Principle Number Five: Divulgence
So here you are. You've got a clear intention to get closer to someone, you've got them across the table from you, and you want to open up to them. You're supposed to focus on feelings, right? You're ready. So what do you say? "I feel hot. I feel nervous. I feel hungry." Not much of a conversation.
Although feelings are the central communication, the most essential element, you'll discover feelings don't exist by themselves. There is always a context for feelings: the circumstances. Some event. If you merely tell someone, "I feel sad," the statement comes out of the blue. People would want to know why you are sad. What are the circumstances? Observe people who connect well with others and notice they talk about things that happen and how they feel about those events.
When I first tried to do this, I couldn't think of anything to say. I tried to think of what I did that day, and nothing came to mind.
I was having trouble because the everyday life seemed too mundane or abstract to talk about. What did I do today? I read a book and wrote some stuff. Nothing to talk about, or so I thought. But there is! If it's important to me, it is something to talk about. What are my feelings about the book I was reading? Did I feel provoked? Why? Did it make me angry? Why? Was I excited by the possibilities? Did it make me think I should change something?
And what did I feel about what I was writing? Was I satisfied? Worried people wouldn't like it? Frustrated? And why? Even in these most non-action-like actions, there are emotions and things to share that reveal myself to others, and it is revealing yourself and getting others to reveal themselves that creates closeness.
When you want to reveal your feelings but you don't know what to say, talk about events in your life today and yesterday. Talk about "what's up for you." Think small. Give the person a sense of what your life is like these days. A friend of mine and I used to send cassette tapes back and forth after he moved to South Carolina years ago. I would talk for an hour on the tape about ideas, philosophy, and whatnot, but he once told me that when I was finished and close to the end of the tape and I just left it on record and let it run to the end, he could hear me moving around and doing things and he said he really liked that. I didn't know why at the time, but it is this principle. It gave him a sense of the mundane reality in which I lived and about which I would never think of talking.
Try to do this when you talk. Give the person a sense of what your life is like, including your feelings about things. Quit making everything so monumental. Connecting is significant. But what you talk about when you're connecting doesn't have to be significant in the big scheme of things. It only needs to be something you have feelings about.
Have you ever heard the statistics about nonverbal communication? Supposedly, 70-80% of a message is transmitted nonverbally, and what gets communicated nonverbally is the most important part of the message. While this may be useful in some contexts and may even be true, it can also be misleading because the things you say nonverbally are vulnerable to misinterpretation. Without verbal clarification, 70-80% of the wrong message may be communicated.
For example: Someone gives me an angry look. What did I do that caused the angry look? I don't know. Nonverbal communication is nonspecific and unclear. Was it anger at what I said? Is it even anger at me? Did the person remember something that made them angry? Was it really anger? Maybe it was frustration or pain. Words would make it clear.
Whenever I have read about these nonverbal statistics, what was usually implied was a warning that goes something like this: "So make sure you use the right tone of voice and the right gestures and the right postures and the right facial expressions." In other words, pretend you feel certain about what you're saying, even when you're not. Act sympathetic, even when you're not. Because your words alone won't do it. If you are saying something and the content of your words are enthusiastic but your nonverbal communication is boredom, the listener will hear the boredom, not the enthusiasm.
Why? Because your listener will recognize you aren't sincere, so if you're going to bullshit people, it can't be with just words, but must include all your nonverbal channels.
This kind of coaching may be fine for salespeople or managers at a training seminar (and it may not be fine even there), but when you're talking to your spouse or child, it is deceiving and it doesn't bring you any closer to each other. It's a form of nonverbal lying. That's what it boils down to: Nonverbal lying, and lying doesn't bring people closer. It creates distance. It separates.
I know a commitment to honesty is difficult, and I don't know anyone who has completely mastered it. We live in a world that accepts a certain amount of dishonesty or at least keeping your mouth shut, and in public situations and at work, some of that is probably appropriate. But when you feel bothered about something with your fifteen year old child or your spouse or your good friend, it only separates you two to cover it up. And you can't get by with just showing the bother on your face. That isn't clear enough. It leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation. Words are the only way to make it clear. Not only is nonverbal communication vague, but often what we think we're showing on our face isn't as obvious on the outside as it feels like on the inside.
In an experiment at Dartmouth College, for example, students were videotaped while they watched funny film clips. They were then asked to guess how much of their mirth would show up on the video.
