Stop Depersonalizing Your Communication
Recently, my friend moved away. On the day of the move, I messaged her, “I’m going to miss you!”
She wrote back, “We are going to miss our friends, too, but we promise to keep in touch.”
I couldn’t help but notice how depersonalized her response was. She used the collective “we” instead of speaking for herself. And she said they’d miss their friends, not the person she was actually speaking with (me). Of course, maybe she won’t miss me! But it’s more likely that she, like many other people, wasn’t willing to express herself candidly.
How often do you clearly state your feelings and reactions? Numerous communication books advise doing so during conflict. For example, instead of, “You make me so mad,” say, “I’m angry.” Or instead of, “Why are you ignoring me?” say, “I’m sad and lonely.” Or instead of, “You made a terrible mistake! It could ruin our business!” say, “I’m scared how this will affect our business.” Sharing your personal experience reduces defensiveness and blame. It states a truth that cannot be argued. (Some people still try, believe me.) From there, you can figure out how to deal with the issue.
It’s a lot easier, though, to focus on the other person than it is to own, let alone express, your reactions and feelings. State the facts? Sure, no problem. Share opinions (including those disguised as facts)? Maybe. Tell someone how their behavior impacts you on a personal level? <insert hysterical laughter here>
This impulse to deny personal experience applies to positive communication, too. Expressing joy, love, or even appreciation can feel every bit as vulnerable as expressing rage or hurt or fear. As one of my clients pointed out, we’re much more likely to say, “This is good” than “I like this” or “Thank you” instead of “I appreciate this.” There’s nothing wrong with saying “thank you.” I’m a huge fan of it! However, “thank you” is a contraction of what used to be a complete declarative statement: “I thank you.” We’ve taken the “I,” the self, out of it. This is happening nowadays to “I love you,” too. I find more and more personal messages end with “Love you,” including my own. It’s less personal, less meaningful, and therefore you feel less exposed saying it.
So… what? Is it so terrible to protect yourself and hide behind impersonal verbiage? Not necessarily. Occasionally, it might be wise. Yet there are three things you miss out on when you depersonalize your communication.
3. You miss the point.
Whether positive or negative, you can’t get to the heart of a matter without heart. Most arguments, for example, aren’t about the thing you’re fighting over. It’s about what that means to you. Or what it says about you. Or what it says about your relationship. You’ll never be able to resolve the conflict until you get past the distracting details and share your underlying feelings and values.
The same is true for positive communication. Your whole point is to express something positive—maybe appreciation, compassion, encouragement, or love. If you take yourself out of the expression, the statement loses all its weight.
Own your feelings and your experience. Share them. That’s the point of communication.
2. You miss out on connection.
You can’t connect with another human being unless you share yourself. It’s not enough to share data—facts about yourself or your life. To create connection, you have to go deeper. It’s scary. I get it. I’ve been a “hider” most of my life. It’s a lot safer to keep things light. And a lot more lonely.
Even when it’s negative, stating the truth about what’s going on inside is much more likely to build a relationship. You create connection through honest ownership and disclosure. It can be risky. But you have to take some risks to reap the rewards of a meaningful relationship.
1. You miss knowing yourself.
This is the greatest loss. When you take yourself and your emotions out of the mix by using vague words or focusing on the other person, you deny the fullness of your experience—not only to others, but your own self as well. You learn to ignore, trivialize, or downplay what you see, need, love, and feel.
If you’re not used to using “I” statements, it takes a lot of practice to overcome the habit of deflecting. Yet it’s one of the quickest ways to start really seeing yourself. Do you even know what you feel half the time? Get to know yourself.
Whether you’re upset or elated, start noticing how—or whether!—you express your reactions to others. If you find that you consistently depersonalize your communication, stop. Speak the truth. I feel… I like… I don’t like… I want… I love… I need… I am… Your interactions will improve. You’ll start to deal with real issues, make deeper connections, and see, value, and know yourself.
Change your communication, change your life.