This past weekend, a drama bomb went off in Social Media land, the likes of which I’ve never seen. Usually calm, intelligent, rational human beings turned into raving lunatics, spewing toxic sludge like word vomit across my feed. Everyone had something to say–the problem was no one seemed to be listening.
Is it okay to be passionate about a subject? Absolutely. Outraged at injustice? You bet. But that doesn’t make it right to berate, belittle and dehumanize those that have a differing opinion. I’ll be honest, over the past few years I’ve fallen into this trap a time or two. It’s difficult to keep a cool head, especially when dealing with a topic that hits close to home. Our country’s division has made people cynical and angry. Friendships get destroyed, and families torn apart.
But the tough issues we face aren’t the problem; it’s the way we are choosing to address them.
Communication is an art form. And just like all the arts, there is an end product. Composers produce music. Authors produce novels. Artists produce paintings. And communicators produce understanding.
Every art form needs tools to create, but unlike sculpting or music, the tools for communication are housed in the mind. Teachers spend years honing this craft, and here are a few tools I’ve found helpful along the way.
There’s a reason silent and listen are spelled with the same letters– I say it to the children all the time. When one person is talking, the others are listening. Not interrupting. Not silently working on a rebuttal while their friend speaks. Listening with the intent of understanding is the cornerstone for meaningful communication.
Acknowledge what the other person has said– It’s such a little thing, yet it’s so powerful. Everyone has a deep-seeded need to be heard. Taking time to recognize someone else’s thoughts affirms that you value what they have to say.
Find common ground– “While I agree that …” gets a lot of mileage in my home. It’s essential to explore similarities before discussing differences because it gives both parties a sense of mutual understanding.
Keep emotions in check--boy this is a hard one for me. Discussions are in the intellectual realm, and I’m an emotional girl. But allowing emotions to rule is like letting the ocean steer the boat. We are reacting to the turbulent current that surrounds us, not navigating through it. Emotions can quickly turn passion for a subject into anger toward a person.
Be respectful, always– Even if they aren’t. Most extreme reactions are driven by fear, which is an emotion that does weird things to our brains, like shut down our ability to reason and think. Keep that in mind the next time someone’s emotions spin out of control, and they end up shouting that you’re a (insert derogatory term here). The ability to stay respectful in a heated situation is essential if we want to keep our relationships strong. Family, friends, people you respect and trust, are not always going to agree with you. But working through difficult discussions respectfully gives us insight into their thoughts and helps us grow.
Let’s face it; the world has gotten darker, the issues more complex. It’s sometimes difficult to keep a cool head and not lose our ever-loving mind when someone says something that contradicts our beliefs. But take a moment. Breathe. Listen. And then shape your words as a potter would his clay. Organize your thoughts like writers outline their plots. Paint with words the understanding you wish to convey. Treat communication like the art form it is. Remember, whatever the medium, when art is done well, it has the power to change the way people perceive the world.
We’re all on this rock together, and none of us are getting off of it alive. So please, let’s start crafting our communication skills. Let’s be truthful. Be respectful. And above all else, let’s be kind.
(I made a pin in case you wanted to share 🙂 )