to principle number four
SO HERE YOU ARE. You've
got a clear intention to get closer to someone, you've got them
across the table from you, and you want to open up to them. You're
supposed to focus on feelings, right? You're ready. So what do
you say? "I feel hot. I feel nervous. I feel hungry."
Not much of a conversation.
Although feelings are the central communication,
the most essential element, you'll discover feelings don't exist
by themselves. There is always a context for feelings: the circumstances.
Some event. If you merely tell someone, "I feel sad,"
the statement comes out of the blue. People would want to know
why you are sad. What are the circumstances? Observe
people who connect well with others and notice they talk about
things that happen and how they feel about those events.
When I first tried to do this, I couldn't
think of anything to say. I tried to think of what I did that
day, and nothing came to mind.
I was having trouble because the everyday
life seemed too mundane or abstract to talk about. What did I
do today? I read a book and wrote some stuff. Nothing to talk
about, or so I thought. But there is! If it's important to me,
it is something to talk about. What are my feelings about the
book I was reading? Did I feel provoked? Why? Did it make me
angry? Why? Was I excited by the possibilities? Did it make me
think I should change something?
And what did I feel about what I was writing?
Was I satisfied? Worried people wouldn't like it? Frustrated?
And why? Even in these most non-action-like actions, there are
emotions and things to share that reveal myself to others, and
it is revealing yourself and getting others to reveal themselves
that creates closeness.
When you want to reveal your feelings but
you don't know what to say, talk about events in your life today
and yesterday. Talk about "what's up for you." Think
small. Give the person a sense of what your life is like these
days. A friend of mine and I used to send cassette tapes back
and forth after he moved to South Carolina years ago. I would
talk for an hour on the tape about ideas, philosophy, and whatnot,
but he once told me that when I was finished and close to the
end of the tape and I just left it on record and let it run to
the end, he could hear me moving around and doing things and
he said he really liked that. I didn't know why at the time,
but it is this principle. It gave him a sense of the mundane
reality in which I lived and about which I would never think
Try to do this when you talk. Give the
person a sense of what your life is like, including your feelings
about things. Quit making everything so monumental. Connecting
is significant. But what you talk about when you're connecting
doesn't have to be significant in the big scheme of things. It
only needs to be something you have feelings about.
Have you ever heard the statistics about
nonverbal communication? Supposedly, 70-80% of a message is transmitted
nonverbally, and what gets communicated nonverbally is the most
important part of the message. While this may be useful in some
contexts and may even be true, it can also be misleading because
the things you say nonverbally are vulnerable to misinterpretation.
Without verbal clarification, 70-80% of the wrong message may
For example: Someone gives me an angry
look. What did I do that caused the angry look? I don't know.
Nonverbal communication is nonspecific and unclear. Was it anger
at what I said? Is it even anger at me? Did the person
remember something that made them angry? Was it really anger?
Maybe it was frustration or pain. Words would make it clear.
Whenever I have read about these nonverbal
statistics, what was usually implied was a warning that goes
something like this: "So make sure you use the right tone
of voice and the right gestures and the right postures and the
right facial expressions." In other words, pretend you feel
certain about what you're saying, even when you're not. Act sympathetic,
even when you're not. Because your words alone won't do it. If
you are saying something and the content of your words are enthusiastic
but your nonverbal communication is boredom, the listener will
hear the boredom, not the enthusiasm.
Why? Because your listener will recognize
you aren't sincere, so if you're going to bullshit people, it
can't be with just words, but must include all your nonverbal
This kind of coaching may be fine for salespeople
or managers at a training seminar (and it may not be fine even
there), but when you're talking to your spouse or child, it is
deceiving and it doesn't bring you any closer to each other.
It's a form of nonverbal lying. That's what it boils down to:
Nonverbal lying, and lying doesn't bring people closer. It creates
distance. It separates.
I know a commitment to honesty is difficult,
and I don't know anyone who has completely mastered it. We live
in a world that accepts a certain amount of dishonesty or at
least keeping your mouth shut, and in public situations and at
work, some of that is probably appropriate. But when you feel
bothered about something with your fifteen year old child or
your spouse or your good friend, it only separates you two to
cover it up. And you can't get by with just showing the bother
on your face. That isn't clear enough. It leaves a lot of room
for misinterpretation. Words are the only way to make
it clear. Not only is nonverbal communication vague, but often
what we think we're showing on our face isn't as obvious on the
outside as it feels like on the inside.
In an experiment at Dartmouth College,
for example, students were videotaped while they watched funny
film clips. They were then asked to guess how much of their mirth
would show up on the video.
