Communication Breakdown

Why a Language Barrier Can Improve Communication

In my last long term relationship, it took years for me to feel like we had solid communication. Even after that experience, I've found that most of my conflicts in relationships have been based on communication issues.

Last year I met this awesome dyslexic German dude with a bad phone. As you can imagine, our first few weeks of text communication was a little dicey. The new phone helped, but more importantly I learned to decipher his messages.

You'd think that being in a relationship with someone whose first language is not your own would make communication more difficult, but I would actually argue the opposite.

One tool that I believe helps improve our communication is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. These four things can be very challenging to do at times, but we are much happier when we do them.

Here are some reasons that speaking different primary languages can help meet the four agreements, along with some considerations when we both speak the same language.

1. Be Impeccable with your Word

When speaking a second language, everything you say requires a bit more thought. If you are speaking to that person, you need to consider how to best phrase it in a way that they will understand. If it is not understood the first time, you may get creative in explaining yourself or think of better words to use.

When speaking with our language peers, we can use this idea by pausing to think through what we say before we speak.

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally

The other day I finally made a dish I had been talking about for ages. When he tried it, my Guy said something like, "it's good, you should try this thing I make..."  This immediately rubbed me the wrong way because the tone he used implied, to me, that he only thought it was OK, and what he had to make was better. I brought this up to him and realized that the tone was a language thing, and he really did enjoy it.

Even when there is no language barrier, we can take things people say personally. Next time someone says something that bugs you, ask for clarification. If you can understand where they are coming from, it is easier to take things less personally.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions

This goes along with what I said about taking things personally.  Another way we make assumptions is when we say things in short hand, assuming the other person will get our meaning. This does not always work when that person is not native to the same language.  We have to step back and be clear with our intentions.

Sometimes I start a conversation with someone midway through the conversation I was having in my head.  I have to step back and remember that the other person may not see things the way I do.

4. Always Do Your Best

If you trust each other to always do your best and have the other person's best interest at heart, you can move through a lot of communication barriers.

You can do this whether you have the same first language or not.

So, the next time you come across some challenging communication, try to remember to step back and think so that you can be impeccable with your words, not take anything personally, not make assumptions and always do your best!

Go Ahead and Judge Me

When I was a kid, I met a girl at church who immediately rubbed me the wrong way. Because of this, I went out of my way to be nice to her and get to know her better. In the end, we became close friends.  I don't know what it is that sets me off right away with some people, but I suspect it has something to do with them working to get comfortable in their own skin.

Last week, my Guy and a close friend were talking about how I was one of the most accepting people they know. He once said that the problem he'd had in other relationships was that there was always something about him they didn't accept, but I "accept the shit" out of him. I value that everyone has their own personal experiences that brought them to where they are now, which helps me to be pretty accepting.

The thing is though, I still beat myself up for judging people.

That person who spends an hour on hair and makeup everyday is not someone I can relate too. That person who posts constant streams of extremely positive posts, must be overcompensating for something. That person who has all their shit together is way out of my league.

But then I look closer and see... That person with the hair and makeup has a ginormous heart! Those positive posts can turn my day around at exactly the right time. That person may look to me like they have their shit together, but they don't really believe it and could really use a friend who does.

To judge is human; to accept, divine.

Judgement is a tool we use to make sense of the world around us. It's when we get stuck on our judgements and can't see past them that problems arise. Only when we accept people without trying to change them, can we truly see what's beyond the surface. This can be a very challenging thing to do. Though I try, I know that I'm not always successful at it.

A dear friend of mine from college was not always such a dear friend. For whatever reason, we didn't connect at first. I believe she thought I was judging her, and honestly she was right. There was something in her free exuberant nature that felt to me as "too much." Perhaps it was because there was part of myself I was trying to hold back. It wasn't until I fully accepted her that I truly saw her for the amazing and wonderful person that she is!

Part of acceptance is connecting with empathy. Making an attempt to understand where the other person is coming from can go a long way. This involves thinking about how that person might be feeling, and what they might be needing. When we see through the lens of common feelings and needs, we can observe more clearly and objectively.

"If you can see, look. If you can look, observe"*

A judgment is a thought about a situation. It goes beyond the who, what and when and gets into the how and why? It also tends to classify things into either good or bad. Our years of life predispose us to think of things in a certain way and come to conclusions based on past experience.

An observation, on the other hand, is a clear view of just the facts. Do you know how hard that is to do? I mean, really it is quite simple, but we rarely do it in isolation. Our observations are so often mixed up with our thoughts and feelings on the matter that the picture becomes muddy.

We often mistake thoughts for observations.  For example, you might say "you never want to do anything I want to do," instead of "the last three times I asked to go dancing, you said no."

It is also possible to mistake observations for judgements. If you say, "the last three times I asked to go dancing, you said no," your partner might use past experience and hear, "you never want to do anything I want to do."

