Too many people live in worlds removed from those closest to them due to poor communication skills.

Joe and Martha, an otherwise normal couple, had problems communicating. Whenever Joe would voice an opinion, Martha would interrupt him in mid-sentence because she felt she knew exactly what he was going to say. Then, she would go off on a wild tangent while Joe became frustrated and lost. He would retreat into his private world, wondering what had become of the woman he married. She, in turn, would see the shutters coming down in Joe’s eyes and would feel lonely again.

If this situation sounds familiar, it’s because Joe and Martha are not unique. Have you ever spent time watching two people talking? I mean, really watched them closely and tried to follow their conversation? Did you feel that they were communicating well, or was there something missing?

Too many people live in worlds removed from those closest to them due to poor communication skills. For these people, miscommunication causes problems ranging from boredom to break-ups to utter frustration and despair.

The effects of poor communication take on particular intensity at the end of the year during the Christmas holiday season, largely because of a long build-up of expectations and undelivered communication over the course of a busy year.

Learning to communicate effectively is probably one of the most important relationship skills to learn. Yet, very few of us have ever been taught how to communicate properly, and such skills as we do learn are more concerned with persuasively putting across a message. Thus communication is mostly seen as a one-way process. However, true communication is so much more than just learning how to get across your point of view.

Real communication starts with knowing your own wants and needs, and it moves towards understanding clearly the needs and wants of those around you. Without these ingredients you cannot relate, and you cannot communicate. Instead of reality, your relationships will be built on tenuous expectations. Because there is no communication, these expectations are likely to remain unfulfilled.

How does this work in practice in our relationships?

The reality for most people is that throughout the year we are busy living our own lives, pursuing our daily activities. And because we cannot communicate properly, we spend most of this time living past each other – we are in effect stuck in the busyness of our own worlds, building differing expectations of our life and our relationships.

Why does this situation get worse over the Christmas Holiday season?

Matters always seem to come to a head over Christmas, with large increases in break-ups, as well as suicides being reported. There are two main reasons why things tend to get worse at this time of year. Firstly, people are generally sitting on a big pile of daily expectations that have been building up throughout the year.

Secondly, because the end of the year is such a significant event, each person will have individual expectations of what the holiday will mean for them. Suddenly, when friends and families start spending more time with each other, the pressure of all the undelivered communication builds up and, since they lack the skills to communicate properly, the frequent results are arguments and break-ups. Without communication skills it is so much more difficult to build bridges again, and so the break-ups are likely to remain permanent.

There are a number of ways, based on the Toltec Teachings, which we can look to in improving communication.

  1. Always be Honest

    Speak the truth – even if it is not what others may wish to hear. Saying honestly and clearly what is on your mind is the first step in improving communication.

  2. Avoid Blame

    In trying to be honest, just state the facts as you perceive them to be – as objectively as you can, and how you are feeling as a result. Avoid using language or tone of voice to blame or to score points, or to make the other person look bad.

  3. Take responsibility for your part in what is happening

    What is your role in creating the current situation – both past and present? We all have a part to play in whatever is happening in our lives. Acknowledging and owning our role in all the events of our lives enables us to change the situation within our own sphere of influence, and it also helps us to avoid falling into the trap of blame.

  4. Do not assume that you will be understood

    We tend to think that whatever we say is always clear and obvious, and therefore that we should be easily understood. But since other people don’t see things the same way as we do, we need to make allowances for everybody’s limitations – both our limitations of statement, as well as their limitations in hearing.

  5. Make allowances for your own self-image

    Our self-image forms part of our view of the world and is responsible for the way in which we filter our perceptions. So, if the self-image of the person we are speaking with is filtering everything we say to them, we can be sure that our own self-image will also be interfering with what they are trying to say to us.

  6. Learn how to listen

    If we accept that true communication is always plagued by difficulties in the way we express ourselves, as well as how we perceive, it is easy to see how important it is for us to learn how to listen properly.

    Total listening means paying full and complete attention to everything the other is saying; their choice of words, body language, being aware of their emotional state, where they are coming from and why.

    This is a different level of listening to the level we are normally used to. Normally, there are all sorts of other things going on in our minds when other people are speaking, even if we are just trying to figure out how to reply. Total listening means being fully open to what the other person is saying, without interrupting, without justifying our position in our own minds and without mentally formulating a response while the other person is still talking.Only by listening in this way can we start to get beyond the words, to discover what others are really trying to tell us.

  7. Remember the bigger picture

    The small details are always important in life, and this is especially true whenever we are trying to communicate properly.

    However, we cannot afford to get hung up on all the little details to the detriment of the bigger picture. Therefore determine what the bigger picture is for you, and keep that at the front of your mind. If you are trying to build a real relationship, then by focusing on this as the bigger picture, you will be able to be more objective and avoid getting caught up in pettiness. By developing the ability to be objective, it will be easier for you to view everything that happens, both bad and good, as simply opportunities to grow together.

Théun Mares
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