I’m in a complicated relationship, it’s with words. I feel a genuine happiness when they’re used well, an appreciation of their beauty, and a lustful longing for more. When they’re used poorly I get all feisty and lose my faith.
I think this is why Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements chime so strongly with me. He offers four simple guidelines for bringing clarity to communication both in how we speak to ourselves, and how we interact with those around us.
Our words wield enormous leverage, and when we use them well we can take our loved ones on a happiness trip. When we speak or write mindlessly, we can fire ourselves, or another, into a very dark place. And to use words well we need to listen well.
Be impeccable with your word
There are a few words and that, for me, grate like a wasted cup of coffee. ‘Etcetera’, ‘stuff’, ‘whatever’, and ‘so on’ – what do these really mean? They’re are a fuzzy scapegoat for the words we can’t connect with, essentially they enable us to avoid thinking.
An impersonal phrase is a meaningless one. ‘They’ll never find a solution to the flooding’; ‘they always put ridiculous guidelines on food’ – tell me, who?
Focusing on the negative
Every day I hear an exchange between two people that opens with the worst of a situation: ‘How was your holiday?’ , ‘It rained a lot.’ or ‘Did you have a good yoga practice?’, ‘I was really tired today.’ Alternatively, a welcoming greeting that’s a criticism: ‘You’re late!’, ‘Wow, you’ve put on weight.’ or ‘Goodness, you look tired.’
These phrases foster pessimism and reflect the fact that we’re failing to listen to the unspoken needs of the person we’re with. However if we speak with compassion and a sense of intention, our communications carries a lot more meaning, as well as kindness. Our words can nourish.
These examples of lazy communication are easy to cork; all we need to do is take a step outside of ourselves and listen to our very own words.
Don’t take anything personally
The way we communicate is a reflection of ourselves. So, if a friend, colleague, family member or partner speaks with anger or fear this is a projection of what’s going on inside them in that very moment.
When we master the ability to really hear what they’re saying and receive their communication, however harsh, from a neutral place, we’ve done good. And, boy, we save ourselves a heap of distress.
Don’t make assumptions
Jumping to conclusions and generalising are easy options, and don’t truly consider the situation we’re in. On the other hand, if we really think about what we want to say, we can open our mind hugely.
‘He’ll never love me like he used to‘; ‘Everyone in politics is corrupt’; ‘I always get bitten by mosquitos’ – tell me, what do these phrases really mean?
If we speak with considered intention we can bring so much more intelligence and purpose into our communication, and ultimately our lives. We can really hear another’s point of view, as well as move away from the role of a victim or ride on the back of someone else’s viewpoint.
Always do your best
Each moment is a new opportunity to enjoy our here and now that little bit more, and by communicating with integrity, we’re bringing a little more kindness and love into our lives and those we interact with.
So, perhaps listening that little bit more we can speak ‘with’ those around us, rather than speaking ‘at’ an event, or speaking ‘to’ our mothers. Maybe we’ll be able to communicate with our hearts rather than our minds, exhaling fully before we fire back a response, so we can listen, digest and communicate on empty, leaving behind our preconditioned mindsets.
Yes, maybe, just maybe, by minding our word we can breathe a little more love into this wobbly world.