Understanding how to say what you mean and mean what you say is critical to successful communication.
People who tip-toe around the truth, people who are wishy-washy with others about how they really feelーthese are the people who rarely get what they want in life. Only when you are willing to have the conversations that need to be had will you be able to forge happy relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners.
So let’s look at 9 ways to improve your communication by saying what you mean and meaning what you say.
9 Ways to Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say
#1 Have Good Intentions
Communication starts with an intention. When you enter into conversation with someone about a touchy or difficult subject, you have a goalーeven if you may not realize it.
Remember a time you got into an argument with someone important to you, maybe a spouse or close friend. Was your only goal to win the fight? To prove the other person wrong? To prove yourself right?
These aren’t noble intentions, and they tend to work against you. So the first step to effective communication is recognizing what your intentions are and steering them in a positive direction. Think of identifying your goal to yourself using phrases like these:
- I want to help my partner realize that this sort of behavior makes me feel bad so that they won’t do it again in the future.
- I want my friend to realize that I really am sorry for the way I acted.
- I want to find a peaceful resolution to the problem so that we can both be happy.
- I want to persuade my partner to change their behavior, not who they are.
In other words, make sure that your intentions address the root of the problem without trying to achieve self-serving ends.
#2 Notice Your Mood
Once you have steered your thoughts towards good, positive intentions, it’s time to take note of your mood. Before you just blurt out what you want to say, you need to recognize that your emotions will affect the way you say it.
Even if your intentions are just to seek peaceful resolution, you won’t communicate them well if you are angry. The other person will see your anger in your body language, hear it in the words you speak, and read it in the tone of your texts or emails!
So instead of just speaking the thoughts in your head, you need to recognize your mood and make time to center yourself. You need to avoid having a tough conversation in the heat of the moment.
Wait for the right moment. A moment when you are calm. But don’t let that become an excuse for procrastination. The “perfect” time to discuss an important topic will never come. So you will just have to settle for the times that feel good enough.
#3 Admit To Yourself That You Might Not Be 100% Right
Many people see humility as a sign of weakness. But when it comes to successfully communicating what you mean to say, you can often reach the other person much more easily if you practice humility.
Why is this? Because the opposite of being humble is being proud. And when a conversation is fueled by pride, you are going to be fighting to win.
So as you practice better communication, a good first step is to tell yourself that you probably aren’t completely correct. And this isn’t just about false humility. It’s psychologically true that you aren’t going to be right as much as you think you are.
There is a barrier to thinking known as an “attribution error”. In a nutshell, this is when we attribute someone’s behavior to their personality or morality rather than to their situation. For example, have you ever noticed that you tend to accuse other drivers of being bad behind the wheel when they cut you off or sit too long at a red light? But when you make those same mistakes on the road, you don’t accuse yourself of being a bad driver. You just write it off as getting distracted or having a bad day.
Well, we can bring that same idea into communication. Realize that it’s highly improbable that you have a perfect understanding of the way the world is supposed to work and how your partner in conversation interprets the situation.
#4 Be Honest
Okay, so it’s time to actually start talking now. Time to form your thoughts into words. What do you say?
There’s no secret trick for how to say what you mean. First and foremost, just be honest.
You’ve identified your intentions, you’ve dealt with your emotions, and you’ve adopted a spirit of humility. Now, in a calm, even tone of voice, communicate openly with the other person.
Avoid the temptation to talk in circles, to dance around the subject, or to mince words. Just be honest. Provide the information they need to see your point of view. Then, see where the conversation takes you.
What about white lies?
I want to take a moment to address the question of telling white lies. White lies are written off as harmless.
You tell your wife that she looks lovely in that blouse even though you think it clashes with her hair. You tell your best friend that his performance in the show was magnificent even though he was obviously underprepared.
What’s the harm?
Well, the problem with white lies is that whenever you choose to tell one, you are actively NOT meaning what you say. So even though the lie itself might not have an immediate negative effect on the other person, you are just using it as a way to avoid saying something of actual use.
#5 Ask Questions
It takes two people to communicate. So an important part of any conversation is to ask questions that may help the other person talk about how they feel.
Questioning is an important part of practicing humility. It is an admission that you don’t have the whole picture. That you care about the other person getting something out of the conversation just as much as yourself.
Here is an example list of questions that you may like to ask:
- Do you understand why I said _____?
- Do you need more information from me?
- How did you interpret my intentions?
- Could you say more about how you feel about the situation?
#6 Repeat Back What You Hear
One of the ways that we let a conversation get steered in the wrong direction is by failing to actively listen to what the other person is saying. Instead of internalizing their meaning, we try to project our own thoughts about what they mean on to them.
For example, imagine you are arguing with your spouse about how they handled an interaction with your child’s misbehavior. You come into the conversation thinking that your spouse was acting out of anger. As they try to explain their perspective on the manner, it will be easy for you to interpret their words in a way that reinforces your preconceived notions.
To avoid this, you want to regularly repeat back to your partner a paraphrase of what they just said. This way, if you two aren’t on the same page, they will recognize it and be able to change their wording to make themselves more clear.
These are the sorts of phrases worth trying out:
- What I’m hearing you say is _____.
- I feel like you mean _____ when you say _____.
- I interpret your meaning as _____. Does that sound right?
#7 Practice Empathy
Empathy is the art of feeling what someone else is feeling. And it is key to understanding how to say what you mean.
After all, part of successful communication is not just saying what you mean, but getting the other person to understand what you mean. And you’ll be able to do this much better if you can put yourself in another person’s shoes.
To exercise your empathetic muscles, try these tips:
- Imagine that you are the person that you are talking to. Imagine you believe what they believe.
- Spend time constructing an argument from the other person’s point of view, rather than your own.
- Think of three things that would prove to you that person you are speaking with is right, and that you are wrong.
- Work regularly on getting outside of your comfort zone. This will help you experience many different worldviews and understand why others think about life differently from you.
#8 Don’t Take Responsibility For Other People’s Feelings
Practicing empathy is one of the most important ways to help you improve your communication. At the same time, you should know that someone else’s feelings are beyond your control. You can’t always anticipate the way they are going to react, nor should you let fear of upsetting them keep you from being honest.
Saying what you mean is going to hurt some feelings from time to time. But no one is promised a life of unhurt feelings. And you can’t help others by tip-toeing around the truth all the time.
#9 Accept Feedback Thankfully
Finally, when you open yourself up to meaningful conversations, you are going to get feedback from the people you care about most. Some of it will be positive, and some of it will be negative.
The important thing is to accept all feedback with a spirit of gratitude, to make use of it in bettering yourself, and to know that you don’t have to act on every piece of feedback you receive.
But by being gracious about how others respond to your honesty, you will always associate the act of open communication with growth and personal development.
Saying What You Mean Really Does Matter
Being open, honest, and transparent in communication is going to help make your life and the lives of the people you care about better.
It really does matter. And as trite as the old saying goes, “honesty is the best policy”.