“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” Roy T. Bennett

It’s tempting to limit our understanding of the minimalist lifestyle to that of reducing the amount of physical stuff we own and accumulate around us. If you’re interested in taking a truly holistic approach to minimalism there’s a lot more to it however. One of the main areas where we experience and create “excess” is in our management of communication and relationships. Many of us waste huge amounts of time and energy due to a simple lack of awareness and tools that would allow us to drastically improve these aspects of our lives. Want to know how? Read on…

24.1 Moving Beyond Emotional Taboos

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” Fred Rogers

At the most basic level, many of us simply need to learn that expressing our feelings is actually OK! Effective and respectful communication is in fact essential to building trust and creating space for growth and authentic communication in any relationship. The thing is that a lot of us, possibly yourself included, have learned to suppress our feelings rather than learning how to process them in healthy ways. As a result they tend to build up and then explode, or get channeled improperly, coming out as passive aggressivity or even accumulating to the point of causing serious health problems (because yes, your emotional and physical states are intimately connected!)

There are a variety of helpful tools and strategies out there that can make communicating a whole lot more fluid and productive (including, but not limited to, working through your past traumas and childhood programming with a therapist of some sorts). The first and most important piece lies in recognizing that we all have valid feelings and emotional ups and downs that are worth learning how to work with. Failing to do so means continuing to lose huge amounts of energy to unnecessary miscommunication and/or denial of your need for positive relationship and authentic connection with yourself and others.

Let’s start by accepting these basic premises:

  1. Processing your emotions and expressing your needs is necessary for your psycho-emotional and physical health and wellbeing and for authentic relationships and clear communication with others.
  2. There are models and techniques for doing so in ways that are both respectful and productive!

Such as…

24.2 Non-Violent Communication

“To practice the process of conflict resolution, we must completely abandon the goal of getting people to do what we want.” Marshall B. Rosenberg

Non-violent communication, or NVC, has been gaining a lot of ground in recent times as a highly effective system that helps people to improve their self-awareness and communication in any and all contexts. It’s based on the principle that, as founder Marshall B. Rosenberg puts it, “what others do may be a stimulus of our feelings, but not the cause.” Think about that for a minute. If other people aren’t the cause of your feelings, then you actually have to take full responsibility for them. This in and of itself is a huge shift for most people. At its most basic, NVC aims to provide tools for people to:

  1. clearly express their feelings and needs without criticising or blaming the person they’re expressing these things to (because blame and criticism are what cause people to react negatively to you expressing your emotions and what then leads to a spiral or mutual “triggering”) and
  2. To be able to truly hear and receive when someone is expressing their own feelings without interpreting it as blame or criticism (i.e. hearing the unmet need behind the emotional reaction).

In practical terms, this means not only changing the way we think about our feelings but also changing the way we talk about feelings. If you’re committed to being responsible for your own emotional reactions you wouldn’t just say “you made me angry/jealous/sad…” as an explanation for something. You would be aware that if something someone has said or done has stimulated an angry reaction in your that it’s because there’s something underlying that reaction. For example, perhaps when your colleague or partner speaks to you in a certain tone of voice you feel like they think you’re stupid, which makes you feel insecure and unworthy. Saying that is completely different from telling someone that they’re condescending or that they “make you feel” stupid.

You could probably go even further and explore why you’re sensitive about the issue of thinking someone considers you “stupid,” because anything that stimulates a strong reaction comes from something in our past. Getting to the root of something like that is another way to solve recurring communication issues as it removes the potential for being “triggered” by unintended messages from those around us. As Rosenberg puts it, “every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need.” Practicing NVC means totally reworking the way we communicate about our feelings and how we process things with others.

The basic 4-part NVC process breaks things down into:

  1. observations (“when I see/hear X…)
  2. feelings (“…I feel Y…”)
  3. needs (“because I need/value Z) and
  4. requests (“would you be willing to…?).

This same process can be applied to receiving someone else’s feelings or reflecting something back to make sure you’ve understood their needs, whether or not they’re communicating them clearly, i.e. “when you see/hear X you feel Y because you need/value Z. Would you like to…? (insert concrete action that could change the situation). [1]

Of course one should always adapt things to whatever words suit your own communication style. There’s nothing that sounds more inauthentic then repeating formulaic words you’ve read on a screen! Just be sure you’re still respecting the idea of not coming from a place of criticism or blame and that you’re truly taking responsibility for your emotional reactions. There are a lot of NVC courses and workshops available out there. Learning how to use it as a communication tool in depth can bring your relationship in all spheres of your life to a whole new level!

