By Jeremy Godwin
What is healthy communication and why does it matter for your wellbeing? That’s what I’m talking about this week on… Let’s Talk About Mental Health — the weekly podcast about looking after your mental health, with simple ideas you can put into practice immediately.
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This podcast episode was originally released on 5 June, 2022.
Hello and welcome to Episode 134, and thanks so much for joining me!
I’m Jeremy Godwin and I talk about looking after your mental health. I spent most of the 2010’s dealing with severe anxiety and depression, after a breakdown in late 2011, and that led me to want to learn more about my mental health… so I went back to school and studied psychology and sociology, and now I share simple tips for how to improve your mental wellbeing, from someone who actually understands what it’s like to go through mental health challenges. Each episode I look at how to improve one specific aspect of your wellbeing.
This episode is all about communication and I’ll be talking about what communication is, why it matters, and how to communicate in a healthy way for the sake of your mental health. So, let’s talk!
In 2016, Dami Im represented Australia at Eurovision dressed as a giant box of tissues and singing about trying to feel your love through face time. Now, don’t get me started on why Australia is involved in a European song contest (just go with it… we do!) and also don’t mention the fact that we somehow convinced the people running Eurovision that ‘face time’ is a reference to talking face-to-face, and not a mention of the Apple product of the same name (since product references are banned; yes I am that much of a Eurovision nerd that I know most, if not all, of the rules!)… the point I think I’m trying to make here is that communication is subject to interpretation and, sometimes, you can interpret one thing in multiple different ways. To be fair, that was a really long way to go to make that point (and, let’s be honest, more than anything it was probably just an excuse to reference Sound of Silence which saw us finish up in second place and is still the greatest thing we’ve ever sent to Eurovision).
Funnily enough, the fact that I like to use my podcast as a place to share my obsessions with Eurovision, the Spice Girls, and other random pop-culture moments actually is a form of communication in and of itself; I share these things because it helps you to get to know me and to understand a little bit more about what makes me tick (I mean, at this point my mind is basically just 90’s song lyrics and random quotes from Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion). It can be a real challenge to fully express who we are and what we stand for to other people, especially when they might just see you for a 30-second bit of Life Advice That Doesn’t Suck on Instagram each day (something I do over on my @jeremygodwinofficial account; it’s linked in the episode description if you’d like to follow me for extra content!). I don’t know about you but, for me, I don’t necessarily need people to understand me and where I’m coming from, because not everyone is going to agree with me and that’s just a fact of life, but I certainly do appreciate it if and when it happens… because, after all, don’t we all just want to be seen and valued by others? To know that what we do and what we put out into the world matters? That’s where healthy and thoughtful communication comes in because it’s how we express ourselves to others and, more importantly, how we connect with the most authentic version of ourselves so that we can aim to have our words and actions match the person we want to be.
So let’s start digging into communication with some definitions and let’s talk about…
What is communication?
And the Oxford Dictionary defines communication as the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium, as well as the successful conveying or sharing of ideas or feelings.
For a slightly different angle on communication, I’m going to do something totally random (yet not that unusual for this podcast) and I’m going to quote a line from Madonna’s song Words which was on her 1992 album Erotica (a great album that was overlooked due to the fact that she put out a book and a movie at the same time where her personal bits had a starring role). Anyway, the line about ‘words’ is, “a linguistic form that can meaningfully be spoken in isolation.” Let’s just put aside the fact that Madonna got a bit carried away with the dictionary in between talking about raunchier topics, as she often does; the reason I’m sharing this is that (a) I love the song, and (b) a few lines later she says, “Don’t mince words, don’t be evasive, speak your mind, be persuasive,” and ever since I decided on this topic a couple of months ago, those words about words have been going through my mind over and over again. Why? Because communication, whether it’s through words or other means, is about expressing yourself (something else Madonna sang about, funnily enough). It’s about how you help others to understand you and how you express what is on your mind… and I’ll discuss why that matters in a moment.
First, though, let’s just clarify that there are lots of different ways that we communicate other than just through words, whether spoken or written. There’s verbal communication, non-verbal (which I’ll discuss in a moment), written communication, visual communication and listening (which is very different to hearing what someone is saying; listening involves actively paying attention to what someone is saying as well as what they are not saying — that’s non-verbal communication and, again, I’ll come back to that in a bit).
