We are bombarded with people “talking” at us! There is another way to experience talking that unleashes, invites, and empowers a fuller way of living. In We Really Need to Talk: Steps to Better Communication (Sorin Books 2010), Paul Donoghue and Mary Siegel offer such a path.
RVT: I came away from reading your book deeply moved by your belief that how we talk with one another is transformative.
PD & MS: We can talk in a way that truly connects us to others. To do so we have to be honest and clear, sensitive and respectful to the person we are talking to. By communicating in this way, we come to know ourselves—our real feelings, our true needs, our honest perceptions. We also allow ourselves to be known and to be understood and ultimately to be loved. Francis Bacon wrote, “Writing maketh the exact man.” Well, speaking honestly and respectfully makes the responsible, loving man or woman.
RVT: We’ve each experienced the despair and pain of unproductive communication. You offer such practical steps in creating productive communication. Is this a path to living life more fully?
PD & MS: Life is rich and meaningful when it is filled with trusting relationships. Distrust, suspicion, fear, rage, and loneliness are the consequences of unhealthy relationships. So living fully means that we interact with others in a way that promotes trust, that nurtures as well is nurturing and provides a sense of well being and hope.
RVT: For many people communication is tied up with the public persona they have created or the role they play in various relationships. Are you suggesting that we can navigate through these realities while becoming more authentic about who we are when we talk?
PD & MS: Definitely. But you point to a significant hindrance to speaking honestly, that is role-playing. All of us have roles: parent, son, daughter, male, female professional, boss, etc. Too often we allow the role to distort and to limit our ability to be authentic. A guy can’t share his feelings, a priest can’t get angry, a lady can’t be forceful in her expression, doctors and lawyers have to use professional jargon, a teacher or parent has to know all the answers. Yet, roles can free us to be more of ourselves: tender and responsible as a parent, helpful as a professional, protective as a cop. But we have to define the role that we have, not let it define us.
RVT: I’m struck by your belief that more fulfilling relationships–in our personal, family, workplace and community conversation–are possible as we try on the new skills you suggest. It sounds like a new way of imagining ourselves in each of these spheres of our lives.
PD & MS: That’s right. A doctor who thinks she has to have all the answers and can never be wrong needs to learn to listen rather than to pontificate. And that means forming new images of herself. She needs to picture herself more humbly connecting with her patients demonstrating compassion and willing to admit to not knowing. The woman playing the all available volunteer, friend and mom might need to start imagining herself saying, “No” to another request for her time. She has to picture herself stating her personal needs to those whose needs she has consistently been attentive.
In order to communicate in a new and more authentic fashion, we need to be able to picture ourselves speaking differently. We cannot do what we can’t picture and we can’t be who we can’t imagine. Imaging, like any skill, takes practice.
RVT:Your book celebrates our humanity becoming alive in unexpected ways through reimagining communication. Your work is like a blessing which invites people to take new steps with expectancy. PD & MS: Thank you, Robert, for seeing our work as a blessing as well as a guide and a challenge. We are convinced that people want to be more alive, more fulfilled, happier. But all of us get stuck in bad habits of communication that deform the way in which we interact and that keep us from real energizing contact with others., even those closest to us. We can grow to expect more of ourselves as we learn to be more authentic and more free in the way that we express ourselves and as we learn to listen, really listen, to the people in our lives.
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Read my earlier blog conversation with Mary and Paul about their book Are You Really Listening? - Listen? Stop Just Hearing
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