I consider myself a direct person by nature. And yet… being able to say exactly what I think, in the moment when I’m thinking it, is something I’ve been working on my whole life.
If I had to psycho-analyze myself, I recognize that part of this goes way back to being a kid and learning to be respectful of parents and adults. In particular, if I disagreed with my mom, there was no room for voicing that disagreement without the possibility of being yelled at. Being sensitive, I usually ended up in tears. So I learned over time that it was best to keep my mouth shut to avoid the conflict and avoid being upset. Now as an adult, I still find myself struggle to express disagreement with other adults. I still don’t particularly like conflict, and I still don’t like starting to feel emotional about it. Maybe I fear being labeled as “bitchy” or “aggressive” as a female?
Whatever the case may be, time and again I learn that it’s actually best and easiest to be up front; it’s never as difficult or as painful as I imagined, and it goes for both the good and the bad comments. “Wow, I am amazed at how organized you are.” “Please don’t criticize me in front of other students. We are adults.” “Right or wrong, I’m worried about you because I really love you and want the best for you always.” “I’m not ready to be a good listener right now; can we set a time to discuss this later?” “Thank you for cooking dinner tonight.” “I’m in over my head a bit and I could use your help.” “Here are the goals we’ve established as a class, and here’s where we are right now.”
Why is it so hard to express what is going on inside our heads and our hearts? When I think about any kind of conflict that I have been part of or that I heard about through a friend or a loved one, 99% of the time there has been some kind of miscommunication. I know for me, I’ll hold back because I don’t want to offend Other Person, and then I spend time feeling frustrated that Other Person hasn’t stopped the behavior that bothers me. How does that make sense? Isn’t it simpler to say, “Other Person, when you _____, I feel ______. I would appreciate it if you’d stop.”
The ironic thing is that one of the social-emotional skills lessons I work on with sixth graders is learning the differences among between passive, aggressive, and assertive. With third graders we practice how to respond to peer pressure situations and saying no in our calm, firm voices. I find myself in the unique position to teach kids explicitly about all the things I wish someone had taught me when I was growing up. I think a lot of the positive behavior I know has been learned and observed through experiences throughout my life, and I’m hoping that even a little bit of my 30-minute chunks of time with students gets absorbed. Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world full of empathetic people with incredible communication and problem-solving skills? I think I want to be one of those people when I grow up… (Side note: I recently went to a professional development workshop where I learned — not surprisingly — that the #1 quality of top female CEOs was ability to communicate.)
In the meantime, I will keep working on my ability to say It. Say my goals out loud. Say exactly how I hope to effect positive change in the world. Say my love to the people I love not just on special occasions. Say when I am fearful or angry and need support and help. Say how I want that project to turn out. Say the why for doing what it is I do.
Saying it on paper is my first step.