Let’s just talk quickly about visual communication, because it’s something that is all around us every single day and which we probably don’t even think of. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a logo consisting of two golden arches forming a giant letter ‘M’ and immediately you know I’m talking about that fast food giant fronted by the clown who I shall not name so I don’t infringe on any copyrights (and fun fact: a Dutch study found that children as young as two years old can recognise a large number of brand logos, including that one; I’ve included a link to an article about that in the transcript, which you’ll find for free in English, Spanish and Italian at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes — find the article here: https://www.scotsman.com/news/uk-news/sign-times-children-aged-two-recognise-brand-logos-2512485). So, logos and other visual cues are like a shorthand for us to quickly recognise brands, places and even concepts; for example, seeing the Eiffel Tower is immediately associated with Paris, while seeing a tick mark (also called a check mark) tells us something is good… whereas a cross or ‘X’ tells us something is bad. We are surrounded by visual communication cues day in, day out and we use them to quickly get our point across.
I also mentioned non-verbal communication before and that’s a huge one for all of us. What ‘non-verbal’ means is all of the other stuff that we project to others (or that we interpret from others) outside of the actual words that are spoken or sounds that are made. I’m talking about facial expressions, body language, even biological signals like sweating and eye contact. It has been suggested that in some situations up to 93% of communication is non-verbal, consisting of body language and tone, and that the actual words spoken only account for 7% of what we actually interpret through communication. That’s a generalised view, and not specific to all situations (and I’ve included a link to an article about that in the transcript https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beyond-words/201109/is-nonverbal-communication-numbers-game) however if you think about your own interactions with other people, you’re likely to pay a lot of attention to how they say things and not just what they say; if someone is sweating and not looking you in the eye while they talk to you, you’re probably going to think they’re a bit dodgy. Interestingly enough, when we’re talking on the phone the element of body language is gone so a lot of what we interpret is based on the person’s tone more than their actual words (although, really, who talks on the phone anymore unless they absolutely have to!). So, with all that in mind, now let’s talk about…
Why communication matters
And it matters because most, if not nearly all, of our misunderstandings and conflicts happen because of issues with communication. We human beings are a funny lot in that most of us don’t particularly like conflict (with the exception of politicians and conspiracy theorists, who seem to thrive on it), and yet we can often wind up having challenges with other people simply because we haven’t been thoughtful in how we approach them or because we haven’t communicated our needs and wants (or both).
There’s an old saying that goes, “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean,” and I’m going to take a moment to unpack that bit-by-bit. First, “say what you mean” is a reference to being direct and honest when you communicate with others. Why? Because it cuts through all the crap and gets to the point, which reduces the likelihood of misunderstanding. You can do that in a way that is tactful, which I’ll come back to in a moment. The second part of that saying is, “mean what you say,” and that’s about being consistent and ensuring that your words match your actions (and vice versa); for example, don’t say one thing and then do the complete opposite. And then the third and final part of that saying is, “but don’t say it mean,” and I think that’s fairly self-explanatory — you can be honest without being unkind, and all it really takes is a little consideration and focusing on positive language rather than the negative (for example, focusing on what you do want rather than what you don’t).
I’m saying all of this because the fact is that being able to communicate your feelings, and your needs, can allow other people to understand you better… and don’t we all just want to be understood? I’m fairly certain that I’m not alone in just wanting a peaceful life free of serious conflict and drama, and the only way to make that happen is to be open and honest about what you want and need while also being willing to listen — really listen — to what other people are saying about their wants and needs as well. And the other thing you need to remember there is that you are not a mind reader and neither are other people; the fact is that other people will never know what you need unless you tell them… so, if you want or need something then you have to express it because nobody will ever be able to guess what you’re thinking! And, on that note, honesty really is the best policy, because then you know where you stand. You may not always want to hear whatever you need to hear, but it’s better to know the truth so you can handle the situation as it is rather than working on false pretences.
Probably the other big point I want to make here is that healthy communication isn’t just about you communicating with others; it’s also about you communicating with yourself. No doubt that sounds very philosophical, but hear me out: if you’re going to be honest with others then you need to be honest with yourself first, in terms of your needs and wants (and especially where you may have needs that aren’t being met). I’ve talked a lot in past episodes about how being true to yourself plays a critical role in better mental health (I discussed it in Episode 110 about satisfaction and Episode 55 about authenticity), and the fact is that being honest with yourself about what you want and need out of life is probably the most fundamental, foundational aspect of improving your mental health… after all, if you can’t be honest with yourself then how are you going to be honest with other people?!
