Say what you mean, mean what you say

I’ve mentioned how one of my pet peeves is when people offload ownership of a request by turning it into a question; please complete this report becomes do you want to complete this report?; please go to the grocery store becomes do you want to go to the grocery store? This trend is so prevalent that when I find myself asking someone a genuine question (Do you want to go to the grocery store with me?), I sometimes worry they think I’m doing THAT OFFLOADING OWNERSHIP THING and say yes because they think I want them to say yes.

See how energy consuming and complicated this lack of clear communication can quickly become?!

That’s why when I met up with a friend and her almost four year old the other day for a tour at the Denver Art Museum, I was thoroughly entertained by the kid’s straightforward communication. I could tell he was excited to see me when I arrived because his facial expression looked like joy and he came toward me for a greeting. On the other hand, I could tell he did not want to have anything to do with the tour guide who came over to him and asked him his name. She introduced herself and the kid just closed his eyes and slowly tilted his head back. I was dying laughing on the inside, because I imagined what it would look like if an adult did this.

In a conversation at work that you just.can’t.handle? Close your eyes and tilt the ol’ head back a little. That’ll send the message loud and clear. PLEASE GO AWAY I DON’T FEEL LIKE LISTENING TO YOUR INCESSANT CHATTER. At a bar and some creeper keeps talking to you? Close your eyes and do the head tilt thing and bam, they actually pick up on the message and walk away. How great would that be?

The directness of my friend’s almost four year old got me thinking about communication in general. I used to use the word “like” a lot, typical for an adolescent, then it hung around in my early adult years as a space filler—an avoidance of silence. After a colleague was criticized for her excessive use of the word (a subordinate counted the amount of times she said “like” during a meeting and shared the results with her), I assessed my own use of the word and made a point to pause and say nothing instead of “like” or “um.”

I have a friend who caught herself when she started to say, “kind of” when we were on the phone together. She explained to me that she was trying to be aware of using that phrase. I want to ask her more about it the next time we talk, because it’s a phrase that I’m curious about, similar to “sort of” and when people use “maybe.” I think of these phrases as timid talk when they’re dropped in the middle of sentence where they have no actual purpose. Or when they’re not used sparingly for dramatic effect (i.e. “That person is kind of intense).

When did saying what you mean, with clarity and kindness, fall by the wayside? Why does it feel like we’re tip toeing about with our words, many times literally apologizing for what we say or ask, even if no apology is necessary?

I have a thing for efficiency, and like to imagine a world where people feel comfortable and confident to say what they mean. I have a thing for integrity, and like to imagine a world where people are sincere and mean what they say.

3 thoughts on “Say what you mean, mean what you say

  1. Head tilt and close my eyes…. I couldn’t agree more. How different would this world be if we were honest, open, and genuinely listened to one another? These are good reminders for my daily life. Love this!

  2. Excellent excellent post. I can report that it can be lonely when you try to communicate directly and honestly. I am practicing it every chance I get; sometimes I think people are going to up and run. “Girl Scout cookies? No, I’m not interested today, but I know how important it is to your troop so I hope you sell lots and lots!” “I know you are probably uncomfortable with me right now, so I am giving you lots of space.” “If I’ve somehow hurt your feelings, I apologize; please know I’d never do it intentionally.” And so on. It’s hard, but in the same way going to the gym can be hard. It’s hard work for a good cause that makes me feel stronger inside.

    1. Margaret, I’m glad you exist. Thanks for doing you; I believe it makes the world a more diverse and interesting place!

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