Communication is the core or relationships, but expressing uncomfortable things can be really difficult. Rise above the moment by practicing a simple improv game to become a better communicator.
Communication in a clamshell
Saying what you mean can be hard
Your esophagus feels like it’s tied up in a knot. Your stomach is turning. You’re finally ready to say “the thing.” Your face get’s hot. You open your mouth, but no words come out. So, you close your lips and move on, telling yourself you’ll say it later.
"Dammit! That was my shot!" you say to yourself. You've been planning to say "the thing" since last night, and today you were going to do it, but you just missed a perfect opportunity. And then you missed the next one. And the next one! You just keep clamming up.
Saying “the thing” is incredibly hard. You know "the thing." It’s the thing you want to say that might hurt someone’s feelings. It’s the vulnerable thing you want to speak up about when you've had your feelings hurt. It’s the thing you want to say that might seem small to everyone else, but it’s big to you.
You may need to say “the thing” to your friend, partner, or colleague. It could be that someone belittled you in a meeting, or that your partner gave no acknowledgement when you went out of your way to help them with something. It could be a high-stakes business situation. Regardless of who or what you need to say, if there are feelings involved, it’s probably going to be a really a challenging moment that most of us struggle with (except for really advanced communicators, a-holes and people without a filter).
Communication is a skill. And it's important
At the heart of it, relationships, of any kind, are only as strong as the level of communication that exists within them. And so our ability to communicate the things that make us and others vulnerable is so closely connected to the quality of relationships.
Few of us get lessons on how to properly communicate difficult things, and that gets square in the way of our growth and wellbeing. For me and many others, when we attempt to resolve an issue, we get cold feet, and pressure to say it builds up.
The longer we delay, the more pressure builds up. It builds and it builds and it builds, and then suddenly and without warning it comes out. And usually the moment those words decide to come out is the worst moment possible. They come out in the worst order and in the worst tone, and suddenly you have another, even bigger problem on your hands.
Being a rockstar communicator
What if communication could be fun?
If we can learn to speak our mind calmly, in relevant situations, and choose good words, what a delight that would be, right? It would enable us to address our issues in a way that not only resolves them, but further strengthens our relationships.
And there's an unexpectedly awesome way to learn this skill:
There’s a powerful training game in improv called “Say It.”
Here's the game:
A scene starts with two characters speaking to each other, but the identity of the characters is unknown. Just two random people in a conversation.
And one of these people is designated as the "Say It" player (more on that later).
Over the course of the scene each character slowly reveals aspects of their identity through basic conversation, making it easier to communicate moment to moment.
If you haven't caught the drift, the feeling you get in this game is like being the +1 at a party with someone at a party who nobody at the party really knows, so there’s pretty much 0 common ground to build a conversation off of.
At some point, when the improv instructor says, “Say It!,” that actor has to make a definitive statement that reveals the true nature of the relationship, such as...
“I just can’t believe you put that banana peel on the road for toad the other day! He could have been seriously injured!”
Situation: They’re in a Mario Kart world, and one of the characters was a jerk to Toad.
“That was the first time you met my parents. Couldn’t you have worn pants, just for one day?”
Situation: One of the people in the relationship never wears pants, and the other partner was embarrassed by this when he/she didn’t when meeting the parents.
“It seems stupid, but yesterday when you made that joke about me in front of your friends, I laughed, but it was actually pretty upsetting. I know you didn’t mean it to upset me, and I’ve tried to ignore it, but it’s been bothering me, and I wanted to let you know.”
Situation: A significant other is upset about something, and uses the Say It game to bring up that problem in a non-confrontational way.
You can practice this game in a group of three friends, with one person in charge of shouting “Say it” during the improv scene, but you can even start with just two people, or even practice on your own (see below).
Using the game to change your life
Remember that it will help improve your relationships
How do you implement this in your daily life? The action itself is simple, but it’s definitely not easy.
When you have something to say — when you feel the tension in your chest, your face heating up, the knot in your throat — remind yourself to “Say it.”
You know when the moment is right. You've already made the decision to say it. So, use your practice and go for it. No turning back. Develop a habit of always saying it when you tell yourself you’re going to say it. Become a person that communicates what needs to be said.
Your relationship depends on it.
Because just like in the game, before you say it, you and the other person are not relating to each other based on reality. One person feels something the other doesn’t understand or know exists. And if you are going to develop the scene further, a.k.a. advance your lives, you need to be living on the same plane of reality.
When we hide things from our colleagues, partners, friends and family, we are acting based on one set of information, while they’re acting on another. We can’t advance together if we’re not in the same place.
You will come from a place of authenticity. And you will feel so much better.
Practice so it becomes easy
The best way to get experience with this is to start small. You can practice this with close friends or even just on your own.
When you notice little things that really bother you, tell yourself to "say it," and then calmly and cooly bring it up. Don’t just sweep it under the rug (unless it’s really not worth it - that's a judgement call). And as you get better at speaking up for yourself, you’ll build up the strength and courage to speak up in more challenging situations.
What you’ll learn over time is that, if you are spending time with the right people, they generally won't get angry or upset when you do “say it,” which is what I expected at first. More likely than not, they’ll be happy you said something, because they didn’t know you were so upset.
If they react negatively, well, then you might have some work to do on the relationship; you might need to learn more about each other; or you might be getting a sign to evaluate who you’re spending time with.
Regardless of the impact, once you finally get your thoughts and feelings out into the world, you’ll feel so much better, your relationships will be stronger, and you’ll be better at communication than 99.9% of the planet.