Say what you mean — Mean what you say

It sounds so simple.  Just say what’s on your mind.  Then why is it so hard?

It may well depend on how you’re “wired” – and whether you’re a bulldozer or a sugarcoater.

Some of you are very quick to speak  – bulldozing your way through conversations.  Others hold way back – sugarcoating your comments.  And some of you are in between.

This may have to do with early childhood conditioning, or it might have to do with learned behaviors over the years.

And, in today’s era of political correctness, fewer folks are shooting from the hip.  If we lived in a vacuum, this would be a lot easier.  It’s that wild card ingredient of other people in the mix, though, that makes the difference.


Time and Tone

Then there’s your tone of voice – and all that nonverbal behavior.  It’s a wonder we’re understood at all!

One person’s direct approach may sound abrupt to another.  On the other hand … taking the time to carefully consider all options seems perfectly reasonable to one person, while excruciating to someone else.

If you’re not sure where you fall on the spectrum, here’s a clue.  Has anyone ever asked you to “get to the point “or “land the plane?”  Or to watch your tone?   And how does that make you feel?


It’s All Relative

Of course, the context of the conversation speaks volumes.  You may be more direct with your family than you would be in a business setting.  Or, there could be sensitivities within your family that cause you to choose your words carefully.

If you’re too direct in certain situations, you could end up sticking your foot in your mouth.  On the flipside, if you’re not direct enough you could send the wrong message.


Spinning Your Wheels

Do you sometimes sugarcoat your communications?  While these kinds of messages are rooted in good intentions, they can end up doing more harm than good.  Beating around the bush doesn’t serve any purpose.

“I call it ‘verbal dancing,’ says corporate trainer Cookie Tuminello.  “We dance around the subject we most want to discuss, thinking the other person will pick up on our cues, and eventually we’ll get what we want.  Heaven forbid we rock the status quo by actually saying what we really want to.”

After all, that other person may not like you after he or she finds out what you really think.  Here’s a reality check:  How’s that sugarcoating working for you?  Are you placing too much emphasis on getting approval from others – which may not even be rooted in reality?

Every time you dance around an issue, you diminish your capacity and self-worth.  You give away your power, your integrity and your dignity.  Try being more direct., yet tactful.  You’ll likely be taken more seriously.

Here are two questions to ask yourself:

  1. What’s the price I pay for sugarcoating – or bulldozing – through my conversations?
  2. Is that how I really want to spend my life?

If you’re so busy thinking of different scenarios and various ways to respond in a conversation, you’re not really present for what’s taking place.  Spinning your webs results in spinning your wheels.  Pretty soon emotional exhaustion sets in.

Then again, there’s the bulldozer approach — which isn’t a helpful style, either.  We all know those people who can suck the air right out of a room!


Mars and Venus

Next time you’re in a group setting, notice the dynamics.  We actually do this all the time on autopilot, taking in all the components of communication – words, tone, attitude and body language.

According to neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, author of The Male Brain and The Female Brain, men and women may well reach the same conclusions, although they often differ in the way they arrive at decisions.

With a caution flag raised toward stereotyping, the male brain typically gets there in a more linear fashion, while the female brain is more circuitous in its path – taking more stimuli into consideration.  Hence, the ongoing Mars/Venus challenge as depicted by psychologist John Gray in his seminal book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.


Talking AND Listening

None of this is good, bad, right or wrong.  It’s just information to take into account whenever you feel misunderstood.  Maybe you need to be more direct – or more tactful – to get your point across.

You may have heard that the most important part of communication is listening.  A helpful tool to try out in challenging situations is the active listening approach.  This is a technique in which you repeat back in a conversation, “So, what I hear you saying is …” to clarify the communication.  I’d be careful about using this too much, though, because it can become monotonous.


To Thine Own Self Be True 

Remember to keep it all in perspective.   As Dr. Seuss reminds us:

Be who you are – and say what you feel. 

Because those who mind don’t matter.

And those who matter don’t mind.