As a child, I was the shy kid who kept to herself. I rarely shared my inner world with others outside my close friendship circle, and even as an adult, my auto-default is still to hold my tongue.
When I started addressing my insecurities and working on speaking up more, I, as many do, was clumsy with how much I shared. It felt like I turned a filter off, and I would uncomfortably blurt out things that I soon regretted.
I thought that being authentic meant sharing everything on my mind and heart.
After a lot of years, a lot of therapy, and a lot of practice, I've found that I don't have to be uncensored to be authentic. I can express and communicate strategically, with awareness, choice, and compassion.
By considering what my intention is in sharing, and whether what I want to share is true, necessary, and kind, I feel confident in discerning when the situation calls for me to speak and when it calls for me to listen.
What is my intention?
The first checkpoint is to reflect upon the intention behind the desire to share.
Why do I want to share?
What am I hoping to get out of sharing?
Here are the two underlying intentions to look for:
TO GET MY WAY
To be right
To make you wrong
To control you
To change you
If the intention is to get my way, then my focus will be on my needs and my intelligence on how to manipulate the other so they agree. This disconnection often leads to misunderstanding, diminished trust, stress, and resentment.
If the intention is to connect, then my focus will be split between the two of us and my intelligence on attuning to the other so we harmonize. This connection can lead to greater understanding, increased trust, creativity, gratitude, and empowerment.
I can simultaneous want to have my needs met and have the intention to connect.
The difference is that when I set my focus on getting my needs met no matter what, I don't cultivate the connection that will bring more fruitful results. Instead of collaborating or compromising, I accommodate or compete.
Focusing on the connection instead of the outcome opens up more possibilities by generating the synergistic creativity that only comes from both people bringing their attuned intelligence to the table.
The next three questions get into more subtle details, but all relate back to the intention.
Is it true?
This checkpoint has me reflecting on where the information is coming from.
Where did I learn this piece of information that I want to share?
Is it an assumption? A judgment? An observation? An idea?
If I can't trace the information back to anything that I've explored with curiosity, then it's possible it isn't true.
What I mean by it isn't true is that it isn't founded or grounded. I may be sharing a rumor, a stereotype, a lie, misinformation, or simply something superficial. If it's one of the former, then it may be harmful.
If I'm not sure, then I preface my sharing with a disclaimer. "I'm not sure where I learned this..." or "I haven't investigated this yet..." or "Here's something I'm curious about..."
Is it necessary?
Next is reflecting upon how necessary this piece of information is to share.
What needs might be met by me sharing this?
What impact might it have on others if I do or don't share?
Balancing getting my needs met with the impact on others is where I come up with my sense of necessity.
Maybe I don't want to speak up about something because I'm scared I'll be targeted, but if I don't say anything then someone will be taken advantaged of.
On the contrary, maybe I do want to speak up about something because I'm excited to celebrate, but if I do they may withdraw because they're needing support in their grief.
It's a fine line to draw. For those of us that have developed personalities to ensure we never upset anyone, it is an easy slippery slope into over-accommodating the needs of others.
The key is to highly value both my needs and the needs of others, and to have a wide lens on who may be impacted.
Is it kind?
Last but not least, I reflect upon whether or not what I have to share is kind.
Am I sharing from a place of dignity and respect? Am I honoring the humanity in everyone involved?
To be clear, kind is not to be mistaken with nice.
I define 'nice' as being inauthentically accommodating as a way to get what I want (which is often to be liked and maintain privilege.)
Kindness is being considerate, compassionate, and generous. It doesn't mean that feelings don't get hurt or that needs don't get met. It doesn't mean not having boundaries or not being protective.
To be kind is to honor and respect everyone's humanity. It's to keep my heart open to all that I do not know.
Tying it All Together
To me, all these questions are basically asking the same thing:
What am I cultivating?
In speaking the truth, I am cultivating peace and liberation. In speaking when it's necessary, I'm cultivating love and connection. In speaking with kindness, I'm cultivating humility and well being.
If my intention is to connect, then I will cultivate empathy and connection. If my intention is to win, then I will cultivate competition and disconnection.
Focus your reflection on just one of these questions to start. It can be overwhelming to try to go down a laundry list in your head every time you think to check in before speaking. Choose one that feel most accessible to you now.
If you tend to under-share, use these check-in questions when you're feeling yourself withhold something out of anxiety. If you tend to over-share, use these check-ins before you enter a conversation if you're already rehearsing all the things you can't wait to share.
Be kind with yourself. I certainly don't follow all of these guidelines all the time! Give yourself time, practice, resources, and compassion.
Teri Lynn Grunthaner is an Expressive Therapist in Lawrence, Kansas. She works with people who long to co-create a more beautiful world—where respect, compassion, and authenticity hold the center our lives revolve around. Visit her at www.radical-hearts.com.