Because I am very outspoken and honest, I've had my observations interpreted as judgements. I've been accused of lacking a filter because I so often say what is on my mind.  What people don't realize though is that I do have a filter, it's just very different from the majority of people in this country.  Fortunately, my European boyfriend is more blunt and honest than I am. What I try not to share are hurtful thoughts that the other person can't do anything about. These thoughts are rare, but when they come, I figure the issue is usually with me, not them.  Once I accept that, I can usually move past it. I'm fortunate to have a tight-knit group of honest friends. It feels good to know that if I do something to offend them, they will let me know in an empathetic way.

I've noticed that when people feel judged or not accepted, they automatically shut down and tend not to hear anything you have to say even when relevant. I find it best to work through my own judgements of a situation as best I can before bringing it up to the other person.  I can't always do that completely, but if I can approach the issue from a place of seeking understanding, I find things tend to go much smoother.

The next time you feel yourself judging and start to beat yourself up about it, take a step back. Accept your feelings and try to accept the other person right where they are at. Perhaps you can see past your judgement to observe with empathy. That is when you can communicate in an effective manner.

Your turn, tell me about a time when judgement either helped you or got in your way?

*from the Book of Exhortations as the epigram to Blindness.

Photos courtesy of Guy Holtzman Photography

The Gift of Love

I LOVE to give meaningful gifts - so much so that if I find the perfect gift, I never want to wait until the next appropriate gift giving occasion.

That said, I HATE getting gifts just for the sake of getting gifts.  If I don't have the time to find something meaningful, I often forget or go for a gift certificate because then they can find something useful.

So how to we find meaningful gifts that don't cost lots of money? 

I recently posted the question to my Facebook group, League of Excitable Women, "What would be the best gift someone could give you that doesn't cost money?"

Always a source of helpful information, Stacie Forbes of the e-Research Boutique, said, "Depends on the recipient. I like the 5 love languages, so: (1) love language = physical touch, then hugs or massage; (2) love language = quality time, then time and undivided attention; (3) love language = gifts, then hand written letter or home-made item; (4) love language = words of affirmation, then a recorded message or note of all the reasons you love the person; and (5) love language = acts of service, then home cooked dinner, laundry, or babysit."

I had heard of the 5 Love Languages, but never really looked deeply into them.  Turns out my highest language is in acts of services and my lowest is in receiving gifts.  No wonder I'm not big on giving gifts just for the sake of giving them because they are expected.  Among my Excitable friends, things involving quality time were the most popular.

Here are some ideas you might consider:

Acts of Service

  • An invitation to a home cooked dinner
  • Help clean the house
  • Clean and fold laundry
  • Offer to babysit
  • Offer to run errands

Quality Time

A one on one coffee/tea date with no distractions, where we really listen to each other. And laugh a LOT

  • Going on a walk or hike to spend quality time with them
  • Come and sit and talk at me while I clean. For some reason I can mega clean if someone it talking to me while I do it
  • Sitting up and talking until all hours
  • A field trip to somewhere where I can pet puppies

Physical Touch,

  • A hug
  • A massage
  • Some cuddle time
  • Scratching my back
  • Playing with my hair

Words of Affirmation

  • Expressions of love
  • A recorded message
  • A note of all the reasons you love the person
  • Expressions of gratitude
  • Appreciating their quirks

Receiving Gifts

  • A hand written letter
  • A home made container garden, full of succulents from their garden
  • Passing along a much loved book
  • A hand made gift
  • Materials for a recycled art project

Photos courtesy of Guy Holtzman Photography (except the one he's in above).

Are you an introvert, extrovert or ambivert?

A few months ago I noticed a theme of introvert vs. extrovert posts running around social media.  In my opinion many of them seemed polarizing and reinforcing of generalizations and false assumptions of whichever temperament the author was not.  In the last week I noticed a different theme - what if you're both?  I was gearing up to write about this topic today when a post came up using the term ambivert, which it turns out, is exactly that quality of being somewhere in the middle, or both.

For my purposes, I see introversion vs. extroversion as a function of where you are most likely to feel energized - alone or with other people.  Based on that definition alone, I am an extrovert.

That said, I hate crowds, would much rather go to a small party of intimate friends than a big one with strangers, and am easily drained by people who's energy feels somehow "off" to me because I am a Highly Sensitive Person and have empathic tendencies.    I can also get recharged by quiet walks in nature and a nice long bath.

Most people see introversion and extroversion as a spectrum, in which case ambiversion would fall squarely in the middle.  I personally see that you can have qualities of both.

- Perhaps you gain energy sharing your passion with others, but feel drained by small talk with strangers.

- Perhaps you enjoy social contact but are easily overstimulated.

- Perhaps you love the energy at parties but would rather observe than participate.

- Perhaps you are more one temperament, but have learned to look like the other.

- Perhaps it just depends on the day...

So what do you identify with most, introvert, extrovert or ambivert?  Or do you identify with something else altogether?

Photos by Guy Holtzman Photography on Instagram.

A Special Kind of Brilliance

A few years ago when my sister was talking about the benefits of breastfeeding and how our mom managed it longer with me, she said, “maybe that’s why you’re smarter than me.”  This was a very weird thing to hear from my older sister.