Then these videotapes of the viewers' faces
were shown to others who rated them on how much humor they expressed
on their faces. The two ratings didn't match.
Then the original funny-film watchers looked
at the videotapes of their own faces, they had to agree with
the judges: They hadn't shown as much humor on their faces as
they thought they had.
Not only are our faces not as expressive
as we think they are, but the people looking at our faces aren't
as good at reading faces as we think they are. In an experiment
at Western Virginia University, students were given a test to
determine their level of hostility. Then they were shown slides
depicting different emotions and were asked to write down what
emotion the slide depicted.
The more hostile the person, the more hostility
they read into the pictures. Where a slide may have depicted
only disgust, the hostile student saw anger, and slides depicting
joy were seen as neutral. The experiment was specifically looking
at the distortion of hostility, but it shows a general trend
namely, we think others can read our faces accurately,
but they often misread us.
Nothing can take their place. Say what you liked, say what you
feel, say what you want. Be specific. Don't make them guess,
because they might guess wrong.
When you speak, speak only truth. I don't
mean truth "as you know it." I mean just truth. And
let's not get lost in a philosophical discussion about whether
the universe really exists outside your own experience. Let's
be a little more practical.
When I say, "The door was open when
I walked in," that's the truth (if I'm not lying). I'll
give you a bunch of examples just to make it clear. And let's
assume the person speaking is not lying.
"I feel sad and confused." That's
a statement of truth.
"You are mean to me." That is
not a simple statement of truth. There are several things
wrong with this statement. First off,
It would probably be more accurate to say, "You are mean
to me sometimes," because it isn't likely that someone
is mean to you all the time. But to be even more practical,
you'd want to say, "You were mean to me this morning."
It's more practical because something can be done about a real
incident. Nothing can be done about a vague generality, other
than answer with another worthless vague generality: "Okay,
I'll try to be less mean to you."
To really get to the truth, you'd have
to do something about the word "mean." The statement,
"You are mean," is an interpretation of what actually
happened. And this is one of the big things to look out for when
you're trying to speak only truth. Interpretations and generalizations
like this cause problems between people.
Let's get more accurate, more specific.
More truthful. "This morning you slammed the door on the
way out and I felt hurt by it not because my finger was
caught in the door but because I thought you must be angry at
me and I didn't think I deserved it."
Of course, "you slammed the door"
is a guess and not strictly truth. "When you closed the
door it made a louder noise than it usually does," would
be even more scientific and closer to speaking only truth (and
not mixing up any interpretations and guesses about whether it
was intentional, and without any generalizations about something
vague like "meanness").
I'm going to get to more examples in a
minute, but first I want you to look at what the accuracy has
done for your statement. It started out as You are mean to
me, which, if you can imagine someone saying it to you, would
be hard do deal with I mean, where do you start? You can
start with You're full of it! but that doesn't sound like
the beginning of a fruitful conversation.
So it starts out as You are mean to
me and ends up with This morning when you left, the door
made a louder noise than it usually does and I was thinking maybe
you slammed it on purpose because you were mad at me. Were you?
Compare the two statements. Imagine someone
saying them to you. Do you see how the more truthful statement
is much easier to respond to? And how it might lead to a more
constructive conversation? That's what speaking the truth does
for communication. It directly and literally increases communication
because if you look at the two statements from the point of view
of how much is being said you can easily see that the first sentence
leaves a lot unsaid and leaves it up to the listener to figure
out what he's talking about, while the second says quite a bit
and doesn't make the listener guess anything. That's better communication.
And you really have to concentrate on what you're doing to be
able to do it. It does not come naturally.
Now, more examples. From now on, I want
you to call me if you're going to be later than ten. Is that
a true statement? Yes, absolutely. You're simply saying what
You're so inconsiderate! Truth? No way. It's a generalization, an interpretation,
and doesn't give anything specific. Looked at scientifically,
it is not a fact, but a hypothesis, and one that could never
be validated or invalidated. Any discussion about it will probably
I think you're a jerk. True or false? Ah, this is a tricky one. You
may indeed have the thought you're a jerk so technically
it is a true statement, but it is unproductive to say
so because the thought you're sharing is not true for all the
same reasons as the previous paragraph.
I think if you stopped doing that, I'd
feel better. Is this a true statement?
Yes. It is a hypothesis, and you state it accurately as a hypothesis.
One more. I feel you're a jerk.
What do you think? True or false? False again. Feelings are very
basic: Anger, sadness, fear, and their milder and more extreme
forms (for example, mildly angry might be annoyed, peeved, frustrated,
etc., while extreme anger might be enraged, incensed, furious,
etc.) Don't get fancy. Feelings are basic. You're a jerk
is not a feeling. It is an opinion, and a highly abstract and
worthless one at that.
