I teach a communication class, and one of the main points I want my students to takeaway is “Communication is not the words you say, but the results you get.”
Alan Alda, in his book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating says about the other half of the equation:
“The difference between listening and pretending to listen, I discovered, is enormous. One is fluid, the other is rigid. One is alive, the other is stuffed. Eventually, I found a radical way of thinking about listening. Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you. When I’m willing to let them change me, something happens between us that’s more interesting than a pair of dueling monologues.”
The key part in that is this, for me:
“Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you.”
I had this conversation some months ago, related to the concepts of personal responsibility and blame. We went around in circles for a while, before I was able to shift our communication by examining how they defined blame.
It was different than my definition, but knowing theirs, I was able to state my point in a new way that we could both agree with.
I communicated excellently, if I do say so, myself, but they did a lot of the work by being open to being changed by me.
It turns out that they didn’t need to be changed at all, we just needed to sync our word definitions, so that we were on the same page.
And I totally nailed it.
There are times I fail in communication.
Maybe because I’m being shortsighted. Maybe because I’m frustrated and upset about something entirely different, and it’s coming through, maybe I’m just human.
Whatever the reason, there are times I’m not able to communicate my truth as well as I’d like.
And people misunderstand me.
I’ve been told I’m everything that is wrong with the kink community. That I’m an idiot. That I’m a consent violation waiting to happen. That I have no heart. That I’m a danger. That I don’t care about others.
I don’t believe I’m any of those things.
Obviously, I have failed to communicate my truth to those people.
And yes, this does bother me, some.
People misunderstanding me doesn’t bother me as much as it used to.
Because as much as I advocate personal accountability and taking responsibility for your communication, I also know there are times when the other party is not willing to be changed by me, and are therefore not listening.
Oh sure, they may be HEARING. They may be able to repeat back to me every word. But they are not listening to me.
Because they are closed off.
Or, perhaps because of nefarious reasons. Perhaps, like my ex, they are an abuser. In his case, I think he was an accidental abuser, but that is neither here nor there… it was the results that mattered in that case, and I stepped away long ago.
So, when people are not listening, I step back and hold my space, which has become an invaluable tool.
You may be the most powerful, accurate, clear communicator in the world…
And you will still have detractors and haters and people that refuse to be open to being changed by you.
I am not the most powerful, accurate and clear (by a long shot), and I have more than my fair share of all those types.
I fail, quite a lot (at LOTS of things).
That will never stop me from trying.
Knowing that I do fail (and often) at communicating does not stop me from respecting my thoughts and reasons for trying to communicate to begin with, or prevent me from holding my personal space, even when I could be wrong.
After all, as a listener, I’m also able to be changed by the other person, but not always willing.