I recently had a great opportunity to review my communication style. An interaction with a loved one had left me very upset and while I waited a few days to calm down, I contemplated how to respond. I knew there was something to be communicated and I knew it needed to come from my authentic self, but how?
I had an incomplete memory of something a friend of mine had said about questions you should ask before saying something. I could only remember: is it true and kind? Googling "communicating true and kind” brought a treasure-trove of information including this amazing breakdown and history of where these questions originally comes from. It turns out what I was looking for was this set of questions:
- Is it true?
- Is it kind?
- Is it necessary?
These are often attributed to either Buddha or Gandhi, but it is in fact from a poem titled “Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?” written in 1872 by Mary Ann Pietzker (see the full poem below).
I took these questions to heart and tried to understand what I needed to communicate, if anything.
My natural tendency is to avoid all such difficult conversations. Throughout this process I had to ask myself what was the purpose of pursuing this particular communication.
I could have said nothing.
I could have just dealt with my own stuff and let the rest go.
Instead, I chose to communicate something I needed to because I cared about the relationship and I wanted to maintain, sustain, and improve that relationship. In the end, I found the necessary truths and expressed them in a way that I thought was helpful and kind.
What this came down to was me communicating my needs to my loved one. I tried to understand what needs I had that should be communicated to them and then figured out the best way to ask for those to be met.
What am I talking about when I say “needs?”
In my definition, “needs” are the things in a relationship which if they aren't satisfied will cause the relationship to break down in some way. In a caring, loving, and thriving relationship, “needs” are something that the partner must accept and do something about unless they are unreasonable. For this reason, it is important not to ask for too many “needs” or too often. We can also make “requests”, “proposals”, and “promises” in relationships, but that is more detail for a later post.
Needs are True. It is important to remember that our needs only exist for us. That does not make them any less true, but they are only true for us. That’s why we have to communicate them! They don’t exist out in the world where our partner or others can see them and respond to them.
It is Kind to express our needs clearly because saying what is authentically true for us helps to maintain harmony in the relationship. This is Kind to the other person, to the relationship itself, and most importantly, to ourselves.
It is Necessary to communicate needs. I think we all understand the consequences of NOT communicating them. They remain unmet. We get resentful. The relationship breaks down.
So while we may sometimes feel like we are asking for too much or being selfish or “needy”, expressing needs in a relationship is actually, in itself, True, Kind, and Necessary.
This is true in any kind of relationship, not just a romantic relationship. Imagine if you could do this with your boss, your co-workers, your children, your friends, your brothers and sisters, and mom and dad! Try it out and see how it goes!
- True: what is true for you? What are the real things that you need?
- Kind: you are being kind to yourself, your partner and the relationship by expressing your needs
- Necessary: without this, the relationship breaks down
"Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?"
by Mary Ann Pietzker
Oh! stay, dear child, one moment stay,
Before a word you speak,
That can do harm in any wayTo the poor, or to the weak;
And never say of any one
What you'd not have said of you,
Ere you ask yourself the question,
"Is the accusation true?”
And if 'tis true, for I suppose
You would not tell a lie;
Before the failings you expose
Of friend or enemy:
Yet even then be careful, very;
Pause, and your words well weigh,
And ask if it be necessary,
What you're about to say.
And should it necessary be,
At least you deem it so,
Yet speak not unadvisedly
Of friend or even foe,
Till in your secret soul you seek
For some excuse to find;
And ere the thoughtless word you speak,
Ask yourself, "Is it kind?"
When you have ask'd these questions three—
True, — Necessary, — Kind, —
Ask'd them in all sincerity,
I think that you will find,
It is no hardship to obey
The command of our Blessed Lord, —
No ill of any man to say;
No not a single word