What Do You Mean?

I have a confession to make.

I’m a Belieber.

I’m not ashamed to admit I love Justin Bieber’s album Purpose and that the lyrics of the song “What do you mean?” resonate with me and my work as an interculturalist:

What do you mean?
When you nod your head yes
But you wanna say no
What do you mean?

People often don’t say what they mean. They get twisted and turned up in their thoughts, worry about how they might come across, or concerned they’ll hurt another’s feelings. While I advocate for politeness and diplomacy in communication, particularly when communicating across cultures, I also think we need to get our message across more directly. Actually, to be more direct, let me rephrase—I think we need to start saying exactly what we mean.

But how can we do this without offending others and hurting our reputations?

There are ways. Here are three:

Think before you speak. Often we get into conversations where we start speaking and it all comes out wrong, especially in emotional situations. In order to ensure you’re concise and clear, think about what you want to say before you say it. Map it out, divide it into three main points and provide a roadmap for your speaking partner. Remember it’s always okay to pause and take some time to collect your thoughts before words come out. Bide yourself some time by using phrases such as “let me think about that for a minute” or “that’s a good question/idea, I’d like to give it some thought.”

Express feelings, not logic. Dig deep and access your true feelings. Avoid getting too “heady” and instead articulate your emotions. For example, if you feel someone is being disrespectful to you, try saying, “It’s confusing and hurtful when you do X and I’d like to talk about it.” As opposed to telling them, “I don’t think you’re being respectful towards me.” Someone is more apt to hear you and empathize when they understand the impact of their actions on your feelings. Plus, statements about yourself are less likely to make someone feel like they’re being attacked and need to go on the defensive. So, you’re more likely to have a productive conversation. 

Tell the truth. This may sound obvious but we’re good at lying to ourselves and therefore others. Delusions don’t help anyone and certainly don’t build trust between you and personal or professional partners. Show commitment to those you live and work with by honestly naming problems and issues—and then suggesting that you work together to confront them head on.

Better make up your mind. What do you mean?

That’s how Justin’s song ends—sort of with an ultimatum. So, in the spirit of his song, I want to give you a challenge. I challenge you to start saying what you mean. Today. You may find it liberating to put your truth out there and not have to worry that people walked away thinking “what do you mean?”

Start saying what you mean! You may find it liberating to put your truth out there! {TWEET THIS}

Image Credit: Fotolia neirfy (modified)