There is only one logical reason to support the bad habit of not speaking clearly – we must believe everyone we speak with can read our mind.
Whenever we talk to people, we must think that we can read their minds and they can read ours. This is the only reason why we won’t speak clearly, make our meaning known, and honestly reveal what we want or what we think, right?
Obviously, this is crazy. People think we can decode their half-assed meandering, convoluted, long-winded conversations. Instead of being clear and direct, they try to lead, suggest and hint at what they're actually trying to say.
Do we ask for clarification? Nope. We have plenty of excuses including, trying to be ‘polite’, not wanting to piss them off. So in return, we don't say what we want, hoping they figure out what we’re asking for. This goes on and on, back and forth, forever and ever... you get the point. Sometimes we invent meaning and speculate about motives of other people without asking questions or even asking if what we think they're saying is what they're really saying.
Then we wonder why we can’t all just get along.
For most people, most of the time, it’s NOT our gut that’s informing us when we’re ‘mind reading’. Our actual intuition isn’t the issue here. It's our own insecurity, fears, prejudices, and beliefs that trick us into believing we know something we just thought up. Big difference. Big problem. It’s the same thinking that keeps us from speaking clearly to others, and so it perpetuates being misunderstood, feeling unheard, and not getting what we want.
We learned how to talk to people by listening to other people, especially our parents, have conversations with each other. In other words, we never actually learned how to communicate in a way that was clear, deliberate and to the point. Anyone get lessons in school about how to talk and listen for easy relating? No, me neither. We start out with a head full of bad habits that we learned implicitly and stumble around in the dark without a flashlight attempting to build meaningful relationships using strategies that are guaranteed to fail. It sucks.
Then we create a boatload of useless beliefs based on our bad experiences. We learn to defend, justify and rationalize the crappy communication methods we keep repeating. We learn to ‘massage’ information to fit what we imagine the other person wants to hear, we withhold information, (often to protect us from what we think someone might think of us). We often speak to manipulate, convince and coerce others into buying our version of reality. Even listening is filled with mental noise of thinking ahead and assessing what we’re going to say next. Sheeesh.
Sometimes we do connect, we drop our guard and reveal ourselves with honesty and vulnerability. We may even listen with real interest and empathy staying present rather than in our heads. Unfortunately, those honest connections tend to be the exception, rather than our daily experience. If somewhere along the way we start to realize we don’t have much of a clue about how to relate effectively, we tend to blame the other person. Nothing makes a bad thing worse than pouring on blame! But while you can’t fix their issues, you can definitely get a grip on your own.
The good news is, that if you clean up the way you communicate, like a dance partner who changes the steps, you will effectively alter the way conversations unfold, and your ability to relate to everyone will improve dramatically. You will know how to deliver information simply and with clarity and you will be able to listen honestly. Here are three practices that will help you read your own mind, rather than pretending that you can, should or must read the minds of others:
1. GIVE UP MIND READING
Catch yourself mind reading by asking yourself whether or not what you think someone meant is a product of their clear communication or if it’s a conclusion you came to by interpreting clues. Their words are not breadcrumbs that you have to follow into the woods to find the house. Ask. For. Directions.
2. ASK QUESTIONS. First, give yourself permission to ask questions! Asking questions is a powerful way to stop upsets before they happen, and to give others an opportunity to be heard and understood. If you think you know what someone means, or what they’re asking from you or saying to you, but they have not explicitly in simple words said so, ask a simple question.
What does that mean? How do you feel about that? Are you making a request of me? Can you clarify what you mean by what you just said?
Oh, are you saying that...(insert your interpretation here)? And let yourself ask as many questions as you need to get what they actually mean and your understanding of what they said to line up.
3. SPEAK EXPLICITLY AND HONESTLY
Learn to speak in short sentences that state exactly what you mean, what you want, how you feel or what you think without any hinting or suggesting. Learn to edit your thoughts and your talk with this three-step check in.
- Say it simply in a few words.
- Say it clearly and honestly so there’s no mistaking your meaning.
- Say it directly to the person (rather than tell a story).
You don’t need a backstory, a preamble, five examples, a justification, explanation or a list of who agrees with you. If you want to share more later, fine, but be up front and let yourself say what you mean. No more, no less. You can ASK if what you said was clear and you can say it again a little differently. You will need practice. You are likely to think you are being clear when you are not.
Example: Saying “I am tired.” is not the same as saying “I’m going to leave now.” And it’s not the same as saying, “I‘m too tired to keep this conversation going.” So if you say “I am tired” then get pissed off because the person you’re with keeps talking, or asking questions, or suggesting things to do, the problem is with your words not their mind reading skills.
Got it? Good. I promise that teaching yourself to develop talking skills will make your life easier and your relationships much more pleasant. Even difficult people will be less likely to get under your skin if you are persistent in asking questions and speaking explicitly and honestly.
The only mind you need to read is your own. Stop, take a few breaths and reflect on what you mean, what you want, what you think, and how you feel. Then state it clearly before shutting your pie hole. Listen to their response, ask questions if need, and repeat.