Human beings are bursting at the seams with information to give and take from one another. We are continuously integrating our surroundings and doing our very best to navigate this thing called life. Being an effective communicator is about being responsible for your greatness and realizing your capacity to listen and express. I call this owning your experience.
In Circling, a relational practice I facilitate, we talk about something called "owning your experience" (shortened here as OYE). This, my friends, this, is a game-changer. When I say OYE, I mean taking full responsibility for the impact you have, the thoughts that exist in your brain that could potentially cause a mess in your interactions, and practicing one of the most empowering tools for relating to people every single day.
Bryan Bayer writes in The Art of Circling, "when owning our experiences, we’re sharing something that cannot be argued with. Others can agree or disagree, but the truth of our assertion is inarguable." When we project our interpretation of reality onto others, there is an increased possibility for confusion in a relationship. But there are ways to avoid this.
Below I’ve listed some tips to help you cultivate awareness in your conversations with others. This practice can be challenging. It makes us feel vulnerable to share our truth at any moment. Experiment with what happens when you take full responsibility for who you are and how you show up in any situation. Conversations exist outside of projection when I have the ability to objectively discern what is me and what is not me. That includes my stories about how I think things should be. Having effective communication skills takes practice. Sometimes it comes effortlessly, and sometimes I have to drop my agenda to welcome another perspective.
Without further ado, OYE!
1. Use "I" statements.
Have you ever listened to someone strumming through their dialogue like, "You know when you’re this and you’re that and you think and you believe and you…?"
I find myself rather frustrated and uncomfortable in these conversations. Projections running rampant, unconsciously or not, one might get swept up as a potential "you" in the conversation.
By shifting "you" to "I," there is ownership in the statements I’m making. I am taking complete responsibility for my thoughts about the world and how I view it. We all have very different perceptions of the world. By using "I" statements, the dialogue shifts from an external placement to complete authority of self-expression. This way of speaking empowers speakers with statements that are unarguable.
If I were to say to someone, "you’re happy," then they can confirm or deny this as a fact. They might just be fronting a smile for all I know. Their response might be, "I’m actually feeling overwhelmed at work, and I want to seem like I have it all together." That is an unarguable statement; it’s their experience behind the surface level of my observation.
"You made me angry. You’re selfish, and you don’t get what this is like for me."
That statement is projecting a whole lot of your perceptions onto the other person. Instead, try saying something like, "I am angry. I feel sad and scared when I imagine being alone. I’d like support from you." The use of "I" in these sentences empowers the speaker to speak their truth and know that it is unarguable.
2. Notice the energy behind your words.
When I’m angry, it can be easy to react by trying to get rid of that energy. Speaking from a background of being bullied and bullying, I know how painful and relieving it can feel to transfer whatever feelings I have to someone or something else. Like a hot potato, I want it out of my hands. Staying with the energy can be challenging. It requires awareness and slowing down.
The first thing I do in these moments is breathe. The more connected I can be to myself, the deeper my understanding of what is actually going on becomes. When speaking, do my words have an undercurrent of emotion? Am I giving unsolicited advice? Am I shaming someone? Am I asserting an experience over another person? Making it their fault? Assuming?
Notice the energy that exists when you begin to speak and name it out loud. See if, instead of throwing the energy onto the other person, you can hold it. Use "I" statements.
"You’re driving me crazy. You’re so loud and annoying."
Now, do you see how that statement attempts to place blame for your feelings on the other person? Instead of saying something like this, take a deep breath. Then, instead, try saying something like, "I feel confused and angry. When your voice is loud, I notice that I want you to stop talking because I’m uncomfortable. I feel a tightness in my chest when I hear your voice."
3. Explore impact.
We are all just a bunch of pinball machines pinging our thoughts, feelings, and emotions off of one another and seeing what happens next. By exploring how our words are received, we can learn whether or not what was noticed or thought to be true is actually reflective of reality. Ask questions. Allow yourself to be wrong about another’s world. Approach conversations with an awareness that your first impression may not be accurate. Be curious. Using the words "seem," "notice," and "imagine" can be helpful to shift, shape, and articulate your perception of the world without projecting.
"You’re happy! You like me!"
Oh, really? Instead, maybe say, "I noticed that you have a smile on your face. You seem happy and excited about being with me. I imagine that you value our relationship because you made plans with me. Does that fit for you? Is that true?"
Even with these tools, there are ways sneaky assertions and assumptions can slip through the sentence structure and guidelines. As this is a crash course in communicating effectively and responsibly, give yourself time to integrate these ideas and take away what you will from this article. The reality of owning your experience is that it takes self-awareness to be effective and clear. The more we practice, the easier it gets. Just like a baby learning how to walk, we may stumble and fall a few times.
I like to imagine a cheeky little Brit sitting on my shoulder, making calls throughout my conversations like a referee. If I’m not owning my experience, he’s ready with his little yellow card, boisterously bringing back my awareness to playing fair. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and remember that you are human. Learn from your connections and conversations. I imagine the transformation in your relationships will likely come with increased clarity and an ability to speak powerfully about your experiences.
Get out there and own it!
Want more insight into your relationship? Find out the five things couples who stay together do every day and the ways your sex life can show you what's wrong in your relationship.