So how do you do all of that? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of this episode and let’s talk about…
How to communicate in a healthy way for the sake of your mental health
First, be thoughtful — because speaking without thinking is like heading on a cross-country drive without a map or your GPS; you’re probably going to get lost along the way. Think before you speak, and remember that actions speak much louder than words. Taking the time to think allows you to respond thoughtfully rather than just reacting. OK, next…
Know yourself — and this is about self awareness (which I covered in Episode 62) so that you don’t wind up sabotaging yourself (and I covered self sabotage in Episode 126). I know that I tend to be impatient and also I’m a worrier (never tell me that you need to talk next week because I will spend the entire time worrying about what it could be!), so I know that I have to be mindful of those factors when I communicate with others so that my emotional reactions don’t get in the way. Part of that also involves knowing what really matters to you (which I covered in Episode 3 about priorities) because then you can let go of the stuff that doesn’t actually matter. OK, next…
Choose your communication medium wisely — because there is a big difference between a text message and a phone call, just as there’s a massive difference between a phone call and a face-to-face conversation. Emails, DMs and text messages are the absolute worst way to communicate anything of any importance because you completely lose all non-verbal communication; not only the body language, but also the tone. And guess what happens? Our brains make up the tone! Have you ever read an email and thought, “Wow, that was really harsh!” and then you talk with the person and realised it was just that they wrote it while they were in a rush? Email absolutely sucks; use written communication for short, sharp messages that don’t require any emotional comprehension, and keep everything else for an actual conversation. Alright, next…
Write it down if you need to — and this might seem like it goes against what I just said, but bear with me for a moment… what I mean here is that rather than letting your thoughts fester in your mind or, even worse, just blurting them out without any thought (because that will create a mess), write it out to get it out of your head before you do anything else (and for the love of puppies, do not send that to anyone or share it — hell, don’t even read it yourself, because all you’re doing here is getting the thoughts out of your head so then you can deal with them in a smarter way). This is especially helpful when there are issues or conflict, and in fact that leads to my next point…
Be prepared — because failing to plan is planning to fail! If you need to communicate about a problem or issue, especially if there is conflict between you and someone else, don’t just go bursting in like a bull in a china shop; instead, take a moment to think about what you need and why so that you can then consider what you want to communicate — and why — well before you open your mouth (or write that message). And while I’m at it, I’ll also encourage you to be prepared to negotiate and find a middle ground where necessary; effective communication isn’t about who wins, it’s about how you move forward. OK, next…
Listen — and that means really listen. There’s a quote by an unknown source that goes, “The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand; we listen to reply.” Don’t be that person who sits there waiting for the other person to take a breath so you can jump in with the scathingly-brilliant point you thought of three minutes ago; remember that communication is a two-way street, not just an opportunity to talk ‘at’ someone or not to take an interest in them and their needs. Active listening helps you to build more empathy towards the other person, and that leads to my next point…
Use open questions to gather information — because when you ask closed questions, ones that will only get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, you’re not really finding out more about the person or the situation; you’re just confirming your own thoughts or gathering the specific information you want. Open questions (which are ones that start with who, where, what, why, when and how) allow you to explore the subject in more detail and they also help the other person to subconsciously understand that you are willing to listen (which I really hope you are!). OK, next…
Get to the point — and it’s funny that I say this, because I do love to go off on a tangent every now and then, but effective communication is about being able to help the other person understand your meaning in as few words as possible. That means being direct, rather than beating around the bush and dancing around what you actually want to or need to say. Alright, next…
Avoid absolute statements — and this is mainly for conflict situations (although it will help you avoid conflict as well!); do not say things like “you always do this” or “you never do that” because (a) nobody does or does not do something 100% of the time (I mean, we need to take a break to sleep and eat every now and then) and (b) it’s like a red rag to a bull; when someone accuses you of always or never doing something it can make many of us go into emotional shutdown mode or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, we might go into fight mode. Consider the first rule of healthy communication to be this: don’t antagonise people and piss them off! I talked about conflict back in Episode 88 if you’d like to explore that topic in more detail. OK, next…
Less judgement, more empathy — and this is basically an extension of the previous point about not pissing people off… nothing serves to get people offside faster than judging them, so don’t do it. We are all unique individuals with our own wants, needs, values, beliefs and life experiences and it is our diversity and uniqueness that makes us human; just because you don’t agree with someone that doesn’t make them bad, it just makes them different to you. Try to find common ground if you can, but at the very least choose to approach the conversation with an open mind and a focus on resolving issues so you can move forward. And that leads to my next point…
