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LAST WEEK I WAS TALKING ABOUT YOUR MESSAGE AND MAKING SURE THAT OUR COMMUNICATION IS DIRECT AND UNAMBIGUOUS. THIS WEEK I WANTED TO FOCUS ON SOME OF REASONS WHY OUR MESSAGE CAN GET MUDDLED. IF WE ARE TO BE ABLE TO USE OUR VOICES EFFECTIVELY WE MUST FIRST BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT WE’VE GOT TO SAY. IN MY WORK I FIND THAT MANY PEOPLE HOLD DEEP-SEATED BELIEFS ABOUT THEMSELVES WHICH HAVE NO REAL BASIS IN TRUTH AND ARE SIMPLY UNDERMINING THEIR OWN EFFORTS TO RELEASE THEIR OWN AUTHENTIC VOICES. LET ME ILLUSTRATE THIS BY DESCRIBING PART OF MY JOURNEY ROOTING OUT MY OWN SELF-DEFEATING BELIEFS.

When I was a child, one of my favourite stories was “Robert the Rose Horse” about a bumbling horse with a love for roses. The horse had a habit of getting himself into scrapes which struck a chord with me. The other thing I loved about Robert was that he had my name. My five year-old mind thought this was fantastic: how could someone else have my name as well? Of course now I understand very well that lots of people have not just my first name, but my surname as well: the combination of Robert and Williams is fairly common. So common in fact that there are three other Robert Williamses living in the my suburb.

The saying, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, works two ways. Firstly the characteristics of a rose are the same if I call it a hybrid tea or Madame Bravy (the name of a hybrid tea rose)- its colour is the same, its fragrance is still the same. Secondly you can call me anything you like, but I’m still the same person no matter what you call me. Names are just ways of identifying something. If it helps you to remember who I am by calling me Big Fella, as some do, then fine.

Name calling was something else I had to get used to growing up – people have a tendency to call you all sorts of things. Some of these things are like calling me Big Fella – my mother had a habit of doing this: it’s not my real name, but heck. My name would always be that of the last male that she had been talking to – it was funny really. So if she’d been talking to dad then I’d become Eric – it wasn’t a big deal. It only became confusing if dad came back into the conversation.

Less funny were the playground taunts of my peers. I’ve always been tall and so found myself the butt of a lot of school yard jibes: it’s hard to blend in when you’re towering above everyone else. The difficulty with taunts and jibes is that they are designed to hurt. Whilst they shouldn’t affect who we are, they do have a tendency of burrowing down deep and getting lodged, and a bit like an arrow they have barbs which make them darned difficult to get out without hurting ourselves even more.

The jibes that hurt the most are the ones that have some element of truth. They aren’t the truth but they look a bit like it. Physical attributes are often picked on mercilessly – because they are obvious. My height, I’m 6’3?is a no-brainer. Although I’ve filled out a bit I’m still lanky but when I was at school I was scrawny as well: a perfect target. Anything that makes us look less than idea can be the target for school yard bullies: prominent teeth, a large nose, ears that stick out 1 or 2 mm too much: it doesn’t have to be significant.

Here’s the point. Although it’s obvious, my physical build does not define who I am. Robert Williams, this Robert Williams is far more than my physical container. But if people keep telling me that my build is a problem and they do so consistently and repetitively, then I’m going to start believing it. In subtle ways I’m going to start modifying my behaviour so that my perceived defects aren’t going to be so much of a problem. I remember slouching to reduce my height and wearing dull greys and browns so that I could blend in a bit more.

I think I was about sixteen when I finally realised this was stupid. There was nothing I could do about my height and if people were so intimidated by it that they felt that they had to tear me down then they weren’t worth knowing anyway. What really mattered was how I felt about myself could I live with my height? Well yes and actually it has a number of advantages. I started standing tall and watching my posture and reaped the benefits of improved confidence and self-esteem.

If you lack confidence to start telling the world about what it is that you’ve got to say then the chances are that you’ve unwittingly bought into something people told you about when you were a child or at school. I remember one of the things that my teachers told me was that I’d never learn a language. I believed it, for a while at least, until my parents moved me to a new school and had a month’s intensive French language classes. I found that not only could I speak another language quite well, I also had such a good accent I could fool the locals.

We will always communicate what we believe about ourselves even if we don’t want to unless we are exceptionally good actors. We do this both through the things we say and do and in the things we avoid but mostly we do it through our body language and tone of voice. We give away subtle clues to those around us. Most of us aren’t aware of these signals other give off: at least not with our conscious minds, but they register with our unconscious minds. Although they may not be able to explain why, people can spot a fraud. For those giving off these mixed signals it’s important we start being more intentional about the messages we give off, because we may be undermining ourselves.

Next week we’ll look at other reasons that our voices communicate mixed messages.

Robert Williams

24th July 2011

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