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Before I became a communication expert. Before I interviewed dozens of industry experts on the subject. Before I could be completely confident in the face of any social situation… there was a conflict avoider.
Eager to please.
Doing anything in his power to avoid unpleasant conversations.
And for the few times conflict was inevitable… Let's just say it wasn’t handled very well.
My girlfriend (now my wife), Laura and I had dreamed of living the #vanlife for years. So we worked really hard, saved our money, quit our jobs and headed out on what was to be the vacation of a lifetime.
Or so we thought....
When we left on our trip, we had a strong relationship with the occasional argument; we hadn’t come up against anything that had us worried about living in a tiny space together.
The peace lasted for about 2 days.
The reality of vanlife is very different from what you see on Instagram. Picture two grown adults living in a space smaller than your average 2-person jail cell. Before we knew it, we were getting all up in each other’s personal space and neither of us were having any of it.
This experience was a genuine shock to me. I am generally so easy to get along with. I’m so friendly and most people like my company, especially my girlfriend. How is it that these breakdowns were happening and with such frequency?
I KNEW something had to be done. The problem was -- I didn’t know what the solution was. It felt like there was something missing from our relationship. I wanted a better connection with my partner, especially in difficult moments.
We found ourselves arguing and bickering with each other more than ever before. The number of nagging, passive aggressive comments and sarcastic remarks increased. Our helplessness and unhappiness grew.
We were cooking lunch in our little kitchen. I was seated at the table and she was overseeing the cooking of vegetables. I looked over to her and said, “Hey, can you pass me a potato when you get a chance?” “Hold on, I’m doing something!” she growled back. I was startled. I managed to shake off my shock after a few seconds and say, “OK wait a minute. What was that?”
I’m fortunate that Laura had also noticed her off-putting reaction to me. Rather than snap back, she responded, “I don’t know.” In that magical moment, we began to break down the situation, step-by-step, to determine what had happened to have that situation go down like it did.
Was it something I did? Was it something she said?
We came to the realization that we both interpreted the situation differently… and it was due to our past upbringing. Laura had grown up as an only child in a single parent household. Patience was the name of the game. Ask politely and wait your turn. I on the other hand grew up in a single-parent household with two other siblings. The game we played was for who could get who’s attention first. There wasn’t any waiting of any sort.
When Laura heard me ask for something, what she heard was, “Stop what you're doing immediately and pay attention to my request.” What I meant was, “When you have a moment, please pay attention to my request.”
That is why our clash happened.
We agreed that, moving forward, I would take on the habit of saying, “When you have a moment.” She, on the other hand, would support me by being patient as I took on this new habit, kindly checking in if I had forgotten to say it.
It worked. After a mere few weeks, a regular part of my non-urgent requests had this new saying. The conflict had completely vanished. I knew at that moment that I was onto something big, but I didn’t know what it was yet.
Funny side note: I still have that habit of saying, “When you have a moment” to this day...
Along our trip, I met a guy who seemed to have his head in the right place. He was well spoken and had an amazing ability to get along with others. I told him about the issue I dealt with. He showed me some books of the communication systems he uses and offered to practice them with me. Once I got a hold of things, I tried it out in my relationship. It worked wonders! Even the smallest occasion for a possible argument was immediately handled with ease and grace.
So, I started adopting different communication systems and trying them out in my relationship. I took the risk of looking stupid, of failing, and of upsetting her. I decided to be vulnerable and started to try out these systems -- because the risk of looking bad had become less troubling than the risk of having a relationship that was “good enough”.
Fast forward to now, Laura and I have an incredible relationship. We have never been more connected and more in love. Like any couple, we experience the occasional breakdown. But they are handled quickly and easily. Being in a relationship with each other feels truly extraordinary.
But it didn't stop there.
I began to feel more connected to everyone in my life including friends and family. My business relationships improved too - I found that I could handle the most challenging of situations, regardless of the circumstances. Best of all, I started seeing the impact of these communication skills with the person I talked to the most - myself.
The confidence I gained from working on my communication skills has been the single greatest impact I've experienced. I experience less fear, uncertainty and doubt than ever before, which allows me to continuously take actions and drive my business (and my life) forward.
I’m a normal guy. I wasn’t born with any special sort of talent for communication or relationships. I got into the same arguments and fights that everyone else did.
And I always thought I was great at communicating… until I started putting in the work. That’s the hard part of improving your communication skills—it takes work. But this isn’t rocket science. It’s not impossible. It takes practice, patience and persistence.
The gains I made were incredible. My transformed relationship with my wife AND everyone else had a direct impact on the quality of my life. My ability to transform any conflict has me feeling unstoppable in life. I am so grateful for what I have learned and now I am out to share it with the world.
Jonathan Miller has spent hundreds of hours in deliberate communication practice and stretching himself outside of his comfort zone. He is a former program leader at Landmark Worldwide and is in the process of becoming a Certified Professional Coach through Erickson Coaching International. He has done extensive training in Nonviolent Communication and is also a dedicated Vipassana meditation practitioner, having spent well over 2,000 hours meditating in the past few years. His coaching style is rigorous, compassionate and highly action-oriented.LET'S WORK TOGETHER