24.3 Radical Honesty

“When the truth changes from your speaking, you know you’ve spoken the truth.” Brad Blanton

Radical honesty is, as the name would imply, a communication model based on being completely, bluntly honest at all times. The movement is largely attributed to psychotherapist Brad Blanton (who has put out several books and courses you can follow to explore the subject more in depth) though similar ideas have been around in various texts for centuries. Radical honesty demands that we fess up to all the little white lies that we’ve learned to get by on…and which, while socially accepted, can cause subtle tensions and long-term mistrust in our relationships, not to mention personal malaise and the accumulated stress of trying to keep up appearances.

One simple example is the tendency to pretend everything in your life is going great when really you feel like crap. Practicing radical honesty means voicing your true feelings when someone asks you how you are. In this way, radical honesty implies letting go of our attachment to how others perceive us and to social “norms” concerning things we “should” and “shouldn’t” say for politeness sake. It means being present to how we feel in our bodies, hearts and minds at all time and vocalizing those observations as they evolve over time. Keep in mind that feelings are rarely if ever static and negative emotions tend to shift once we’re able to express them.

Of course it’s important to still keep in mind other people’s feelings as well! You goal is ideally to succeed at being honest without being inherently unkind. For example, if someone asks you for feedback on some of their work and you think it’s terrible you can probably find ways of giving authentic constructive criticism with their potential growth in mind, rather than dismissively telling them you think their work is shitty. Also, as with NVC, focus on making requests rather then demands when you observe a behaviour in someone that you would like to see change. Expressing your need in respectful ways will get you a much better response and create better long-term communication than trying to assert your control over any given person or situation, be it in the work of family environment.

You may experience a fair bit of push back if you start practicing radical honesty all of a sudden out of the blue. Many people react badly to anyone pushing the envelope of social mores. See how you feel about it and how you can integrate it as a practice in your daily life. The most important thing to start off with is being radically honest with yourself, observing yourself and being honest about your motivations and feelings at any given time. Coming from a place of radical self-honesty will by default impact hugely on the way you communicate with and relate to others.

24.4 Sometimes Timing is Everything!

“Not the fastest horse can catch a word spoken in anger.” Chinese Proverb

In planning to address any kind of major communication issue it’s important to consider timing. Even if you’re practicing radical honesty, dropping an emotional bomb on someone when they’re overloaded and stressed out of their minds is not going to get you the results you want. In any relationship that you truly value it’s important to respect the others needs as much as your own. This includes finding a time to process things that works for both of you, especially if it’s a situation that’s going to demand a fair amount of presence and good communication. Obviously there may be times when this is impossible, but timing can be one of the most important factors determining the outcome of a conversation so don’t take it too lightly!

24.5 Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need To Do Now!

“Families who have strong and healthy communication skills can weather significant challenges and remain intact. Those with limited effective communication skills are vulnerable to the challenges of life pulling them apart.” Ellen Miley Perry

The same can be said for any type of relationships, from partnerships to colleagues to long-term friendships. Investing in your communication skills will make your life infinitely simpler, happier and healthier. Of course you can’t ever control the way other people choose to lead their lives and manage their relationships and communication – some relationships may still break down over time. It inevitably “takes two to tango.” However, giving yourself a solid communication toolset will allow you to know without a doubt that you brought your best, authentic self to any given situation. This is and of itself should eliminate a whole lot of stress and self-questioning over time. Creating and practicing healthy communication patterns is honestly one of the greatest gifts you can ever give yourself.

  1. Wrap your head around the fact that communicating about feelings is both possible and necessary. Whatever you may have learned from your family or society as a child and young adult, learning to communicate about your emotions in healthy ways is an essential life skill!
  2. Do the personal work. It’s all well and good to want to start practicing healthy, effective communication but if you’ve got a tonne of baggage weighing you down and muddling your thoughts and reactions you may want to consider therapy of some sort in addition to learning about things like nonviolent communication. Be honest with yourself about where you’re at and whether you have some deeper issues you need to untangle with someone else’s help!
  3. Check out NVC! Read the books, do a workshop. Make sure you find a teacher who’s approach resonates with you…even the best system can leave us cold if we try learning from someone who’s style doesn’t suit our learning needs!
  4. Practice radical honesty! If you don’t think those around you can handle it, at least practice being radically honest with yourself.
  5. Always consider timing and adapt to meet the needs of everyone concerned whenever possible!
  1. The 4-Part Nonviolent Communication Process, Developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD, nonviolentcommunication.com

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