The way we communicate is a collection of habits.
We’ve constructed these habits over the course of our lifetimes, so, like other habits, they start to feel like they’re the only way that thing can be done. We don’t think at all about the pace of our speech, or whether we use long or short sentences, or how our vocal cadence sounds. We listen to ourselves all the time, so whatever we say sounds normal to us.
But as soon as you start comparing notes with someone else, it becomes clear that all of these things—pace, sentence-length, cadence, etc.— show up differently and can be combined in infinite ways in different people. Your vocal pace and cadence, your volume, the vocabulary you typically use…all of these elements of our communication style add up to a unique signature. You sound like you. And that’s great!
Let’s take this out of the area of communication for a moment. Think about posture. Just like speaking, people have various habits around the way they stand and move. Those habits make it possible for us to know at a glance whether the person walking towards us some distance away is the person we’re waiting for or not, even when we can’t see their face.
Sometimes, though, it becomes important to identify and tweak a habit. Maybe you find out that the way you stand is putting too much pressure on your lower back, so a physical therapist teaches you how to adjust your posture. Or maybe you learn that the volume that is comfortable for you is difficult for people to hear clearly in meetings. In both cases, it can feel like changing this habit is changing something fundamental to our identity.
Your habit can reflect who you are, but don’t confuse it with being you. You’re not defined by how you walk down the street or the set-point of your vocal volume. So if you get some feedback that one of your habits is getting in the way of really connecting with other people, think of it as an opportunity to try on something new. You don’t have to throw the old way out altogether! Just add this variation on your existing habits. Expand the repertoire of what it means to be you.