The Art of Talking Without Talking

While I’m out this week, I’ve lined up some serious ‘guest posters’ this week. Hope you enjoy! I’ve gotten to know Tony Alicea over the last year via blogging and social media. One thing’s for certain: Tony is passionate about helping others discover their identity in life. He lives in south Florida and is engaged to the woman of his dreams. You can find him on Twitter and his blog

Enter The Dragon is one of my favorite martial arts movies of all time. Most people remember the classic fight scene in the room of mirrors with Han. But I’m more a movie quote fanatic so I always find lines that stick out to me and use them in my every day conversations.

In one scene, Bruce Lee is on a boat with another guy who is being a bully. He gets in Lee’s face and says “What’s your style?” Lee replies, “My style? You can call it the art of fighting without fighting.” He then proceeds to trick the guy into getting in a dinghy and doesn’t get in with him. The guy has to float behind the boat holding on to a rope for the rest of the trip.

Fighting without fighting. I love that line. I love that style. So much so that I incorporate it into my communication style.

Photo credit: John/mtsofan (Creative Commons)

Historically I have not been a very good communicator. I always had trouble expressing myself in words. From a young age, I always deferred to the written page as my outlet. Passing notes in school was always better than face to face conversations. If you ever got any kind of greeting card from me, you would feel special. Words just always flowed freely on the page. Out of my mouth? Not so much.

In recent years, I’ve grown tremendously in my ability to communicate. I talk much more than I used to. So much so that I began to feel like I was becoming a really good communicator.

I can talk about my day, I can talk about my job, I can talk about God (sometimes you have to shut me up on that subject). I don’t have a problem communicating the what. My problem is and always has been the why.

I’m not even married yet and I’m already learning a lot about myself. My fiancé is, in fact, a great communicator. She’s also a great teacher.

The other day as we were talking, she was expressing how important it is for her to get to know me. Through our discussion, I began to realize that you can know a lot about someone without really knowing them at all.

She helped me understand why it was important to share the why. The what isn’t who I am. The why is who I am.

Even if I could tell her that something made me happy or sad, if I didn’t tell her why, the situation was simply a symptom.

After digging a little deeper, I realized that I internalize my emotions because I have never felt that I’ve been given permission to express them. I was always afraid that if people really knew how I felt, I would upset or disappoint them. And then they would leave.

So everything becomes “fine”.

How was your day? Fine
How do you feel about this? It’s fine.
Are you upset? No, it’s fine.
I’m so sorry that I did. It’s fine, don’t worry about it.

Everything is fine. Just don’t get upset. Just don’t leave me.

And there it is.

It was a difficult thing to discover about myself. Especially just as I started to feel good about being a good communicator. But it was important because she told me something that was key. This is a bit of a paraphrase but she said, “I can handle you not being fine.”

Without even knowing it, that was exactly what I needed to hear. I needed permission to share not only the what but the why. I realized that effective communication isn’t just sharing what you think someone wants to hear, but sharing your heart fully.

I’ll end with another quote from Enter The Dragon, courtesy of Roper:

“Would you look at that? A woman like that could teach you a lot about yourself.”

::

How well do you communicate the “why” in your relationships?

44 Comments

  • Jim F

    September 7, 2011

    I can communicate well with my kids and others but sometimes with my wife it is bit more difficult – the reason – I do not want to look weak to her. Funny thing is that if I have learned that to her it is not looking weak but it is truly communication and love – she does not see it as weakness at all. It is one of those areas that I have grown in but I still have a long way to go.

    Reply
    • Tony J. Alicea

      September 7, 2011

      I actually had that very conversation with Katie. Part of it was not wanting to look weak but part of it was also not trusting her to be strong enough to handle it. I realized that I was judging her ability to handle my feelings without giving her the opportunity to handle them in the first place. I realized that I do that a lot actually.

      I can imagine you feel the same way in a pastoral role.

      Reply
  • Michael

    September 7, 2011

    In the past I’ve done a sucky job. But this is something I’ve been very intentional about doing over the course of the last 3 years. Our marriage has greatly benefited from it.

