Effective communication is an essential aspect of any relationship, including those within AA. The impact of our words is profound, both when speaking and writing. However, delivering our messages with clarity and empathy is a constant challenge that requires dedication and practice.
The Need for Refinement
The process of speaking often serves as a tool for refining our thoughts. This quality is frequently evident in AA meetings where shares can be exploratory and unstructured. As AA members, there’s no need to aspire to be professional speakers. However, it’s essential to be aware of and adjust our communication style to avoid inadvertently pushing people away from AA due to a lack of tact or understanding.
Each AA member has a unique perspective and interpretation of their journey to sobriety. Therefore, terms like “God,” “Higher Power,” “spirituality,” “religion,” or even “meditation” can hold vastly different meanings and emotions for different people. It’s crucial to deliver these loaded terms with a sense of awareness rather than an attitude of absoluteness, which could deter newcomers.
Newcomers to AA are often hurting and seeking empathy and thoughtful, individualized support. Therefore, prescriptive approaches, such as telling newcomers “exactly what they need to do,” can be off-putting. While some oldtimers may advocate for a direct, no sugar-coating approach, it’s essential to consider whether such an approach fosters an inclusive and supportive environment or merely inflates egos.
Here are a few communication strategies that can increase the effectiveness of your message within AA meetings:
- Think before you speak.
- Speak in complete sentences.
- Have a point, and stay on it.
- Don’t say everything you know.
- Describe rather than prescribe.
- Don’t use “we” or “you” speaking for others.
- Give brief examples to show rather than tell.
- Minimize and soften loaded terms.
- Emphasize empathy, compassion, and appreciation for the work required to succeed in AA.
Dealing with Loaded Terms
When it comes to loaded terms, substitutions can be useful. For example, using “inner” instead of “spiritual” or “belief” or “direction” in place of “God.” Avoiding certain controversial terms and ideas altogether is another strategy to consider.
Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of thoughtful communication in AA. It’s a challenging task, but one worth undertaking for the benefit of the group, particularly newcomers. The goal is not only personal growth but also fostering an environment that encourages more alcoholics to pursue and maintain sobriety.