by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
Communication is central to human existence. With communication we can create and strengthen relationships, share feelings, communicate ideas, instruct, guide, and educate.
But effective communication also includes having "tough conversations". A tough conversation is telling someone when we are upset or even angry in an effective and respectful way that we will be listened to. A difficult conversation is telling an employee or an employer that they are not performing properly, to point out to a friend that they offended us or to share with our spouse what is really bothering us.
Many of us avoid difficult conversations because we are afraid of the outcome. We worry that 'it will come out wrong' and strain the relationship even more. We are scared to offend and are fearful of rejection. So we choose to keep it in, hoping that eventually we will get over it and things will work out. In many cases this turns out to be a serious error.
When talking about interpersonal obligations the Torah states: "Do not resent your brother in your heart". What does the Torah mean with "in your heart"? Would it not be sufficient to say: "do not resent your brother"?
Our sages explain that in this verse lies a fundamental message for good relationships and effective communication. The worst thing a person can do is to harbor feelings of hate, anger or resentment in his/her heart by keeping them in. When someone has wronged us and we feel upset but don't share it, two things happen:
a) We breed negativity by hosting anger or feelings of hate. Instead of being positive, happy and optimistic we end up cultivating and nurturing feelings of negativity.
b) Eventually these feelings explode and are communicated ineffectively and aggressively with undesirable consequences.
Keeping hatred in our heart is not an option. If someone has caused us to be angry or upset we only have two options:
a) Letting it go - This means removing these feelings quickly and completely from inside of us. This is accomplished reflecting on what took place and concluding that it does bother us at all, was misunderstood or is so minimal that it does not warrant these feelings altogether.
b) Communication - If these feelings won't go away then we need to find a way of communicating our emotions respectfully and effectively without aggression or anger. Verbalizing our feelings appropriately removes them from the heart and transforms the emotion from a negative feeling into a positive tool to strengthen our relationship.
Don't be afraid of the tough conversations. Not having them can only be damaging. Learning to handle them effectively makes us better communicators and brings us closer together.