To be effective, people must listen to you. To be powerful, what you say must be real. Real speech means that what we say is accurate, relevant, engaging and constructive.
Here are six communication tools that are simultaneously effective techniques for better communication, straightforward practices to develop greater communication ability, and skillful ways to wake up and be more present in our lives.
Good or evil, right or wrong are childish notions of morality. The question is "Does what we say relate to what is actually happening in our lives?" If it doesn't, it's not real. It's something else -- a fairy tale, a story to distract or entertain, a way of controlling how we (or others) think and act.
Here are six ways to make what you say real.
1. Take a breath before saying anything. Always. At the practical level, this tool ensures that we do not interrupt others. It also ensures that people will actually listen to what we have to say. An added benefit is that it may stop you from saying something you will later regret. As a practice, it develops patience, mindfulness and compassion. And it naturally opens up space in a conversation, cutting through mindless repartee and thoughtless asides.
2. When you speak, listen to your own voice as if you were listening to another person. With this practice, we quickly become aware of when an edge has crept into our speech, when one or other pattern has taken over the microphone, when we are speaking offensively or when we are just babbling. It puts us in touch with our own voice. Even only a few days of this practice results in our being able to appreciate the clear powerful resonance of real speech.
3. Ask open questions Open questions invite the person to express their views and ideas rather than simple facts or "yes" or "no." You will find out much more about a person and how they think if you give them a chance to express their thoughts and ideas, and you will avoid polarization and opposition because you are unambiguously demonstrating that you are interested in what he or she has to say. For instance, at a lunch with a person I didn't know at all, I asked, "What do you think of the upcoming election?" The ensuing conversation was fascinating. He told me a lot about New Orleans politics, the inner workings of NASCAR and many other things I knew nothing about and the conversation never deteriorated into the polarization that is so common today.
4. When you apologize, apologize for your actions, not for possible results. An apology is not contingent on the results of our action. It's about the action itself. Name and take responsibility for the action. "I'm sorry if I offended you," is not a real apology. "I'm sorry that I called you a monster," is. We can't always see the results of our actions. If we regret the results, apologize for the action itself, or the oversight that led to the action. To apologize for the result is to avoid responsibility. It takes humility to apologize and it takes trust and openness, too.
5. Be impeccable with your word. This bit of advice comes from the Toltec tradition. How we talk with others directly shapes our relationships with them. When we say what we mean and mean what we say, we inspire trust and confidence and others take us seriously. This also applies to how we speak to ourselves. Too often, we do not use a real voice, but the voice of one or other of our parents or others who have criticized or built us up to make use of us for their own needs. To be impeccable with our word means that we speak in our own voice, we say what we mean and we mean what we say. This is real speech and it is powerful.
6. A white flower Finally, as a kind of summary, this lovely verse from Rumi says it all:
A white flower grows in the stillness.
Let your tongue be that flower.