Be mindful of your emotions — because your emotional state will likely influence how you react (something I covered in Episode 57, about emotions) and, like I said earlier, you want to respond thoughtfully rather than just reacting. Pause to gather your thoughts before you respond, or even take a break if you need to, and whatever you do remember that under no circumstances should you just react out of anger or fear, because that will very likely lead you into a great big mess that could make the situation worse. I’ve mentioned many times in the podcast that for the first 5-10 seconds of an emotional reaction we are running on pure instinct, and our logical brains take a few seconds to catch up… so instead of just reacting, pause and breathe calmly for 10-15 seconds and then start to think about how you might respond. OK, next…
Be conscious of your body language and tone — because you can think about the words you say all you want but if you have your arms crossed and you’re rolling your eyes then it’s also going to cause a mess! Part of that ‘pausing’ thing I mentioned in the last point is to allow yourself time to settle after an emotional reaction, so once you feel calmer think about how you can convey your willingness to talk and listen through your body language and your tone. OK, my next point is…
Give the other person your full attention when communicating — and this is just basic courtesy! There’s nothing worse than talking to someone who you know isn’t paying any attention to you so put your phone down and give the person the benefit of your full attention; trust me, they will appreciate it and it will prevent things escalating because they don’t feel like they’re being heard! And, quite randomly, my next point is related and it is…
Deal with small issues before they become big issues — because if you leave things for too long then they have a tendency to grow bigger and bigger until they explode. Look, very few people are comfortable with conflict (because we’re hardwired to want to get along with others) but what would you prefer: a little bit of discomfort every now and then, or full-blown arguments and drama because you left things to fester and now it’s out of control? Only one of those options is healthy and it’s not the festering! And I talked about discomfort in Episode 132 as well as courage in Episode 130, plus if you’re prone to putting off these types of tough discussions then you may find Episode 129 about procrastination to be helpful. And so my next point is…
Get support — because sometimes you just need a little help and support, and especially so if there are communication breakdowns. You might speak with a trusted friend, family member, mentor or colleague, or you might seek mediation services if there are serious communication issues. And I will say, as I often do in this show, that you might also find it helpful to work with a professional (like a counsellor, coach or therapist, depending on your situation) so that you can get some guidance on how to approach communicating your needs in a healthy and direct way.
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to communication and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: Nobody in this world can read your mind, and so if you want something or need something then it’s up to you to express that. Communicating your needs clearly and assertively is something you can do with kindness, fairness, balance and empathy, and it requires you to be open as well as being willing to truly listen. Healthy communication isn’t about making someone agree with your point of view; it’s about finding common ground and choosing to negotiate a mutually-agreeable way forward.
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by an unknown author, and it is:
“Bad communication ends a lot of good things. Good communication ends a lot of bad things.”Unknown
Alright… that’s nearly it for this week.
Next week I’ll be talking about choices. Back in Episode 50 I talked about how you always have choice in your life and how that shapes what you do or don’t do, and since the idea of ‘choice’ is such a fundamental component of the work I do and the messages I share here on the podcast I want to take that conversation further and explore how the choices we make shape our lives in ways that we might never even fully comprehend. So next time I’ll be talking about what choices are, why your choices matter and how to make healthy choices for the sake of your wellbeing.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 12th of June, 2022.
If this episode helped you then I’d love it if you left a five-star review on the platform you’re listening to me on, or head over to my Instagram @ltamentalhealth and let me know. And if you’d like to support me and my work then I have a Patreon where I offer exclusive benefits for my supporters; you’ll find the link in the episode description, plus it’s linked on my website at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au (where you can also sign up for my free newsletter, where I share a quick dose of mental health inspiration every Thursday).
And I also have a YouTube channel where I publish new videos every Wednesday… so, if you’d like even more content about looking after your mental health, join me over there (and that’s linked in the episode description as well)!
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time!
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Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Simple ideas for better mental health.
Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2022 Jeremy Godwin.
The information provided in this episode is for general awareness on the topic and does not constitute advice. You should consult a doctor and/or a mental health professional if you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing. You’ll find additional information on the Resources page of this website.