Forty years ago, I was a shy and withdrawn young man, and couldn’t start a conversation to save my life. In my first year of college, living on my own, doing some soul-searching and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I made a bunch of lists of things:
Homes I’d lived in so far at the ripe age of 18: 52
Schools I’d attended: 17
People I had known: Several hundred — I listed them out with their memorable traits. One I remember still: “Jim Leahy – teacher, communicated well, even though he had a lisp from a cleft palate.”
Which of the people that I knew, would I want to be, or model myself to be like? Only a handful. What did those people have in common? It took me a while to figure THAT out, but it was simple and I knew I had the right answer when I determined that “They could communicate easily.”
I determined to read up on everything in the public library on the subject of communication. To my great disappointment, there was NOTHING there that would help me learn how to communicate easily.
I determined to figure it out myself, if that was the only way to do it. So I started interviewing people who could communicate easily to ask them how they did it, what tips or tricks they had that would help someone communicate who didn’t find it easy. I told them I was writing a book on the subject of communication, and many people did talk with me willingly and shared their thoughts on the subject. Initiating these interviews was for me a trembling, stammering, hemming and hawing process that took all my resolve; it was so far outside my comfort zone I must have looked like a deer in the headlights to these very kind people, some of whom actually consented.
A few months into this project, I came upon a couple of young women in the college cafeteria; they were passing out fliers for something. I ignored it, because they were communicating with each other so beautifully! They also had an 18-month old child with them, with whom they were communicating very well. The child was happy. The two women were happy, calm, confident. So I summoned all my courage and approached them on the subject of an interview for my book. They declined, which stunned me, but they pointed to the flier I had ignored and said, “There’s a free introductory lecture about Scientology on Thursday nights at 7:30 PM. And we have a communication course you should ask about. We’ve done it. That’s why we can communicate well.” With which they dismissed me politely and left. So I read the flier and there was one thing on it that really resonated with me: “A man is only as alive as he can communicate.”
“Yes,” I said, “yes, that’s very true. I could have written that.” If someone understood that much truth along that line, then maybe they also understood HOW to communicate. So, although I was a devout atheist, and although I loathed organized religions, I bicycled to the free lecture that Thursday night (I didn’t get much out of it, but it seemed harmless enough) and signed up for their communication course by giving them $25 of my hard-earned cash. I also bought a book on the subject of communication that they were selling, for another $10. Total investment: $35.
I read the book in one sitting. (Titled, “Dianetics ’55”, it was a summary of the research L. Ron Hubbard had done into the subject of communication up to 1955.) “This book,” I thought, “should be in every library. I don’t know who this L. Ron Hubbard guy is, but he’s dead-on about communication.”
The communication course I signed up for took me three months to complete, on a schedule where I attended course every weekday evening. I put 150 hours into it, which works out to have cost me not quite 17 cents an hour. They don’t normally take that long – about 10 hours of course time is usually sufficient nowadays. But I milked it for all it was worth because I was having so much fun and going through such phenomenal personal changes.
And at the end of the course, where I DID learn the skills for easy communication with just about anyone, my life was turned around. I was no longer shy and withdrawn. I got along with other people well. I started conversations with wild abandon. I went from having no friends to having dozens of them, many of whom, 40 years later, are still my friends today. And I *still* start conversations with wild abandon. I have more friends than I can list (and not just Facebook friends, real people with whom I regularly communicate by phone, email, yes Facebook, and in person).
Here’s a beautiful little video about the necessity of learning communication skills, and what life is like when you don’t know the basic skills of communication. This short, simple video resonated with me, because that was exactly what life was like for me before taking the communication course.