Then these videotapes of the viewers' faces were shown to others who rated them on how much humor they expressed on their faces. The two ratings didn't match.
Then the original funny-film watchers looked at the videotapes of their own faces, they had to agree with the judges: They hadn't shown as much humor on their faces as they thought they had.
Not only are our faces not as expressive as we think they are, but the people looking at our faces aren't as good at reading faces as we think they are. In an experiment at Western Virginia University, students were given a test to determine their level of hostility. Then they were shown slides depicting different emotions and were asked to write down what emotion the slide depicted.
The more hostile the person, the more hostility they read into the pictures. Where a slide may have depicted only disgust, the hostile student saw anger, and slides depicting joy were seen as neutral. The experiment was specifically looking at the distortion of hostility, but it shows a general trend — namely, we think others can read our faces accurately, but they often misread us.
Use words. Nothing can take their place. Say what you liked, say what you feel, say what you want. Be specific. Don't make them guess, because they might guess wrong.
When you speak, speak only truth. I don't mean truth "as you know it." I mean just truth. And let's not get lost in a philosophical discussion about whether the universe really exists outside your own experience. Let's be a little more practical.
When I say, "The door was open when I walked in," that's the truth (if I'm not lying). I'll give you a bunch of examples just to make it clear. And let's assume the person speaking is not lying.
"I feel sad and confused." That's a statement of truth.
"You are mean to me." That is not a simple statement of truth. There are several things wrong with this statement. First off,
It would probably be more accurate to say, "You are mean to me sometimes," because it isn't likely that someone is mean to you all the time. But to be even more practical, you'd want to say, "You were mean to me this morning." It's more practical because something can be done about a real incident. Nothing can be done about a vague generality, other than answer with another worthless vague generality: "Okay, I'll try to be less mean to you."
To really get to the truth, you'd have to do something about the word "mean." The statement, "You are mean," is an interpretation of what actually happened. And this is one of the big things to look out for when you're trying to speak only truth. Interpretations and generalizations like this cause problems between people.
Let's get more accurate, more specific. More truthful. "This morning you slammed the door on the way out and I felt hurt by it — not because my finger was caught in the door but because I thought you must be angry at me and I didn't think I deserved it."
Of course, "you slammed the door" is a guess and not strictly truth. "When you closed the door it made a louder noise than it usually does," would be even more scientific and closer to speaking only truth (and not mixing up any interpretations and guesses about whether it was intentional, and without any generalizations about something vague like "meanness").
I'm going to get to more examples in a minute, but first I want you to look at what the accuracy has done for your statement. It started out as You are mean to me, which, if you can imagine someone saying it to you, would be hard do deal with — I mean, where do you start? You can start with You're full of it! but that doesn't sound like the beginning of a fruitful conversation.
So it starts out as You are mean to me and ends up with This morning when you left, the door made a louder noise than it usually does and I was thinking maybe you slammed it on purpose because you were mad at me. Were you?
Compare the two statements. Imagine someone saying them to you. Do you see how the more truthful statement is much easier to respond to? And how it might lead to a more constructive conversation? That's what speaking the truth does for communication. It directly and literally increases communication because if you look at the two statements from the point of view of how much is being said you can easily see that the first sentence leaves a lot unsaid and leaves it up to the listener to figure out what he's talking about, while the second says quite a bit and doesn't make the listener guess anything. That's better communication. And you really have to concentrate on what you're doing to be able to do it. It does not come naturally.
Now, more examples. From now on, I want you to call me if you're going to be later than ten. Is that a true statement? Yes, absolutely. You're simply saying what you want.
You're so inconsiderate! Truth? No way. It's a generalization, an interpretation, and doesn't give anything specific. Looked at scientifically, it is not a fact, but a hypothesis, and one that could never be validated or invalidated. Any discussion about it will probably go nowhere.
I think you're a jerk. True or false? Ah, this is a tricky one. You may indeed have the thought you're a jerk so technically it is a true statement, but it is unproductive to say so because the thought you're sharing is not true for all the same reasons as the previous paragraph.
I think if you stopped doing that, I'd feel better. Is this a true statement? Yes. It is a hypothesis, and you state it accurately as a hypothesis.
