We all have moments, the awkward silence when we meet someone and have no idea what to say. We have times we want to apologize, but don’t know how nor what to say. I lived this way for years, through childhood into adulthood. Now, at 50, in some ways I feel like my life is starting anew. I’m finally comfortable in my own skin.

I grew up with family members who desperately wanted to express love for each other, but couldn’t or wouldn’t. We didn’t have stellar communication skills. Kids got in trouble for telling the truth when honestly answering a, “How are you?” greeting. I had no say in situations that directly impacted me.

As a result, I didn’t know what healthy communication looked like. I had no idea how to create a healthy friendship. I had no long term relationships other than my family. I had no model of love, no foundation to build my own expression of love, other than what I learned from TV and movies.

We were a family of good people with unhealthy ways of connecting and disconnecting from others.

I love my family. They matter more than I let them know sometimes. Today this isn’t caused by my lack of communication skills, but from not slowing down enough to express my gratitude. My family shaped me into who I am today. I love them with my whole heart.

To be fixed we must first be broken. I was, several times, in unhealthy relationships with myself and others. Things cracked first, but I didn’t slow down enough to give it my attention. By the time the cave in started, it was too late. Over and over again, repeating the same pattern, I was in a free fall.

Then I hit my bottom.

It’s funny how everything seems brighter after spending time in the dark.

Many years have passed since my emotional bottom. Today, I have two beautiful daughters, one I’m homeschooling. I’ve been married for nearly 26 years. My husband is amazing, our relationship strong and healthy. I have friends today who enhance my life.

Hitting my bottom forced me to rethink and ultimately, to learn new ways of engaging with people, managing my emotions and the expectations I place on myself and others. Today I intentionally spend time with positive, healthy friends. I try very hard not to give my life up pursuing things unworthy of it.

As a result, I’ve incorporated into my life some basic communication skills everyone can use, along with some questions I ask myself several times a day.

What I keep in mind anytime I meet someone new is this:

  1. Illuminate your face! Too many people undervalue the power of a simple smile. When I smile, my face lights up, telling others I’m happy to meet them and interested in getting to know them.
  2. What do we have in common? Too many of us look for ways we are different than others. It’s a factor in nearly every protest, disagreement and relationship failure. Finding common ground is crucial when we have none. Meeting someone new usually means I don’t know much, if anything, about her. After introductions, I start asking questions. Where she was born? What kind of pets she has? Does she have any children? It helps to determine our commonalities. It then becomes much easier to form a relationship.
  3. How can I make you comfortable? Admit it, most of us are uncomfortable in new situations. Rather than putting our attention on our own discomfort, a more positive approach is to focus on the comfort of the person we are meeting. How can I help her be more at ease?
  4. I mind my body language. If I come at a new acquaintance with my arms crossed, no smile, or with a stiff greeting and handshake, I’m telling her to stay away. I operated this way for years. I did so because I was fearful of meeting others. I had no ability for small talk. I was always scared the other person would catch a glimpse of the insecure woman hiding behind the mask I wore. Today, I’m a hugger. I greet people with open arms and an open heart.
  5. I remember every person I meet is a child of God, whether she accepts this truth or not. Sometimes I come into a situation not to have a long-term relationship, but simply to transfer information. God sometimes uses people to convey His message to others. It’s through prayer and discernment I’ve become aware of Him in this way. This is a developed skill, one you may not have today. It’s absoutely worth striving for. I am happiest when I am serving others.

Every morning, I take stock of my day. I look at what I think I’ll be doing, and the skills I need to make it happen. Some I still practice at, others come naturally. But like a car, I need a tune up every now and then. A few habits I build daily are:

  1. Active listening — First thing in the morning, my daughters are mostly nonverbal. Neither of them are morning people. It used to frustrate me to no end. Today, I know to stay quiet and listen. I let them unfold at their pace. I pay attention to them and wait until they are ready and able to communicate. I don’t act on what I think I need. I stay quietly in receiving mode, ready to respond. I’m there for them, not the other way around.
  2. There’s a time and a place — Most of my important conversations intentionally take place before noon. In the morning I’m most focused, my brain is clear and the day hasn’t overtaken me. When I talk to people in the afternoon and evening hours, I’ve learned to take notes. I tend to be less focused. I also pay attention to where my conversations take place. If it’s in a common area with lots of people around, I may ask the person I’m talking with if we can find a bit more privacy. Everyone doesn’t need to know everything about me, and vice versa.
  3. Scheduling my days — If I don’t, I get nothing done. When I wake up in the mornings, I usually have a head full of ideas, chores, and responsiblities for the day. Most of my inspiration comes between 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. I have a hard cover planner by Ink + Volt where I record my goals, achievements and appointments. I have a 2018 journal by Mel Robbins I absolutely LOVE. First thing in the morning, I sit down with my coffee and dump the contents of my mind into the journal. After dinner I take both books and transfer any necessary information they contain into my Apple calendar, to take advantage of the reminders it sends me. It also gives me an opportunity twice daily to organize my days.
  4. Daily readings and prayer — I start my day with at least two inspirational readings. One of them is directly from the Bible. I like to remind myself of the Truth before I head out to face the world. I also send readings out to a list of my friends. The response has been incredible! I’ve developed strong friendships with people who used to be acquaintances, and have watched them grow spiritually throughout the last year.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, only tools that have stood the test of time. Most of them aren’t unique. We borrow skills from others until we are capable of making them our own.

Open, consistent communication is critical for our future as a species. The further away we keep others, the less humanity we see in them. The further away from God we are, the less divinity we see in others. What we share as humans is the desire to both communicate and be heard, to be validated.

Robin Aldrich is the author of Bootstrapped! Creating a Small Business on a Budget. Robin founded the Boomerang Business Project in 2015 to help entrepreneurs thrive through personal and professional development.

For more info, please visit Robin’s website!

If you like my articles and stories, please clap and share! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my work. I wish you a blessed and prosperous day! ~ R.

Originally published at medium.com