    Reply
    • Tony J. Alicea

      September 7, 2011

      That’s awesome, man. I’ve already seen progress in the fact that it is out in the open and being discussed.

      Reply
  • Mildred

    September 7, 2011

    That was a very nice post. I have that same communication problem that you have. Mine might have been worse. When I talk to someone, especially if he’s someone I look up to dearly, words would just suddenly succumb deep into my thoughts leaving my mouth dry. I often double think what is proper or what is the best thing to say to this kind of person in certain situations. You see, most of the time, instead of making a conversation, I do a performance wherein I try to measure the words I use for self-appraisal or to hide shameful truths. Performing requires double effort plus it does me no good. Most often, I keep my feelings to myself and just say the ‘what’ and omit the ‘why’. After such conversation, my heart doesn’t feel fulfilled. It feels burdened even more. Perhaps the reason why in my usual conversation with people dead air moments always intrude is because naturally I am more passionate with the ‘why’ that I’m trying to hide than the ‘what’.. In my performance, I endeavor to transfer my passion to the what but it’s just not enough. Never enough.

    Reply
    • Tony J. Alicea

      September 7, 2011

      “Performing requires double effort”

      Wow, that’s so true Mildred! I can definitely relate to that! Especially about my heart not being fulfilled.

      Thank you for sharing this.

      Reply
    • Dustin

      September 13, 2011

      well said, Mildred – and performing can be so exhausting.

      Reply
  • arny

    September 7, 2011

    I’m a pretty good communicator…i have to be…i’m a teacher of God’s word! LOL…

    but when it comes to my personal socialbility skillz…i don’t killzzz! except with my wife…

    What i’m trying to say is…i don’t make friends really easily…

    I don’t talk much if I don’t know you…

    I’m the guy that just looks around and doesn’t say a word in any line…while other people talk up a storm like an old aunt or uncle…and talk about all sorts of things waiting in a bank line!

    Not me.

    i don’t talk about how annoyed I am…or how I don’t like that political figure, or I how really like the weather…or this or that…or I like that shirt on you…or i like what they did with the floors….nothing….nothing…

    I need to work on that…lol…

    Great post Tony…

    Reply
    • Tony J. Alicea

      September 7, 2011

      Thanks man. I’m learning a lot of freedom that I’ve never had before. I’m finding that my thoughts, important or (seemingly) insignificant), matter. That’s a big deal for me.

      Reply
  • Jason Wert

    September 7, 2011

    I’m really good at communicating the why because the lack of that in my first marriage is one of the things that doomed it. You learn from mistakes.

    Reply
  • Cathy

    September 7, 2011

    Hmmm…I’m not sure I do “why” very well. Something to think about.

    I communicate better than I used to, but when it comes to conflict, my flight instinct still kicks in (especially with anyone other than my hubby.)

    I still communicate better on paper. Sometimes Dan and I will send each other emails, if we really want to get our thoughts out. Lame, but for us it works better than arguing. Sometimes.

    Reply
    • Tony J. Alicea

      September 7, 2011

      My flight instinct is pretty fierce. I’m in the process of unlearning it. I’ve never been permission to share my feelings before. My whole life has been about obedience and not rocking the boat.

      It’s a whole new world for me but Katie makes it a safe place and that makes all the difference.

      Reply
    • Dustin

      September 13, 2011

      My wife and I have had a journal we’ve passed back and forth in the past – I agree with you in that sometimes it’s just easier to write down thoughts….

      Reply
  • Moe

    September 7, 2011

    I’m a terrible communicator. I throw gang signs while I talk. :)

    I’m a decent communicator. I don’t like to wear my emotions in my sleeve though. You have to earn that trust. I don’t give that to just anyone. Earn it and I’ll weep in your shoulder… boogers and all.

    Reply
    • arny

      September 7, 2011

      I always knew you were a gansta Moe!

      Reply
    • Tony J. Alicea

      September 7, 2011

      It’s funny because I’ve always been the opposite. I wear my emotions on my sleeve, but I would never share them with anybody.

      If I’m upset, angry, frustrated, happy, etc you can always tell immediately. But it’s like pulling teeth to get me to share the whys.