One more. I feel you're a jerk. What do you think? True or false? False again. Feelings are very basic: Anger, sadness, fear, and their milder and more extreme forms (for example, mildly angry might be annoyed, peeved, frustrated, etc., while extreme anger might be enraged, incensed, furious, etc.) Don't get fancy. Feelings are basic. You're a jerk is not a feeling. It is an opinion, and a highly abstract and worthless one at that.
Enough examples. What you're trying to say is:
1. what you want
2. what you feel
3. what you observe
And be as accurate and specific as you can. That's what it means to speak the truth. Confucius said wisdom was "when you know a thing, to recognize that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, to recognize that you do not know it."
Keep in mind that listening comes first. People generally don't want to listen when they have something to say. So arguments develop where each person interrupts the other. Neither listens, and the conversation goes nowhere. Worse: It goes down. You're actually worse off than if you had said nothing because of all the untruth that has been spoken — all the generalizations and interpretations and unqualified opinions and hypotheses spoken as statements of fact. They caused pain that you then have to recover from and untangle later.
In a study by Clifford Notarius, PhD, husbands who criticized their wives in a way that mind-read them (for example, You're really trying to make me mad or I know what you're thinking) their children had more problems like substance abuse, headaches, social incompetence, nervousness, anxiety, insecurity.
And the kicker is that the children don't have to be present when the parents are fighting. It turns out that the way a man fights is not isolated to just fighting with his wife. That's the way he deals with conflicts and problems. And that way of dealing with conflicts and problems shows up in the way he interacts with his kids, which teaches them by example how to deal with life in a way that doesn't work. You can make your children more psychologically and socially healthy by learning to speak only truth without negative interpretations, mind-reading, or negative opinions.
Researchers at Ohio State University have shown that when arguments between couples disintegrates into put-downs and sarcasm, the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine kick in, and send the immune system into the gutter. When you are listening and speaking only the truth, you will avoid most put-downs and you'll completely avoid sarcasm, two of the most deadly tactics to a relationship. So speaking only truth is better for your health.
WHAT YOU FEEL
Say what you feel. Not how you feel — what you feel. I feel fine is not a feeling. Feelings are not abstractions, and they aren't opinions. I feel that you are a jerk is not a feeling. I really can't emphasize this distinction enough. Anger is a feeling. Fear is a feeling. Sadness. Gladness. I feel relaxed. That's a feeling. My stomach hurts is a feeling. My heart is pounding is a feeling.
Feelings are a direct naming of your present experience without any interpretation. Feelings are direct and honest, and sometimes they're the hardest thing to say.
One of the things that makes them hard to say is: you think it must be completely obvious to the other person what you're feeling. It seems like it should be obvious, but it often isn't, and it's nothing to take a chance with. Say it. Say it in words. Not all the time, and not when it's useless, worthless, inappropriate, or stupid. But when it needs to be said, or when it is important, or when it will make a difference in the future, or when it'll make you more understandable to someone you love, say it.
Be smart about this. It may be unimportant to your boss that you are bored and tired — she just needs the job done, regardless of how you feel at the moment. It's not that your boss is uncaring, but it's simply not relevant to your working relationship. Don't cause yourself unnecessary trouble by speaking up to people you don't even want to be close to. These principles are mainly for your close friends and family — for people you want to cultivate closeness with.
Say what you want. But keep in mind you have no right to demand it unless you're a parent or a boss. Being clear about what you want makes relationships work much better. This is so important. We have a tendency to hide what we want for many reasons. Sometimes, you know the person will try to give you what you want, but you want to give her what she wants, and so the game continues and we end up down the road with neither getting what they want and wondering what happened.
Say what you want and encourage your loved ones to say what they want, and if you need to, work out compromises that make you both happy. You can't do that unless they know what you want.
Here is a fact: You'll get more of you want when you say what you want. Without any increase in people skills, without any finesse at asking, you'll increase the amount of your life that goes your way. Do you feel guilty about that? Fine. Do you need to do something to relieve your guilt? Then do it. Maybe people are helping you get what you want but you're not helping them. That's not right. So help them. Rather than not saying what you want, try asking them what they want too. Ask them what they want and help them. And let them help you get what you want. That's love, baby, and it makes the world go round. Don't pull back from it, let it flow in abundance!
Divulge yourself. Make yourself known. Say what you liked. Say what you did. Say what you feel. Say what you want. Reveal yourself to others.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.