Communication skills, Part I

photo exchange

In one of my posts I wrote about how I signed up for gym membership. It’s been four months now and finally I’m starting to see small results – I’ve been building lean muscles and have lost a little weight around my waist, arms and also my legs.

In addition to my regular workout I started a photo exchange with a new friend, who is keen on losing all the kilos she put on over the winter months.

We agreed on taking pictures of everything we eat and drink (if it’s something else than water, tea or coffee), especially when we sin by eating some kind of junk food or by eating late.

This back and forth reporting over the last two months was a genius idea of the friend, as it helped me become aware of WHAT and HOW MUCH I eat. Thanks to our honest reports I detected that I had something sweet almost everyday, that my portions were too big and that I ate too late. For the first time in 20 years or more I became aware of all my bad eating habits.


a text message

Not long ago that friend texted me that she had lost weight and that she is more and more determined to get rid of the kilos.

At the time I still didn’t notice any changes in my body. I would have guessed that at that point some kind of frustration would have kicked in, as in “Why am I not losing weight?”

To my own surprise though I had no thought like that at all. Instead I fully understood - also for the first time in my life – that every body (see what I did there) is different and reacts differently to sports and diet.

I wanted to share these new and exciting thoughts with the friend so I texted her back and saying something like “our cases are different but I love the fact that we are doing this together”. I explained about how long I have not been really kind to my body and how much body fat I need to get rid of in order to feel healthy again. I finished with thanking her for her support.


the next day

Something about my message must have triggered something in the friend as the next morning – after a lot of thinking – she texted me explaining that something was bothering her about my earlier comment.

She thought that what I wrote made her feel like she is putting pressure on me and that it sounds as if I’m trying to justify something by writing that our cases are different. The rest of the text was about why we started the photo exchange in the first place and that she doesn’t expect me to copy her diet style.


I was quite taken back by the serious tone of the message although the friend explained she just wanted to clarify things. She had also added some smileys here and there just to be sure I wouldn’t feel upset.


Nevertheless, the words I read somehow hurt me. More than that, I was so surprised – almost shocked – about how perceptions can cause huge misunderstandings and result in a crack in a friendship that I had to sit down; my heart was beating so fast and I started to hear the sound of a stormy ocean in my ears.


words and their consequences 

Maybe you would have reacted differently. Maybe you would have read it and shrugged it off. Maybe you would have smirked about the smileys and sent her a light funny text back.


I, on the other hand, am quite sensitive and feel like a burned child in these matters. I’ve had quite a number of situations in my life where one conversation affected a relationship to such a degree that it came to an end – either right away or in small waves of drifting away.


Words can hurt. Words have consequences.


I’ve learned that lesson a long time ago through one of my dear friends but come to think of it I’ve never really lived by she taught me.


I- and you-messages

As I was sitting on my bed and was thinking about all the different relationships in my life (with my husband, my mother, my father, my aunt, my co-workers etc.) and how often I have hurt with words, I started to grasp the full meaning of it.


First of all it’s usually HOW we say something that can change everything.


You might have heard of I-messages and You-messages.

In You messages like “You make me so angry because you forgot to give me a ride home” we blame the other person for the situation and judge them. Often the other person will feel defensive and the situation gets worse.


I-messages on the other hand avoid blaming and judging. The above example could be put like this instead: “I feel angry when I am expecting a ride home and I’m forgotten”.


Just by changing the way you say something you are able to get your message across respectfully. Isn’t that a wonderful skill to work on?


don't say anything at all

Then, secondly, I’m wondering if in some cases not saying anything at all is the wiser choice.


I understand that the friend had the urge to clarify things. I know because I have given in to that urge many times myself.

She wanted to say what was on her mind and what bothered her in order to be able to move on. Once she sent off the text she probably felt “refreshed”.

The ball was in my court.


It’s just that I didn’t know that a ball was coming my way in the first place.


Since everything she thought was going on for me was not the case at all I was pretty irritated. I couldn’t help but think of how everything I’d write from now could be misinterpreted again.

Due to all my past experiences I felt stigmatized and suddenly my mind was in Law & Order-Land in the sense of "anything I say and do can and will be used against me".

That’s what I mean with consequences. Though it all starts with the intention of clarifying things you might end up saying things that can’t be taken back.

Once said the other person will start tiptoeing around you because they don’t want to cause a similar situation.

The trouble is though, the harder the person tries not to say the “wrong” thing, the less relaxing the person becomes and that’s when the relationship starts to become “mendokusai” - tiresome - as Japanese people say.

That’s when things eventually fall apart.


These things can happen overnight, or in the blink of a moment. One second everything is lalala and in the next second you notice a shift in moods.

Sometimes you double check if everything is okay and you will hear “Yes, yes! Everything is fine!” but you can sense like an animal that something is off.


I’ve always been the advocate of speaking one’s mind, clarifying things by asking what’s going on or by laying out one’s own feelings about something.


Now, I’m not so sure anymore.


I admire my husband for knowing most of the time when to leave things unmentioned.

I guess he is good at going through all possible scenarios for how the other person might react once HIS words and thoughts are out. He then chooses what scenario he and the other person can live best with and to which degree it has an impact on both their lives.

When it comes to business, timing is also something he takes into consideration. But that’s another topic.

I wished I could take a page from his book.


the ultimate truth though 

I’m wondering though whether the ultimate truth is that no matter how hard I try to work on my communication skills I’ll always attract a situation like the one described at the beginning.

I’ll always subconsciously invite someone into my life, who will confront me with a similar issue.

My vague guess is that it has to do with me.

In order to work on myself the universe is probably sending me these “messengers” so I start thinking about changing my ways and become a better version of myself.


the best thing to do

Am I not clear enough? Not even when I think that I’m being clear?

Am I sending out mixed messages? And if so, why? How?


If the universe was trying to teach me a lesson, what lesson would that be?


The morning I received the text for the rest of the day I had moments of self-blame thinking that I must be so unclear in my actions that I pull misunderstandings towards me on a regular basis.

I was beating myself up for being overly sensitive, even “mendokusai” for telling the friend that I felt a bit hurt and irritated by her message.

I did what I often do – wondering off with my thoughts and trying to understand the mind of the other person rather then staying in my mind and minding my own business.


In the end I came to the conclusion that this episode in my life might have occurred in order for me to accept that I AM who I AM, namely someone sensitive.

And that I have to stand by my opinion and my original first reaction and gut feeling – I shouldn’t feel guilty for being sensitive and telling the friend that I felt hurt by her comments.  


I’ll never be able to find the right communication skills to please everyone around me and avoid any kind of misunderstandings. That’s just not going to happen and I need to accept that.


The only thing I CAN do is to be true to myself, to listen up to what feelings are going on in me and become aware of them.

That’s when I become clear to myself and only then will I be clear for people around me.

That surely won’t guarantee a misunderstanding-free life but I’m pretty sure that it will reduce stressful thoughts in my mind.  



If you are interested in learning more about I- and You-messages, check out this page