      I’m getting better though! You’ll have a snot-filled shirt by the time we have our meet-up!

      Reply
      • Moe

        September 7, 2011

        Word up. I’ll wear a bib!

        Reply
    • Keri

      September 7, 2011

      The only emotion I care to wear on my sleeve is happiness. I don’t want people to ask about the real me, because that means I have to be vulnerable, let my walls down, and take a chance at getting hurt or even worse, appear unintelligent. :(

      Reply
  • Loren Pinilis

    September 7, 2011

    Enter the Dragon rocks.
    It’s so easy to live together and just to be like two ships passing in the night. But as time has gone on, my wife and I have grown more and more open and vulnerable about what’s really going on in our hearts. I look forward to growing even closer together as time goes on. Congrats on the upcoming marriage!

    Reply
    • Tony J. Alicea

      September 7, 2011

      It’s one of the greatest martial arts movies of all time!

      And thanks, man. I’m looking forward to it too.

      Reply
  • HopefulLeigh

    September 7, 2011

    That’s a huge revelation about yourself, Tony! Wow. And how great that you figured this out now. Knowing and communicating the why is crucial for any depth to occur. I tend to process internally and then share but I’ve been pushing myself to share along the way instead of once I’ve “figured myself out.” It’s good for me and it’s good for my relationships.

    Reply
    • Tony J. Alicea

      September 7, 2011

      An exercise I’m trying is to ask myself why I feel a certain way. I have no problem talking about a situation but I’ve never learned to ask myself why. As in, what is the root of this reaction?

      It sounds simple but it’s been huge for me.

      Reply
  • Nikki

    September 7, 2011

    Everything is fine. Just don’t get upset. Just don’t leave me.

    And there it is.

    Yes! And thank you for sharing. :o) The hard part…finding the safe place with someone who is okay with my not being fine. And vice versa. R.I.S.K.Y. But worth it.

    Reply
    • Tony J. Alicea

      September 7, 2011

      YES! For me it’s not just been the safe place, but someone pursuing me and showing me day in and day out that they are truly a safe place.

      Many times I’ve just stayed back waiting for someone to mess up and then say to myself, “See, they really can’t handle it.” It was crazy to step back and see how much I’ve done that.

      Reply
    • Dustin

      September 13, 2011

      Agreed Nikki – those three brief sentences can sum up my communication at times as well. Thank you, Tony for sharing your thoughts behind it all.

      Reply
  • Keri

    September 7, 2011

    I just had a very similar convo with my bff a few weeks ago. I hadn’t seen her in awhile and she came up to visit and I just verbally vomitted all over her all of the things in life I wasn’t happy about or frustrated with. I was a total kill-joy. That evening I asked myself why I had dumped all of my crap on her. I realized I had been holding in my true feelings about so many things for so long. There are really only 2 people in my life (hubs and bff) that I trust with my real heart. They are the only ones who I feel like I can I be really real with and not risk losing the relationship or being looked down upon. We talked about that together and I realized that I had never really learned how to openly and honestly communicate the hard things. Happiness, love, encouragement, even constructive criticism-those things I can communicate. But, hurt, anger, disappointment, fear, grief? I don’t know how to communicate those things. I have an intense fear that if I do communicate them, I’ll lose the relationship and lose the sense of approval I gain from having that relationship. I’m working on it, but it’s not easy, at all. Compound that with some of the “Christian” guilt I often have just for feeling “sad” or “upset” or “offended”, and it makes for a good wound for the Devil to pour salt into.

    Reply
    • Tony J. Alicea

      September 7, 2011

      Yup, that’s me to the tee.

      Something else that Katie was showing me is that I can’t be responsible for someone else’s reaction to my feelings. She told me that she couldn’t promise that she would take everything I say with a smile but that it didn’t mean that my feelings weren’t allowed to be expressed.

      Sometimes I want to control someone else’s response so I spend time trying to say the right things or say them with the perfect tact. Sometimes you just have to let it out and so you can deal with the real stuff. Otherwise, you’re just masking it and nothing ever gets dealt with.

