[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
The other day I was running up a mountain, with a podcast in one ear and clean mountain air in the other. Jordan Peterson was interviewing Jocko Willink, an author/podcaster, and retired Navy Seal officer. They were talking about how Willink studied English because he knew that being a good Navy Seal would require the ability to clearly communicate. The two men do a sort of deep dive into why English is such a useful thing to study, and the idea that struck me in a soft spot was that the ability to write well is priceless, because the ability to write well is directly correlated with the ability to think well. If you can communicate your thoughts and articulate them well, nothing can stop you.
I studied English at Bradley University, and at the time, felt a certain inclination to justify my studies. The humanities were known as "easy" majors, and pathways to certain destitution. How many times have you heard someone make a joke about an Art major working at a coffee shop? I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do with my life as far as a career went, and I liked that my degree didn't corner me into any one specific life path.
Students of the humanities have long felt the urge to justify its use, and I may be inadvertently doing that here. But my primary point in writing this blog isn't to say that the five years I spent earning two degrees were worth something (they were), but rather to illustrate what exactly they helped me achieve, and that is the ability to communicate clearly. So, here are my tips to be a better communicator.
1. Read More
I read a lot in my studies, but I've also been an avid reader throughout my life. Through reading, I've learned about how humans interact with each other and (a bit) about how the world works. I learned not to make certain mistakes because other people had made them and written about them. The lessons of an entire life can be distilled into a book and you can read it for basically nothing. What a privilege. Studying language and reading extensively afforded me the ability to use language in ways that suit my needs. In my job, by being a good sales person. In my personal life, by communicating with friends and loved ones. In my poetry and writing by teaching me what is good and what is uninteresting.
2. Write More
An enormous element of communication is writing. Even in the digital age of videos and vlogs, the written word persists as a crucial element to doing business, understanding others, and conveying emotion. The more you write, the more you understand what good writing is. And if you can write well, you can affect others; by convincing them of an idea, by inciting an emotion, or by clearly sharing information. The written word is enormously useful and entirely powerful.
3. Listen More
You can learn a lot about human nature by reading, but you can learn even more by listening and watching how people interact, react, and communicate. There's an old saying that we have two ears but only one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we talk. You can't truly communicate with someone until you listen and understand what they're trying to tell you. And you can't effectively communicate with others unless you know how to convey your own ideas in order to get the response you want. Human communication is a song and dance, and listening is the rhythm that strings it all together.
4. Don't Succumb to Fear
This is important. A lot of people struggle to communicate openly and honestly due to fear: fear of being rejected, fear of how others might respond, fear of being vulnerable. Some of us never learn to communicate well because we never saw a good example of it. And some of us can't communicate well due to past traumas. But, the repercussions of letting fear control you are far worse than the act of communicating itself. If you do find yourself afraid to communicate, be kind to yourself. It can help to communicate your fear of communication, and it helps to know that the more practice you have communicating, the easier it gets.