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How Do You Communicate Under Stress?

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Let’s face it: these are stressful times.
The more stress people experience, the less resourced they become when challenges arise in their lives and in their relationships. We need skills in order to navigate those challenges, specifically skills to navigate conflict. And to navigate conflict well, we need to be able to communicate clearly and objectively. We also need to be able to keep our eye on the bigger picture and not lose ourselves in the tension and immediacy of the moment. Some might wonder what I mean by the bigger picture. A while ago I wrote a piece that received a lot of online engagement, and it captures what I mean:

The anxieties that plague us are, for the most part, a sane response to insane situations and circumstances. But we rarely treat them as such. Instead we look for fixes to overcome our sense of powerlessness, despair, or anxiety that has affixed itself to our emotional and mental states. We rush out to buy self-help books, we align our chakras, sign up for programs to still the mind or “transform” ourselves, take meds, convince ourselves that we’re distraught because we must be “coming from fear.” The assumption is that people who “come from love” aren’t ever agitated .. or angry .. or that they never judge. The assumption is that “coming from love” is commensurate with wisdom.
Well friends, to learn discernment is vital to life itself .. it is to have your wits about you. It’s the ability to recognize what serves life and what doesn’t. The challenge of our time is to pay attention, to learn how to employ one’s mind, to deprogram it from the regime colluding indoctrination it has been subjected to, and to become discerning in a manner that will in fact be of service to life, the earth and those yet to be born.
So if you’re feeling sad, agitated, angry, confused .. consider that you’re not actually messed up and in need of a personal tune-up, but rather you’re in need of a sane culture.

Many people commented on how powerfully these words spoke to them. You might call it good news to find out that your angst doesn’t actually come from you, but rather from the world around you; specifically the human made environments and related tasks that claim most of our attention. The bad news is that we’re quite limited when it comes to having significant impact on those external influences. You may not agree with consumerism for instance, but it’s difficult to put a stop to it. Most of us can only realistically take action in our homes and perhaps our communities. And so as the troubles percolate in our midst, there’s really no place to go to get away from it all. The meditation pillow or 10 day trip to somewhere warm is short lived. We still have to live with each other and contend with the ever growing challenges of living in a fast-paced world that shows no signs of slowing down and only generates more tension.
The one thing we can give ourselves and each other is our way of speaking and listening. It’s more important than ever to consider what comes out of our mouths and how it contributes or interferes with our ability to serve life and care for each other. Ok so maybe a personal or interpersonal tune-up can indeed be helpful here. The point of convergence between our inner and outer worlds is our speech and action. It turns out that what we say and do is no small thing. And for decades I have been focusing my attention on helping people bring more awareness to their speech and to grant it the proper respect and discipline it deserves. It’s vital that we do this work.
As a little gift to you, I’ve created a quiz to help you reflect on how you communicate in stressful situations. While there’s no instruction per se, the questions themselves should give you an idea of what to aim for when tensions are on the rise. Be very candid when answering the questions. You might want to reach out and ask someone close to you to share their observations of you. And maybe you could do the same for them. Then feel free to make use of the free resources on my website if you’d like to make some changes (check out the free tools and video library). And consider returning to the quiz to gauge your progress after you’ve put some new communication strategies into practice.

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A final note: if the photographs I’ve used in the quiz remind you of the Hollyhock garden and beach, you would be right! These are photographs of my time there last year. I’m so looking forward to returning there in May for Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Perhaps I’ll see you there!

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