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Direct Communication vs. Talking in Tai Chi

Do you find yourself moving words around and not really saying what you want to say? Check out these tips for communicating to say what you mean and mean what you say.

Direct Communication vs. Talking in Tai Chi

If you’ve been in China for any length of time, you’ve had to engage in some sort of negotiation. Whether it is for work or trying to have a suit made, you’ve experienced the art of the back and forth verbal-banter. A friend refers to this as ‘Talking in Tai Chi,” meaning you are pushing words around, but not actually saying anything. While this skill is valuable in business, it is less beneficial in other areas of daily life.

Consider what would happen if you were able speak clearly about something important and not have to talk around the issue? How would your relationships be different?

Say what you mean and mean what you say

There is value to saying what you really mean. You don’t need to ‘sugar coat’ what you say or ‘mince words.’ This is not the same thing as removing social filters and saying things that fall outside of the accepted boundaries of your home culture; but rather, giving meaning to your thoughts that is an accurate reflection of what you are thinking and feeling. 

For instance, if your friend invites to you go for hairy crab and you don’t like seafood and know that you will eventually say no, there is no reason to say that you’ll see if you’re free or you’ll think about it. You are prolonging the ‘no’ and buying time to make up an excuse. What is wrong with “Thank you for the invitation, but I don’t like crab and will pass”? You’ve made it clear that you appreciate the invitation, but that you aren’t going to attend. Consider what might happen if you say what you mean initially, rather than finding ways to say it later. 

Verbal softeners

Maybe it isn’t as realistic for you to flat out refuse things in your world.  Try employing a verbal softener before you say something that could be perceived as harsh. These are the Mean Girl tricks like “I don’t mean to be mean, but…that shirt looks terrible on you.” You know that something mean is going to be said because you were prepared for it. Verbal softeners prepare the brain to receive something that may not go over well. Phrases like “Have you ever considered…” or “Can I ask you something?” or “What if I said…How does hearing me say that sit with you?” These phrases can help the person you are speaking to process what you are saying in a more receptive way.

Speak in real words, not codes

Metaphors make up a large part of our language and you may use them even more than you realize. Metaphors contain a deeper meaning and are connected to emotions. If someone is thinking of ‘jumping ship’ when talking about their job, things may not be going as well as they let on. When you use a metaphor, ask yourself what meaning you are trying to communicate. Similarly, when you hear others use one, ask them to elaborate. 

The language factor

When someone in the conversation is not conversing in their native language, things can get lost in translation. Language is more than just the meaning of the words; it is the nuance and the connotation of what is being said. Use words that are less ambiguous and if there is cultural significance to what you say, explain that context.  The other side of this is that language can be oversimplified for the audience and the true meaning is lost.  Look for that balance of simple vocabulary that accurately expresses thoughts and opinions.

“I” not “Why” Statements

Good old “I” statements. Remember to speak from your own perspective and begin statements with “I” rather than “You” when communicating how you feel.  Also, avoid using questions that begin with “Why” in order to keep the conversation on an adult-to-adult level, rather than sinking into parent-child mode and putting someone on the defensive. Try using ‘what’ or how’ instead. “Why didn’t you meet the deadline?” will illicit a different response than “What kept you from meeting the deadline?”