PQ 7.2 — What can I do to be more direct in my communication?
The process of moving from an indirect style to a direct style of expressing yourself can feel scary and at times completely overwhelming. But it’s important work. While being indirect can feel more comfortable (especially if we’re used to it), indirect communication often fails when we have uncomfortable feelings or need something our partner isn’t giving us, leading to passive-aggressive communication or relationship testing.
Start with Small Things
I’m a recovering people pleaser. When I first started being more direct with the people in my life, I felt like I was yelling at them.
At the time, I had gotten into the habit of just going along with things that didn’t matter so much. But it had led to my staying quiet about big things, too, which predictably caused problems. So at a certain point, I had to stop defaulting to just letting things slide.
Breaking from that pattern was hard. A simple “You know, I’m not so into that idea,” about something trivial like soda preference felt like I was about to create some kind of emotional avalanche. Think Ricola and the Swiss Alps but with a catastrophic ending.
But no, nobody died because I wanted a root beer.
And as I saw that I could let people know what I wanted and needed with the little stuff, I got better at expressing myself about things that mattered a lot more. The high-stakes conversations.
The skills I built by being direct about little things served me well when we needed to talk about big issues.
So test the waters first with small issues. Learn to swim before you jump into the deep end. You don’t have to conquer every conversation on day 1.
Let Go of Always Yes, Learn to Say No
I used to be terrified about telling people “no.” Setting boundaries with people, although necessary, requires a lot of direct communication. And hardest for me at the time: Sometimes you have to tell people no!
It can be scary to say no to someone. You might hurt someone’s feelings. They might get upset. Even angry.
But what I had to learn? When we tell people no is when we really get to know them. People tend to act alike so long as you are saying yes to everything they want from you.
So not only was I getting the benefits of the boundaries I set, I was also more easily able to differentiate between people who were reasonable and cared about me and those were selfish and completely unwilling to compromise. And everyone else who fell somewhere in between.
What Is That Thing You Are Scared to Say?
When it comes to communication, I’ve learned to pay a different kind of attention to my fear. Rather than doing what the fear says (which is “don’t tell them what you feel”), I look at where my fear is pointing. At what my fear wants to hide because it will leave me too vulnerable, too exposed. What I’m afraid people I love might judge me for. And instead of listening to fear’s directive to stay in the shadows and keep it hidden, I say that thing that makes me vulnerable.
That’s because the thing I’m scared to say? Is often the thing I most need to share with them.
It’s little surprise that polyamorous folks have the mantra: “Communicate, communicate, communicate.”
The word communication itself means “sharing.” It comes from Latin: communicatio(n-), from the verb communicare, “to share.”
This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions & answers, please see this indexed list.