TALKING THE TALK
In her book, Saying What's Real, psychotherapist Susan Campbell, Ph.D., offers a series of phrases that can help facilitate a safe and honest conversation.
"I want ... " Assuming that other people know what we want is a self-protective mechanism; it helps us avoid feeling the vulnerability that comes from asking for what we want and possibly not getting it. But if you ask for what you want at the moment you actually want it, the other person can better feel the clarity and energy of your desire.
"Hearing you say that, I feel ..." This phrase helps to keep our attention focused on the only truth we can know for sure: that of our own feelings, If you're talking about someone else's emotions, label your interpretation. For example: "I imagine you're feeling sad."
"I have some feelings to clear." Old, uncommunicated emotions are like clutter: If they don't get cleared away, you'll just keep tripping over them. When you decide to do some emotional housecleaning, formulate a goal for the conversation. Tell the other person that your intent is to clear the air so the relationship can become stronger.
WHEN TO HOLD YOUR TONGUE
Though some people practice an all-honesty, all-the-time approach, most of us need to incorporate caution and diplomacy, for our own sake as well as that of others. Here are three questions to ask yourself when you're deciding whether to reveal all.
1. What are my intentions? Telling the truth to manipulate a situation or hurt someone is a dishonest use of honesty. Pastor and author Mark D. Roberts says we should make sure we are "speaking the truth in love," rather than meanness, while psychotherapist Susan Campbell, Ph.D., encourages honesty "with the intent to be transparent with thoughts and feelings."
2. Can this person be trusted? If you don't feel safe revealing your emotions to someone, just say so, without anger or blame. For instance: "I don't want to share my thoughts with you right now because I'm afraid you might make fun of them" or, more simply, "I'm not comfortable talking about that right now." Even if we trust the other person's intentions, we may not have faith in their interest or ability to understand our feelings.
3. Is this the right time and place? When the store clerk asks how you are, it's OK to say "fine," especially if there are other people in line. With co-workers, you could say, "Thanks for asking, but I don't really want to talk about it." If that seems heavy-handed, try "I'm still here"; "Well, it's Monday"; or simply "How nice of you to ask. How are you?"