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Column: Education in communication

Tanya Ryan's monthly column #LightSideUp
Tanya Ryan 2
Tanya Ryan, Light Side Up

A friend of mine said something that really stuck with me.

She told me about a job interview she had had where she was asked about her management style. One of the things she said was “I talk to people. Not about them.”

When a behaviour, change, or discrepancy needed to be addressed, her philosophy was to sit down with that person and have a conversation in effort to work through it in a functional and constructive way.

I mean, at face value it sounds obvious. Perhaps it’s not profound… but for me it really was. It made me consider this philosophy in my everyday life. I did a little self inquiry: When was I opting to talk about someone instead of to them with the intention of solving a problem?

The results of this question were… unflattering. I realized how often I would have a conflict with a person - and rush off to air my grievances with a friend or family member. I also subsequently realized how incredibly useless it was (talking about them, instead of to them).

Sure, we could argue that sometimes, you just gotta vent and get it off your chest. But then what? For me, after venting (one, two seven, thirty-three times) I would push the discomfort into the back of my mind, never to be addressed again. I didn’t call up the person and air the issue. I just… walked away from it.

How incredibly cowardly. I would avoid confrontation at all costs. I didn’t want difficult conversations. I didn’t want to have to share my feelings, weaknesses, and I really, really didn’t want to unearth any vulnerabilities. Oh! And I definitely didn’t want to confront any aspect that would reveal I, myself, had a part in the communication fallout.

It was much simpler to just vent and move on. That way I could blissfully and ignorantly remain the untouchable, picturesque hero of my own life. Ah, sweet glory.

But alas. No more.

Because I identify as someone that has integrity… and I thought I chose to live by a high moral standard. But noticing this habit of talking about people instead of to them, didn’t feel very integral. It felt petty and small. And spineless.

So I’m making small steps forward in this particular area. I still really, really don’t like to have the yucky conversations… but I’m working hard to have them.

On the off-days, on the days that I’m not feeling brave enough for confrontation and everything it comes with - I’m making strides not to tell and re-tell my sad stories to anyone with ears.

I either confide my own feelings (aka, that which has little or nothing to do with the other person) in a trusted source - like my husband, or a short list of very close friends. Or I journal, or go for a walk, or just redirect my focus into something more constructive.

It’s small steps in what feels like a positive direction for my heart, my mind, and my spirit.

I thought we were kind of all done growing up when we were 30… but the stuff I’ve been learning this decade is crazy.

I guess it doesn’t stop, until we do. Crazy man.