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How Mentally Strong People Solve Communication Problems

How Mentally Strong People Solve Communication Problems

Communication and Long-Distance Relationships

In my early twenties, I said goodbye to my family in New York City and moved to Boston for graduate school. While I’d been living in my parents’ house, I talked to my mother, father, and teenage brother all the time, and felt really good about doing so. After I moved out, I wanted to stay close, so I called my family often. However, phone calls with my brother proved a major challenge. I called him regularly but he usually did not call back. My mother encouraged me to keep calling him, and reminded him often to call me – which he rarely did. I was upset and confused by this, as you can imagine, and when I visited NYC and pressed my brother to call me, he apologized, and said he would call back when I called. He did so for a bit, but then stopped again. My mother was distraught, and I was too. Negative feelings and thoughts kept running through my head: why didn’t he call me back? Didn’t he love me? Didn’t he care about me?

This issue festered for a couple of years, until I decided to deal with it directly. On my next extended visit to NYC, I sat down with him, and had a serious conversation. It turned out that my brother really dislikes talking on the phone. This form of communication just stresses him out. He has a much stronger preference for instant messaging as a mode of communication. Moreover, his Elephant brain developed an “ugh field,” a variety of negative emotions, around communicating with me. This was due to the combination of pressure he experienced from my mother and me, and the guilt and shame that came from him failing to call.

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What I Should Have Done

I really wish I knew how he felt! What I should have done was notice that he was not calling me back, and have a conversation about the problem with him right away. I should not have insisted that he call me, but instead express curiosity about why he did not. That way, I would have found out about his anxiety and stress around phone conversations. He would not have felt guilty and pressured. I would not have felt sad and confused. Everyone would have been better off!

Broader Relevance for Communication and Relationships

This story illustrates the importance of adapting one’s communication style to one’s audience. Much has been written about the vital role of communication in the workplace and in civic engagement, especially analyzing and targeting the preferences of your audiences to meet your communication goals. Research shows that such communication is also vital in our personal lives, such as ensuring healthy romantic relationships. Studies of family communication have likewise shown the importance of communicating well and especially being flexible about one’s communication style and preferences.

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Flexibility and Anchoring

Such flexibility was the missing ingredient in my communication to my brother. I had the goal of cultivating my relationship to my brother, but was trying to reach this goal in a way that was not intentional. So I decided to be more flexible and started exchanging Facebook messages with him, using Gmail chat, and other instant messaging services. We grew closer and had a much better relationship. We even worked to solve occasional problems that would come up between one of us and our parents!

Now, why did this problem occur in the first place? Well, from my background growing up, I developed a reference point, in other words a perception of what is normal and appropriate, of the phone being the “right way” to maintain and cultivate relationships with close people. I suffered from the anchoring bias, a common cognitive bias, the scientific name for thinking errors frequently made by our minds. The anchoring bias occurs when people rely too heavily on information they got early onward, and do not move away from this anchor sufficiently based on new information. I had to acknowledge that I failed at my brother’s mind and forgot that my mental map does not match his mental map.

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    Dealing with Anchoring

    So how does one deal with the anchoring bias? A useful strategy is remembering the benefit of re-examining our cached patterns. This term refers to habits of thought and feeling in our mind that we absorbed uncritically from the social environment around us, as opposed to conclusions we arrived at by our own intentional reasoning. Re-evaluating our cached patterns of thought and feeling enables us to see reality more clearly, make more effective decisions, and achieve our goals, thus helping us gain greater agency in personal relationships and other life areas.

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    So whenever you notice yourself confused or upset by something that you did not expect, stop and think: what is the origin of your confusion? Is it coming from some sort of cached pattern, where you think something is the only “right way” of doing things? Think about whether there are any alternative ways of achieving your desired outcome. (This is part of a broader strategy of dealing with common thinking errors by considering alternatives, which research shows is a very effective way for avoiding thinking errors.) Try listing at least 3 alternatives, and describe why each of them can be valid and right, at least for other people if not for you. Remember, relationships are a two-way street, and you need to respect the other person and their preferences in order to communicate well.

    Questions for Consideration

    To help you internalize this information, gain long-lasting benefit from reading this article, and use it effectively in your everyday life for improving your thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns, reflect on and answer the questions below.

    • Can you identify any ugh fields you developed? How do you deal with ugh fields?
    • In what ways, if any, can you be a better communicator in your professional, personal, and civic life areas?
    • Are there any instances where the anchoring effect caused you to make sub-optimal decisions?
    • Do you think you have any cached patterns that might be harmful to your mental well-being?
    • If so, what steps can you take to deal with these cached patterns?

    Featured photo credit: Phone via flickr.com

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    Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

    Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    How to Say No When You Say Yes Too Often

    How to Say No When You Say Yes Too Often

    Do you say yes so often that you realize you aren’t really happy about this, wondering how to say no to people?

    For years, I was a serial people pleaser. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

    But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

    It took a long while but I learned the art of saying no. Saying ‘no’ meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. I started to manage my time more around my own needs and interests. When that happened, I became a lot happier. And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

    The Importance of Saying No

    When you learn the art of saying ‘no,’ you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

    In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

    Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey considered one of the most successful women in the world confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything. It was only when she realized that after years of struggling with saying no, I finally got to this question: “What do I want?”

    Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

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    Warren Buffett views no as essential to his success. He said,

    “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

    When I made ‘no’ a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

    How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

    It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say ‘no.’

    From an early age, we are conditioned to say ‘yes.’ We said yes probably hundreds of time in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work. We said yes get a promotion. We said yes to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

    We say yes because it feels better to help someone. We say yes because it can seem like the right thing to do. We say yes because we think that is key to success. And we say yes because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist like the boss.

    And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we feel guilty we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

    The message no matter where we turn is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

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    How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

    Deciding to add the word ‘no’ to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say ‘no’ but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of ‘no’ that you could finally create more time for things you care about. But let’s be honest, using the word ‘no’ doesn’t come easily for many people.

    The 3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

    1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

    Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time especially you haven’t done it much in the past will feel awkward.

    2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

    Remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it, who else knows about all of the demands on your time? No one. Only you are at the center of all of these requests. are the only one that understands what time you really have.

    3. Saying ‘No’ Means Saying ‘Yes’ to Something That Matters

    When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

    6 Ways to Start Saying No

    Incorporating that little word ‘no’ into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

    1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

    One of the biggest challenges to saying ‘no’ is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no reflect poorly on you?

    Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

    2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

    Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because FOMO even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

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    Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better.

    3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say ‘No’

    Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say ‘yes’ because we worry about how others will respond or the consequences of saying no or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose respect from others. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

    Keep in mind that saying ‘no’ can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way. You might disappoint someone initially but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to.

    4. When the Request Comes In, Sit on It

    Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

    Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time, or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say ‘no.’ There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

    5. Communicate Your ‘No’ with Transparency and Kindness

    When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

    Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

    A clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

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    6. Consider How to Use a Modified ‘No’

    If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” giving you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

    Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

    Final Thoughts

    Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

    Use the request as a fresh request to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself. If you are the one placing the demand on yourself, try to evaluate the demand as if it were coming from somewhere else.

    Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project but not by working all weekend. Or, tell someone in your family you can’t loan them money again because they never paid you back the last time. You’ll find yourself much happier.

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    Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

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