Throughout my career, particularly in my early training, I have been immersed in the scientific nature of communication. I took a communication science course, learned the physics and physiology of sound/voice, and behavioral analysis taught me that just like Pavlov’s dog, human behavior can be shaped by positive and negative reinforcers like delicious treats or electric shock. Even my professional title, “Speech Language Pathologist”, sounded quite scientific and indeed I wore a lab coat at my first job after college. I was young and it made me feel “official”. I was also clueless that it might have felt intimidating to my clients. It was sterile and to add to that I carried a clipboard so I could record lots of data! This approach dissuaded intimacy, the primary reason we communicate.
Over the years, I drifted away from this strictly clinical approach as I became increasingly aware that the way we communicate is a unique expression of our individual perceptions. Perceptions created by our innate tendencies and shaped by life experiences. People bring with them a variety of individual realities resulting in an infinite array of communication styles and each one is valid. I began to see immense beauty in the individual forms of communication. I fell in love with the art of communication and this began to shift my practice.
My work with clients on the autism spectrum showed me that the way we communicate is tied deeply to the way we perceive the world. The reason why many autistic communication attempts seem odd is that those on the spectrum are often living in very different, frankly, fascinating realities that make finding common experiential ground with others difficult. This interferes with their ability to engage in meaningful communication with the conditioned “typical” world. Their communication attempts are a reflection of their unique perception and when not understood nor responded to by well-meaning caregivers, frustration sets in, usually followed by adverse behaviors that further impede communication.
When working with voice impaired clients, I often discover a personal perception that life is inherently dangerous and that expressing your true self may make you stand out and puts you at risk to be punished. This is usually the result of some early form of trauma. The belief “I will be safe as long as I’m not noticed” underlies many communication disorders. In getting to know my clients, I uncover hidden treasures of artists, performers, and outside the box thinkers whose gifts were not valued by significant others but are exactly what this world needs!
My therapeutic approach focuses on discovering and honoring your unique perception of the world. This is like a joint adventure. Once I know where you are “coming from”, we can relate with the “language” associated with your point of view. From this place of mutual understanding, we can play with communication like artists, exploring ways to relate to the “typical” world that incorporate your individual style and do not sacrifice your personal integrity.
The way you communicate is as unique as you are. How can you express yourself authentically in a way that connects you to other people with differing personal realities yet honors your unique perspective?
By looking at communication as an art form, you become less rigid and abandon the idea that there is a “standard” form of effective communication You can relax in your individual style and express yourself with integrity. Not everyone will speak “your language” so you must be willing to let those who do not validate your authenticity fall away. Trust me, when you embrace your uniqueness and the artful way you communicate, you will attract your “tribe”. People who share your worldview and speak “your language”.
This is not to say that you don’t adjust your communication style to fit a particular audience. Communication, like art, is very flexible and you can learn how to alter your style so that your message is more easily received. We see politicians and salespeople do this all the time. And while the world may be a stage and we are all actors, you don’t want to spend too much time outside of your true element. Continuously adjusting your communication style to meet other people’s expectations puts you at risk of losing your most valuable work of art, yourself.
Your personal perspective is valid and the way you communicate from this perspective is valuable. You are a work of art, unique and beautiful. Express yourself authentically from your unique perspective and marvel at the people who show up to join you. Add beauty to the world that only you can offer and inspire others by honoring your voice!
Kristina Kelly is a speech therapist in Asheville, NC who specializes in voice therapy and voice coaching.