      Ugh, relationships are NOT comfortable! Especially for control freaks! :)

      Reply
  • Ryan

    September 7, 2011

    Great post. I’ve gotten sucked into the talk too much trap when trying to convince someone of something. I like the idea of Talking without Talking.

    I also struggle with being fake around the people I need to be real with. I recently read “Enemies of the Heart” from Andy Stanley and it really convinced me to share what’s going on in my life more. The book mentions the fact that if we really accept that Jesus gave his life for us, we shouldn’t be scared to tackle our struggles with others. Pride is overrated.

    Reply
    • Tony J. Alicea

      September 7, 2011

      No kidding. Pride sucks.

      Even though I try to be real as much as possible, you can still be fake by withholding truth. Kinda like in the same way that withholding information can still be a lie. I think of it the same way in relationship communication. If you’re not sharing the “why”, you’re being fake. That’s not easy for me to hear!

      Reply
  • Jason Vana

    September 7, 2011

    I’m more like you, Tony. It’s easy for me to communicate in writing, I can communicate through speaking about topics, but to share my emotions…yea, not so much. Kinda stems from the same issues as you – I’ve always been worried that if I’m not fine, people will leave.

    But the closer I have gotten to God, the better I am getting at it. Great post man!

    Reply
    • Tony J. Alicea

      September 7, 2011

      Yeah, so much of this comes back to identity for me. The more secure I am in who He says I am, the easier it is for me to be vulnerable. I have more confidence that people won’t leave if they really know who I am and what I’m feeling.

      Reply
  • Jon

    September 7, 2011

    I’m an okay communicator, but I often feed of the other person. So it can be good or awkward. As far as the why , I’ve always been good with listening to others and hearing them out, but when it’s my turn it definitely is a struggle. I’ve gotten better, but I’m really good at sweeping things under the rug and sugarcoating things. I’ve definitely had to work on that.

    Reply
    • Tony J. Alicea

      September 7, 2011

      I’ve always been terrified of confrontation so sugarcoated sweetness has definitely been my vice!

      Reply
  • jennifer

    September 7, 2011

    wonderful and thought provoking… thank you so much!!!

    Reply
  • Justin

    September 7, 2011

    dude…what a huge blessing that you guys are having this discussion now…instead of 5-10 years from now. I’m excited to see how you both grow in your relationship because of the honesty that’s being communicated now. You two are like wise little pre-marriage Buddhas.

    Reply
  • Rob Shepherd

    September 7, 2011

    I communicate for a living and yet I suck at communicating with the people I love. My emotions get involved too easy. Thanks for this post!

    Reply
    • Tony J. Alicea

      September 8, 2011

      That’s one of the trickiest things, though. As I’ve gotten better communicating the “what”, I feel it is sufficient and that the “why” just complicates things. But the “why” is the root of everything.

      Reply
    • Dustin

      September 13, 2011

      Yikes, so true – sometimes communicating with the ones we love can be the most difficult. Me=Selfish.

      Reply
  • Heather Murdock

    September 12, 2011

    People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Getting to the bottom of our why’s is where we will find our hearts. Nothing better than heart to heart communication! Sounds like you have an amazing and wise fiance.

    Behind every great man is a great woman telling him what to do! ;)

    Thank you Tony, for sharing your heart today!

    Reply
  • Cindy Holman

    September 13, 2011

    This is great Tony. So many people hide behind the “what” instead of the “why” about themselves. I”m usually never satisfied with the “what” and always dig for the “why” from people – and for some reason – they usually tell me! I’m glad for this – but sometimes it makes me sad too – because my tendency is to “help” and to “encourage” and “empathize” – 3 things that have been known to get me into trouble. A lot of trouble. I don’t even look for it sometimes – it finds me. But thankfully – I’m getter wiser and better at making choices to engage only so far with hurting people – pray for them and then release them to others who are more equipped and handle it easier than I do. I feel like if I am validated from someone when I am sharing it is a true bonding moment – as so many, even ones in my own family are not so positive or validating. It is a rare and beautiful gift we give others to give of ourselves and be a true encouragement while they are telling us their true self. It should never be taken for granted or misused.

    Reply

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