Jyoti Paintel-Bowles Spirituality Contributor If we can assume that there is some truth to the quote above, it would appear we must learn to express ourselves properly if we want to experience real joy in life. We must be able to build bridges of communication because these bridges become our connections to happiness. Communication is at the heart of every meaningful interaction that humans have, but many of us struggle with the ability to speak freely. Authentic communication demands courage, skill, determination and a lot of practice. Real communication requires you to be honest with yourself, because that’s where the connection begins. If miscommunication is a common theme in your life, then the comforting news is that you’re experiencing a frustration felt by many people. The first thing you can do toward a solution is to start a healthy but gentle conversation with your “inner self.” Chances are, you might not be communicating with yourself in a way that makes it easy to speak to others. It is more than okay to admit that you might need to work on improving the way you communicate. Instead of seeing this process as self-improvement, see it as self-acceptance. Don’t waste this opportunity. Acknowledge that you want to take action to create a better experience for yourself. While researching for this column, I wanted to give practical and holistic strategies to become better communicators. There isn’t any one certain or surefire way to get to a place where we can speak with confidence and grace. There wouldn’t be hundreds of books, courses and other self-help material out there if there were, but I can give you some tips on how to be fully engaged and assertive when you speak to others. Step One in Authentic Communication: Listening Our intent is often expressed without saying a word. Peter Drucker, who was widely famous in American business history for being a thought leader and as “the man who created management” wrote, “the most important thing in communication is hearing what is not being said.” Make sure you demonstrate your interest in what the other person are saying by not appearing distracted. The simple act of sustained eye contact shows sincerity and makes others feel like they are being seen and heard. It is tempting to keep our phones readily in our hands, but try to resist fiddling with your phone when talking to people, whether they are strangers or best friends. Letting a person know that they are important creates a safe place for them to speak to you. Dale Carnegie famously wrote, “You can get more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years trying to get people interested in you.” Don’t slouch or appear bored or tired when listening. Poor body language won’t work in a professional environment, but it is also important to avoid poor posture in our daily interactions because we might be viewed as unapproachable or rude. It is not necessary to mirror behavior, however, be cognizant of vocal volume, and try to match your levels. If someone is discussing something sensitive, show your trustworthiness and compassion by giving your full attention, lowering your voice and also by making gestures to encourage them, like nodding or smiling. Timing is everything when being a good listener, use your judgment as to when is the best time to comment. Don’t interrupt the person. If you are already formulating a response before someone has finished talking, chances are you aren’t listening. Wait a few moments to let your thoughts and feelings “gel” before you pipe in, and if possible, resist the urge to always have a “response.” Step Two in Authentic Communication: Saying Your Piece Are you clear about what you need or are you leaving it to assumption? Now that it is your turn to talk, make sure you know what is in your heart. It might sound like a cliché, but the truth is many of us have a hard time speaking directly. Instead, we dance around the topic, or leave subtle clues and expect others to simply read our hearts or minds, and then we sulk or mope when we feel misunderstood; this might have worked with our parents while we were children, but as adults, this unpleasant behavior can cause others to turn away from us. One simple fact about authentic communication is that we cannot just hope that others will interpret what we need, instead, we must be completely direct about it. Another important thing to remember is that we all go through changes that others cannot perceive. It is okay to want something different than what you wanted six months, or even six minutes ago, but make sure that you let others know if the change impacts them. Step Three in Authentic Communication: Ask Yourself, Have You Received Without Guilt or Insecurity? The following question nicely complements the one above; do you find yourself feeling guilty for wanting or asking for something? This guilt creates a counterproductive situation because we then become scared to ask; we don’t want to receive, and those around us don’t want to give because they’ll know we’ll feel terrible for asking. Sometimes we feel like we need to “repay” someone for the love and support they’ve given us, and that becomes a weird competitive or this-for-that exchange. You don’t want to be worried that every time someone gives you something, you’ll have to pay them back or that you’re unintentionally placing a “debt” on them every time you provide them something. If you’re in relationships with the right people, giving and receiving is a win-win scenario instead of a win-lose scenario. This might be a good time to examine your relationships and what feelings they evoke in you. True friendship isn’t about keeping tabs on who did what, so stick to friends that reciprocate generosity and make you feel appreciated no matter what you can or cannot bring to the situation.