Early in my marriage, Jackie and I took a trip to Costa Rica. In preparation for the trip, we read books, reviewed maps and talked to people who had traveled there previously. One of the things we heard repeatedly was that Costa Rican merchants would accept American dollars and everybody spoke English. These things were certainly true to a degree. Unfortunately for us, our inexperience with traveling abroad kept us from asking the right questions and receiving more accurate answers. You see this input would have all been correct had Jackie and I been traveling to one of the many resorts in Costa Rica, but we had contracted a beach house on the Pacific coast in a small fishing village. It was truly an experience of a lifetime and to this day that trip offers many fond memories both humorous as well as humbling. You can just imagine two young naïve international travelers showing up in a foreign country without any advance study of the local language and expecting there to be effective communication. Oh wait, I did have 4 years of Spanish in school. Surely some of that was still lodged in the archived section of my brain. An immediate extraction was required. It was quite the experience to say the least. I remember Jackie telling me on the way home from our trip how well I had done communicating with the locals. Of course that would have been a good time to perpetuate the façade and beat my own drum, but I had seen the raised eye brows and the confused looks that seemed to be a constant and immediate reaction every time I tossed Spanish words from my mouth. The people were a real treat and very gracious in that they juggled my words and played a word scramble every time I talked trying to understand from the disparate words I used to understand the real meaning. Yes, I had communicated with the locals. No, the communication had not been effective.
How many of us try the same ineffective communication in our marriages? With our children? And employees? It has been said that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. If that is true, then we should understand that men speak Martian and women speak… Venetian? Maybe that is a bit skewed but I hope my point is clear. Men are designed differently from women and vice versa and when we speak, we speak from those differences. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an effective way to speak to your spouse? Well the key is not to speak to them in your language, but rather to speak to them in their language. Here are a couple of sure-fire ways you can increase the effectiveness of your communication in any relationship.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Conversation is at its most effective when you speak into the language or need of the person(s) with which you are speaking. People love to talk about themselves, so if your communication is already hedged in the direction of their bent, then you are ahead of the game. So what is a bent? That is the experiences that a person collects in their life. It can be their personality, love language or background.
For instance, you don’t spend a lot of time giving instruction to a dominant personality. That will only bore them and keep them from what is most important to them and that is the completion of tasks and goals. All you need to provide them is criteria for success and they are off and running.
Similarly, I spent years giving my wife flowers on special occasions like anniversaries, birthdays and when she thought I did something wrong… Of course I didn’t and that’s the story I’m sticking to. One day she informed me that I really did not need to get her flowers. You see her Love Language was “Acts of Service” and I was speaking to her in a universal language that all guys speak in… Flowers and diamonds. At this point, we should likely reflect on and understand ourselves. Diamonds are a girls best friend, mostly because guys do what is easy rather than what is effective. It is always easiest to speak from your own experiences and tendencies, but it will not be the most effective. I came from a family of eight and Jackie has only one brother, therefore our understanding of family dynamics started worlds apart. Over the years, we have gotten closer together because what is most familiar to us now is three daughters and that is an experience we now share. The ability to speak in another’s language or experiences is not difficult, but it does take effort. It also requires that you know yourself because to make a change in yourself you have to know your own strengths, weaknesses, inclinations, personality and love language. Please hear me and do not misunderstand me. I am not saying you need to not be yourself. In fact, I am saying just the opposite. Be comfortable in your own skin.
This exercise will likely take a bit of trial and error, because often times the person doesn’t even know what their personality or love language is. This will give you the opportunity to work on the second sure-fire way to increase the effectiveness of your communication.
This is an area of my life that was a weakness. I spent a good chunk of my lifetime trying to be interesting instead of interested. I was not a very good listener. When others were talking, I used that as an opportunity to think of what I was going to say next. Oh the insights I missed because I was focused on what I was going to say, rather than what they were saying. I often added insult to injury by interrupting what was being said once my thoughts had been properly vetted and ordered. It was a clear message that what I had to say was way more interesting than what you are saying even if I had listened… I would get into arguments with Jackie over seemingly nonsensical things and walk away with confusion and frustration because the thing we talked about just did not match the intensity of her pain. It wasn’t till I began to listen that I started to understand that the real problem was revealed on the edges of our heated discussion and the battlefront was really a mirage.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you” – Dale Carnegie
What would have happened to Jackie and I in Costa Rica if the people there were focusing on what they were going to say back to me instead of listening to my poorly phrased Spanish? What would be the result, if I continued to be angry and confused with Jackie because she couldn’t just come right out and tell me what troubled her? What would life be like if we got quiet and listened to understand more of what was being communicated so we could get closer? What would life be like if we began to speak effectively in our marriages, with our children and co-workers? How different would life be if our yes was yes and our no was no? What would life be like if we could get past the symptoms and treat the cause?