I was placed in a gifted program in school, but I was identified late and was almost kicked out for underachievement.  At this point I was a little resentful of the high achievers in my class.  Of course, as an adult, I’ve come to realize that hard work will get you much farther than some idealized notion of potential.

I believe that people tend to think of intelligence in two ways: achievement and IQ.  Having extensively tested both for the last 12 years, I can say that there is so much more to it than that.  How well someone tests and performs in school is just one small part of a very large picture.

If we put too much emphasis on achievement, then brilliant kids who underachieve will think they are dumb.  If we put too much stock in IQ, then they never learn the value of hard work and often fail to meet their own potential.

I went on to pursue a degree in psychology and eventually school psychology and settled down into a steady full-time job for over a decade.  I felt lucky to find something I was good at that brought in a steady paycheck.  I’ve done my job pretty well, but there is very little in it that one might call remarkable.

That brings me back to my sister, who has a special kind of brilliance.  Like me, she was able to skate through advanced classes in school with minimal efforts for Bs.  We both dropped out of our first colleges when we finally met with some challenge or unclear expectations.  She was clearly bright but never really stood out in school for outstanding achievement or divergent thinking.  We are both highly excitable in our own ways, but her imaginational excitability is the strongest while that area tends to be my area of least excitability.

Scoobie Blanket

The fruits of her genius started a couple of years ago when her son had a Scooby Doo themed birthday party.  Now you might think a few store-bought decorations would do the trick, but not for my sister!  We all dressed as the characters and there was a mystery to solve, of course.  Little did she know that this party would unleash her brilliance onto the world!

She decided that what the party needed was a near life-sized crochet blanket of the Mystery Machine.  No problem right?  She could whip that up in no time.  Only how does one create a detailed image like that in crochet?  Well, there are ways but they look messy in the back, so she decided to create her own technique.

She has since gone on to win several awards with her work and signed a book deal.  She is now the author of Reversible Color Crochet, which presents a never-before-published technique for creating images in crochet that are completely reversible.

How many people in our lifetime can say that they developed a marketable craft technique that’s never been done before?  Not many I’d venture to say.

So when my sister said I was smarter than she is, she was really looking at what society tells us is “smart,” but honestly I am in awe at the capability of her creative mind!  I think we should remember that we need to foster people’s strengths and not focus on comparison.  We all have something valuable to share, and if we focus too much on any one trait as the most valuable, we risk losing sight of the brilliance that lies beneath.

You can find more of her wonderful crocheted creations and patterns on

Connected Yet Disconnected?

Last weekend I went to a conference on meeting the social emotional needs of the gifted (SENG).  I found it rather funny to observe that in a conference full of self identified outsiders, I still felt like an outsider.  This may surprise some because I am an extrovert and I enjoy social connection immensely, but in the vast majority of settings there is often a small part of me that feels a little on the fringe.

I believe there are two major factors to this.  One, as a highly excitable person I experience the world in a different way than many because my "filters" don't work the same as others.  Not only do I take things in differently, but I also have trouble filtering what comes out.  This makes me wary when in a new setting lest I say too much and turn people off.  I am also picking up cues from other people and I have a hard time shaking the feeling that if something feels "off" it must be about me, though I realize that there could be any number of factors at play that have absolutely nothing to do with me.

The other piece that makes it hard to connect in a group is that I am a multipotentialite, which means that I have multiple potential interests.  Because of this I have trouble relating to any group that focuses on any one aspect of identity.  Consciously I know that most people have varied interests and just because a group gathers around one in particular, doesn't mean that's the only thing they are into.  Still, I tend to find myself drawn to people who don't quite fit in to any one group, or the spouses of group members.

I came to realize about a year ago, that the only groups I felt 100% a part of were groups that I had a hand in developing.  This is not because I don't enjoy groups that already exist, but because I'm never quite sure what other people in a group might think of me.  If I initiate activities and invite people to join, then I can be fairly confident that those people enjoy my company, or at least get something out of it.  This has worked out fairly well for me so far and I have a pretty solid foundation of very supportive friends.

Spirited Connection

If you are highly excitable, it helps greatly to find connection with other excitable or spirited people.  Even if you find just one or two people with whom you feel truly at ease, your chances increase with activities that draw the highly excitable.  Some places where I've found such connections include:

Creative groups - Imaginationally excitable people are drawn to creative activities.  For myself, I've found connection in the theatre community as there are a lot of highly spirited and engaging people involved.

Spiritual groups - I grew up in the Unitarian Universalist church, and it is through that community that I've found my strongest bonds.  It tends to draw an unconventional and intellectual crowd.  There are lots of other groups that gather around a common spiritual theme that don't require organized religion as well.

Fantasy groups - This can be anything from Renaissance fairs to comic or cosplay conventions.  The imaginationally and intellectually excitable are drawn to fantasy activities of all kinds.

Online groups - Though social media does have its troubles, one of the great things I've found about it is that people with vastly specific interests can connect with other people with those same interests.  Recently I found the Puttytribe, which is a forum especially for multipotentialites.

These are just a few groups that come to mind for me.  Where do you find spirited connection?

Photos courtesy of Guy Holtzman Photography