by Nicolle

I could never have a successful career as a public speaker. When I speak in front of anyone, dark red splotches creep their way from my chest up my neck and onto my face. The anxiety caused by the pressure of having people intently stare at me causes an unattractive rash that I have no control over; nothing I do can curb it, and it doesn’t subside until whatever speech I’ve given has been over for at least an hour.

Photo by Kelly Cole

This wouldn’t be an issue if it only happened when I spoke to a group of people (or if I always wore a turtleneck). No, those ugly splotches also rear their heads whenever I get nervous or anxious, including when I’m having a serious one-on-one conversation.

It’s been the most embarrassing when I’m trying to have a serious conversation with a boyfriend. As I concentrate on what I want to say, I can feel the heat of the splotches growing, which only increases my anxiety and nervousness. And then the splotches deepen in color.

Some of this, I’m convinced, could be remedied if I didn’t spend so much time thinking. I process things internally and completely before I can express my thoughts to other people. I can’t just shoot from the hip; I have to understand how I feel, why I feel that way, what things from my past have caused me to feel that way and how the other person can better relate to me so I don’t feel that way.

Complicated? Yes. But good communication usually is. Communication is always lauded as key to a successful relationship, but like most adages, good communication is easier said than done, especially if you don’t know how you communicate individually.

Until I figured out that I need time to think through serious conversations before actually having them, I thought there was something wrong with me. When put on the spot, I couldn’t convey to significant others how I felt about them, if I thought the relationship was going well or what I wanted for the future. I’d mumble something about things being good and watch as they’d get frustrated by my lack of enthusiasm.

But it wasn’t that I was unenthused. Instead, it was that I needed time to collect my thoughts so what I said would convey what I really meant.

On the other hand, for someone who processes out loud and doesn’t always come to conclusions until he’s talked it out, my communication style could be frustrating. I might take a few (very long) minutes in silence before I say anything in response to an off-the-cuff question while he might change his mind out loud when answering a question I spent half an hour constructing.

I’ve been fortunate enough to date guys who recognize my need for internal processing before I have a chance to explain it, guys who appreciate that an out-of-the-blue relationship talk could come to an unsatisfying conclusion because I can’t express myself when given no time for forethought. I’ve learned more about myself and my communication styles from those guys than I ever could have learned from trying to analyze myself (though I also do that quite often). Their patience and understanding provided me with an environment for self-exploration, as well as a glimpse into the minds of people who talk first and think later.

That wasn’t easy though. All that learning took a mutual understanding and respect for different forms of communication. While I had to first comprehend my communication method, I also had to learn to appreciate methods different than mine.

You can’t control how other people communicate, nor can you control how they react to how you communicate. What you can influence is how well you know yourself. If you can explain to someone else why you need a minute or two to think before answering a question, the likelihood of coming to a mutually beneficial and satisfying conclusion increases exponentially.

The success of any relationship hinges on an ability to talk about difficult things, the things that aren’t going well. If you can’t even get past the fact that one of you needs time to process before engaging while the other doesn’t have thoughts compiled until he hears his voice aloud, the conversation necessary to address the real issues can’t happen – and neither can a successful relationship.