.
Also, have you noticed that many people don't take time to formulate their questions? They sometimes ask a nebulous question that is not specific enough to be answered properly. When we try to answer that vague question,we end up looking less intelligent. The person who tries to answer an unclear question often loses credibility. Both people usually walk away with a blank stare on their face. To avoid this, get a question you can answer before answering. This helps the other person get clear on his or her question and helps you give a specific answer. It also gives you time to think and remain proactive rather than reactive.
If you're in a heated conversation you feel is going downhill fast, try using one of these exit lines. "My policy is not to communicate when I'm upset" or "I value our relationship too much to carry on this conversation right now. I feel one of us might say something we regret. Can we pick it up tomorrow?" Use your own true words that are natural for you. It's much better to get out of a situation than to hastily answer and say something you regret.
Another point to remember is if you want out of a conversation always announce that you're leaving. Walking away in a huff just tells the other person that they have the ability to control you. Whether it's on the phone or in person, if you're looking to get out of a situation, remain in control and clearly state your intention. (This, of course, does not apply to life threatening situations… in that case, just get out of there!)
You've learned how to build a foundation of knowing who you are and speaking from that position. You've learned the 5-step process that will better equip you for answering difficult questions in the moment. You've also learned skills in gracefully getting out of questions you'd rather not answer.
I'd like to close with a story of Jerry B. Harvey, the management consultant who's known for the Abilene Paradox. Many years ago, he and his wife were playing a friendly, relaxing game of dominos with his in-laws. It was a hot, summer day but they were ok because they had their lemonade and were sitting in the cool breeze in the shade.
All of a sudden, someone said, "How would you like to go to Abilene for lunch?" One by one, they all agreed. On that hot summer day in Texas, they climbed in the Buick with no air-conditioning and drove the 50 miles of gravel roads to Abilene. The humidity level was very high and the drive was miserable. When they finally arrived home, someone sarcastically said, "Well I hope you had a good time." Jerry's mother-in-law replied, "I didn't want to go, I just went along with the group." Jerry chimed in, "I really didn't even want to go." Jerry's wife also said, "I didn't want to go either, I thought you wanted to go, Dad." Then, the truth came out that Jerry's father-in-law didn't even want to go, he just felt the others wanted to get out for a while. It turns out none of them wanted to go to Abilene, they all did it to please the others. Jerry did more research on this and found out it happens in the business world as well. People agree to go along with an idea to get along with others, but if they don't really want to do it, they will sabotage it later. They say one thing, but mean another. Doesn't this happen to all of us from time to time? Being clear on our intentions and speaking our truth is beneficial to everyone in the long run.
Deepening our communication skills is a never ending process. It's like doing a dance throughout life as we interact with new people and see things from different viewpoints. I wish you all the success you can imagine. Just remember you're doing yourself and the world a service when you communicate honestly and directly.
If you have specific questions regarding the content of this report or would like to inquire about my training and coaching services, e-mail me at pamelaZiemann AT msn.com.
Enjoy the Journey. I look forward to connecting with you.
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