Let’s face it. We all have things that we’re so incredibly good at and other things that we’re absolute crap at.
When we’re working on improving something we’re not good at, I like to refer to it as our “growth edge.”
I always have a growth edge or two that I’m working on and in the past year, it’s been about having difficult conversations with people when something comes up that bothers me. Whew…this one has been hard for me.
I’m a tried and true avoider of difficult conversations, but by committing to changing this pattern, I’ve improved so many aspects of my life. It’s been hard, but so worth it.
My growth edge is a combination of two areas that are really common problems for people- communication and avoidance. By working on one of these as your growth edge, I bet it will result in incredible improvement in the quality of your life.
Read on for some tips on improving your communication and reducing the effects of avoidance in your life.
Real talk: this is an area of life that most people are not particularly good at. The skill of being able to talk to others, especially our loved ones, about important and difficult topics can be absolutely life-changing. If you can’t do this…well, there’s a reason that the divorce rate is more than 50%.
Is that enough of a motivator to make communication your growth edge?
The reason why communication is such a key to personal growth is in part because it’s a foundational skill that improves so many other areas of life. Your marriage is going to be better when you can talk productively and supportively with each other. Your work life is going to be better when you can express concerns, hear others’ issues and work together to resolve them. Friendships deepen. Families get closer.
If you want to make communication your growth edge, here are some strategies to try. Choose one relationship to practice this with and let the person know that you’re going to work on being a more open, respectful and effective communicator. There might be a particular goal that you’re working on in that relationship. Let’s say it’s your spouse and you want to be able to talk about stressful things without it devolving into a fight. Let your partner know that this is your goal. Then leave it for a day or two to allow the message to soak in.
It’s always a good practice to communicate when you’re feeling centred and not overwhelmed with emotion about the topic. Some topics are particularly emotional, so it’s not realistic to be completely calm, but do your best to get yourself into a relaxed and grounded state prior to bringing up something. This might mean following the old 24-hour rule. Or maybe 48 hours or however long you need. Do some meditation, some breathing and maybe go for a walk to calm yourself, if needed.
When you bring up a topic, do so in a clear and concise manner. State the facts and express how you feel about them. Use “I” statements (which means state how you feel using the word “I”). Then ask for what you want.
For example, “I’ve been going through a lot at work lately and I feel that when I talk about my stress from work, you try to change the topic. Is it possible to give me a few minutes when I get home to talk with you about how things went that day?” Then, allow the discussion to unfold.
Good communication involves committing to being open to listening to the other’s concerns and being respectful. It will be like a ping-pong game…going back and forth, back and forth. The ping pong idea is something I often struggle with in my communication with my husband. I like to do long speeches where he’s not allowed to talk. I can tell you first hand, this doesn’t go well!
You also want to be open to truly hearing what they’re saying. I’m going to repeat that. Be open to truly hearing what they’re saying. Try not to just wait for them to finish talking and then make your point.
I want you to also try to agree openly with at least one part of what the other person says. This helps soften their stance, breeds goodwill and it’s just a kind thing to do! Win, win, win.
At the risk of massively overgeneralizing, one common communication pitfall in relationships is that men tend to try to fix women’s problems when women just want to talk. So let’s say a woman is frustrated with a friendship and she tells her husband about something that her friend has done recently. He might say something like, “You should text her and …” or “Yeah I never liked her. Just stop going out with her on Fridays…” And she’s thinking, “Whoa whoa whoa…I was just venting.”
To fix this issue, be very clear about when you’re venting and when you’re open to hearing a suggestion. If this is a consistent problem, you can say, “When I’m venting about something, I don’t need you to fix it, I would just love it if you listened to me.” Then, just before you bring something up, remind them, “Remember, I just need you to listen. If you want to suggest something for me to do, ask me if I want to hear a suggestion and I’ll let you know.” My husband and I do this and we always laugh because I almost always say no, I’m not interested in your suggestion!
If you’re the one who’s in the pattern of doing the “fixing,” just work on truly listening to your partner without judgment and without trying to resolve the issue. I bet you’ll find that they are far more satisfied with the conversation and it ends faster and more positively than usual.
“We can’t become what we need to be by remaining where we are.” Oprah Winfrey
If avoidance isn’t your growth edge, it probably should be. We all avoid all kinds of things. Often, those things we avoid the most are the ones that we most need to do.
Going back to our first growth edge, when communication is an issue it’s often a bit of an avoidance problem. We avoid talking about the tough topics, because, let’s face it, it’s tough.
So what do you think you might be avoiding in your life?
Is it going to the gym because you feel “too fat?” Maybe you’re avoiding looking for a new job even though you hate your current one. Perhaps you’re avoiding your friends because you don’t want to talk about your recent breakup and you know they’ll ask.
One major factor with avoidance is anxiety. Anxiety very consistently leads to avoidance, so think about what you’re anxious about and it might clarify what you’re avoiding.
When we avoid the things that we want to do but are too afraid of, we gradually chip away at our happiness. The baggage adds up and over time, our life is not where we want it to be.
Now, I do want to add that there’s a huge difference between avoiding and consciously choosing to limit someone or something in your life for your wellness. For example, I choose not to spend time with certain people as I find them toxic. I’m not avoiding them but instead making an empowered choice, which is a key difference. I highly recommend thinking about what to stop doing in your life for your health and well-being, but don’t avoid important things just because they’re hard.
Here’s what I recommend if you want to make avoidance your growth edge. Get a piece of paper (or your phone, tablet or computer) and make two columns. Label the first, “Things I avoid” and the second, “How it affects my life.”
Write down everything you avoid and any negative impact that it might have in your life. This might take some time and maybe a few sittings. Be patient with it and set an intention to really be honest with yourself.
When your list is done, I want you to choose one of these topics to really commit to changing. Set a goal for yourself with regard to facing this issue. Let’s say you’ve been avoiding speaking up in meetings at work. Your goal might be to make sure you make one comment per meeting.
Your goal might be larger, like “Declutter the house.” If so, what you want to do is break the larger goal into a smaller weekly goal, such as “Clean the linen closet” and then even smaller daily goals, such as “Go through all the towels and decide what to keep” and “Take all extra linen to Goodwill.” Make your goals the SMART goal variety: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-limited.
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity.” Amelia Earhart.
Now I want to hear from you. Comment below with your growth edge. What are you committing to change starting today?