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CH My experiment with clear and direct communication

“I’m not impressed by that projection.”

You hear a plan at work. You think, “Is that it?” But what do you say? Does it matter who’s in the room? What you want the person making the projection to do next? I used to care about all that stuff. A lot. So much that sometimes I couldn’t communicate at all.

Now I just say what I think, served plain on a dish. Here’s how I got here, what it’s like, and what’s next.

The first part of my life (up until 40), I didn’t really give thought to how I talked to people. I talked however I needed to talk to get what I wanted.

When I broke down in 2002, all that changed. I brutally came to terms with how manipulative, controlling, and deceitful I was. I resolved to turn my life around.

One aspect of the turnaround was revamping how I talked with people. I accepted that I had no social grace. And so I began practicing, reading books about communication, applying the lessons, listening better, mirroring, all that stuff.

I was not happy with the results. I improved. A lot. But people sometimes still responded to me as if I had betrayed them. I would try to slowly build a conversation. Gauge my partner’s reaction. Build connection a little at a time. And then came the backlash. “I won’t be talking to you any more.” “I don’t want a relationship with you.” Or just silence.

I recently read More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory. One of the techniques the book stresses is clear, direct communication.

(I recommend this book for its deep discussion of the ethics of communication. It has transformed the way I see communication at work.)

Well, this delicate, baffling dance, where I never commit until I’m pretty sure what the answer is going to be (and still I am often wrong), isn’t contributing to my joy. I don’t have much to lose just saying stuff.

And so the last week has been an experiment in clear, direct communication. I told an ex-girlfriend that I loved her and I was offering her a long-term relationship. I told my daughter who is getting shot with rubber bullets that I am terrified and that I am proud of her. I told a project at work that I wasn’t impressed by their goals.

Fear. That was my first reaction and it surprised me. Why would I feel afraid & exposed & vulnerable when I had just said exactly what I thought? I think it is the loss of the illusion of control. If I ease into a conversation, then whether someone connects with me seems like something I can control to some extent. Ease more easily, stay more connected, right?

Bullshit. Of course. People decide for themselves whether they want to engage and connect. This feeling of loss of control is good because it aligns with reality. It’s uncomfortable, but I’ll get used to it.

Silence. Fully half of the experiments resulted in no response at all. I wish people would explicitly say, “No, thank you,” but I don’t control that. Silence is a pretty damn clear response, at least while I’m not busy trying to fool myself. It hurts to pour out my heart and be greeted by crickets.

Yes, it hurts, but you know what? There is also a sense of satisfaction to having just said my piece. I don’t have to second guess myself about whether I could have just been a little more weasel-y and gotten what I wanted. I’m not giving myself that option.

Reminder to myself: striving for clear, direct communication does not give me license to say just anything to just anyone just because I think/feel it. There are contexts where topics are in/out of bounds, like talking about sex at work. There is progressive revelation, where I reveal something and you reveal something and then we sit for a mo with how that feels. There are times when someone isn’t interested in what I have to say because there’s other stuff going on.

And so the experiment continues. Last night I told someone I could be interested in a variety of relationships with them. They told me they weren’t interested in romance but they were interested in friendship. We had a nice talk and teed up another talk. And it felt clean & clear & bright. And a little exposing, but I’m getting used to that.

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