Enough examples. What you're trying to
1. what you want
2. what you feel
3. what you observe
And be as accurate and specific as you
can. That's what it means to speak the truth. Confucius said
wisdom was "when you know a thing, to recognize that you
know it, and when you do not know a thing, to recognize that
you do not know it."
Keep in mind that listening comes first.
People generally don't want to listen when they have something
to say. So arguments develop where each person interrupts the
other. Neither listens, and the conversation goes nowhere. Worse:
It goes down. You're actually worse off than if you had
said nothing because of all the untruth that has been spoken
all the generalizations and interpretations and unqualified
opinions and hypotheses spoken as statements of fact. They caused
pain that you then have to recover from and untangle later.
In a study by Clifford Notarius, PhD, husbands
who criticized their wives in a way that mind-read them (for
example, You're really trying to make me mad or I know
what you're thinking) their children had more problems like
substance abuse, headaches, social incompetence, nervousness,
And the kicker is that the children don't
have to be present when the parents are fighting. It turns out
that the way a man fights is not isolated to just fighting with
his wife. That's the way he deals with conflicts and problems.
And that way of dealing with conflicts and problems shows up
in the way he interacts with his kids, which teaches them by
example how to deal with life in a way that doesn't work. You
can make your children more psychologically and socially healthy
by learning to speak only truth without negative interpretations,
mind-reading, or negative opinions.
Researchers at Ohio State University have
shown that when arguments between couples disintegrates into
put-downs and sarcasm, the stress hormones cortisol and
norepinephrine kick in, and send the immune system into
the gutter. When you are listening and speaking only the truth,
you will avoid most put-downs and you'll completely avoid sarcasm,
two of the most deadly tactics to a relationship. So speaking
only truth is better for your health.
WHAT YOU FEEL
Say what you feel. Not how you feel
what you feel. I feel fine is not a feeling.
Feelings are not abstractions, and they aren't opinions. I
feel that you are a jerk is not a feeling. I really can't
emphasize this distinction enough. Anger is a feeling. Fear is
a feeling. Sadness. Gladness. I feel relaxed. That's a
feeling. My stomach hurts is a feeling. My heart is
pounding is a feeling.
Feelings are a direct naming of your present
experience without any interpretation. Feelings are direct and
honest, and sometimes they're the hardest thing to say.
One of the things that makes them hard
to say is: you think it must be completely obvious to the other
person what you're feeling. It seems like it should be
obvious, but it often isn't, and it's nothing to take a chance
with. Say it. Say it in words. Not all the time,
and not when it's useless, worthless, inappropriate, or stupid.
But when it needs to be said, or when it is important, or when
it will make a difference in the future, or when it'll make you
more understandable to someone you love, say it.
Be smart about this. It may be unimportant
to your boss that you are bored and tired she just needs
the job done, regardless of how you feel at the moment. It's
not that your boss is uncaring, but it's simply not relevant
to your working relationship. Don't cause yourself unnecessary
trouble by speaking up to people you don't even want to be close
to. These principles are mainly for your close friends and family
for people you want to cultivate closeness with.
There is a lot to learn, isn't there? And
that is a good thing. Read
more on that here.
Say what you want. But keep in mind you
have no right to demand it unless you're a parent or a boss.
Being clear about what you want makes relationships work much
better. This is so important. We have a tendency to hide what
we want for many reasons. Sometimes, you know the person will
try to give you what you want, but you want to give her what
she wants, and so the game continues and we end up down the road
with neither getting what they want and wondering what happened.
Say what you want and encourage your loved
ones to say what they want, and if you need to, work out compromises
that make you both happy. You can't do that unless they know
what you want.
Here is a fact: You'll get more of you
want when you say what you want. Without any increase in people
skills, without any finesse at asking, you'll increase the amount
of your life that goes your way. Do you feel guilty about that?
Fine. Do you need to do something to relieve your guilt? Then
do it. Maybe people are helping you get what you want but you're
not helping them. That's not right. So help them. Rather
than not saying what you want, try asking them what they want
too. Ask them what they want and help them. And let them help
you get what you want. That's love, baby, and it makes the world
go round. Don't pull back from it, let it flow in abundance!
Divulge yourself. Make yourself known.
Say what you liked. Say what you did. Say what you feel. Say
what you want. Reveal yourself to others.
Principle Number Five:
Reveal yourself: what you liked, what you did, what you feel,
what you want.