Last night, I had one of my weaker moments of recent memory. I was at dinner with one of the dearest friends I have, casually discussing ideas for our evening together. We exchanged playful banter with one another, taking shots at each other’s inconsistencies with planning and executing.
In what felt like out of nowhere, the conversation leveled-up from meaningless nonsense to abrupt authenticity. I chose to ignore what was best for the conversation’s resolve and blurt out what first came to mind in defense of myself. I reached low for this one — to the depths my own insecurity.
My comment centered around his newfound relationship, that of which he was extremely excited about and invested in. My first attempt to retract my statement was to no avail. I stated that I felt attacked in that moment and that what I said was the only place I felt I could reach to silence anything further. But that wasn’t it.
The reality was my comment came from a much nastier, yet far more relatable place. Where it really came from was my jealousy of his newfound relationship, and my continuation of navigating life without a special person to share it with. I attacked my friend with the very thing I wanted most for myself.
Furthermore, I met his acknowledgement of my inconsistencies with aggression, as it’s clearly an area I’ve refused to confront for quite some time. Sometimes what shows up in the heat of the moment is more about short-term survival than long-term connection. It’s important that we remain grounded in our understanding that what our minds cook up and serve us isn’t always meant to eat.
Here are seven common linguistic patterns blocking us from the fulfilling relationships we always dreamed of:
There’s arguably no better way to make someone feel limited in their existence as attempting to predict what they’re going to say. One of the most precious gifts in life for human beings is a distinct voice. If I choose to cut it down by robbing them of their expression, I’m effectively taking away both of our voices in the process. If I’m being a truly uplifting friend or partner, I’m listening to them as who they could be and not who the past says that they are.
Name-calling was once relegated to elementary school bickering, but it’s appalling to see how often it takes place among adults — especially those that care for each other. Labels are defined constructs of language, meaning there is a ceiling on the person they can become when I assign said label.
Moreover, the rapidness in which I want to label is startling — one correlated instance and I’m already inclined to box others in. By calling someone a name, I’m communicating that I’m not willing to put in the effort to understand their unique situation. I’m all for being lazy every now and again, but not at the expense of others.
The sister to labeling, generalizing is equally as lazy and equally as diminishing. Just because a person’s behavior repeats itself, it does not mean it’s “always” or “never” going to be a certain way.
By believing this to be true, I not only drive a wedge in my communication with others but the way in which I communicate with myself. I slowly depreciate my sense of curiosity and wonder by assuming that what’s so will always or never be — leaving very little reason to put forth any additional effort.
When I generalize, I check out from life. I throw my mind into neutral and look for what else may be wrong. I must keep my foot on the gas and look — really look — at what may be beneath the surface-level explanation I so desperately want to run with.
“All generalizations are false, including this one.” — Mark Twain
4. Jumping to Conclusions
Actions produce outcomes. We have thoughts about outcomes and feelings about thoughts, but we cannot think or feel an outcome in our external reality. Rather that succumbing to our thoughts and feelings about the events that unfold in our lives, we can take action to gain a firmer grasp on what was being communicated or the meaning behind what transpired.
Everyone has had a friend that can not control their temptation to advise what you should or shouldn’t be doing. And odds are, that person didn’t stay your friend for very long. Telling people what they need to do or how to live their life when the advice is unsolicited is a quick way to alienate your closest confidants.
If you really want to give advice that badly, you won’t be asked for it without being a supreme listener. Earn your platform to provide insight by lending both ears, as opposed to steamrolling the conversation with your mouth.
I used to have a nasty habit of calling people I care about to share something going on with me by means of asking about them first. I felt uncomfortable simply sharing outright what I wanted to and decided I would ask about them prior to, knowing I had little to no interest in that moment about anything but my issue I wanted to work through.
People can sense this immediately and it doesn’t make for a very empowering experience for either party, often resulting in a breakdown instead of a breakthrough. If I have something I want to confront in my life with another person, I ask them upfront if they would be willing to listen and work through it with me. Giving people a choice results in everything we want from our feeble attempts at manipulation.
“There is only one you for all time. Fearlessly be yourself.” — Anthony Rapp
My word is all I have. If I lose my word, I lose my ability to create something — anything — with another human being. The short-term resolve, satisfaction or avoidance is not worth it. Tell the truth. And I don’t mean “real talk” — essentially complaining disguised as truth. I mean the authentic truth — the one about where I’m imperfect and I’m pretending not to be. That one gets me much further with the people in my life.
This also includes the friend of mine I referenced earlier. Once I shared with him the source of my comment, I was met with compassion and respect. This wouldn’t have been possible had I not stepped outside of the temptation to leverage one of the aforementioned roadblocks. They may seem like an easy way to transition in the moment, but the cost of a meaningful and lasting connection is far too severe a price to pay.