Recently, for the millionth time, I realized that what I say is only meaningful if the person I’m talking to hears me.
I don’t mean vocal volume, necessarily, though that’s a component of being heard. More, I mean that when we speak in ways that mute us to our listeners, we may as well not be speaking at all.
Emotion colors our words. When the emotion and the content are at odds, the content is what suffers. Instead of hearing what we say, the listener reacts to the emotion they perceive.
If I speak angrily to my son about cleaning up his room, he responds to the anger, not to the request. If I respond defensively to a client’s question, they will hear my fear and forcefulness, not the content of my answer.
The answer is not to disengage from our emotions. Instead, we can identify what feeling or need is driving what we’re about to say, and ask, “Will they hear my words, or just my feeling? What can I do to help them hear me?”