Communication between you and another person is unique to the two people in the conversation. Figuring out what works for both of you is important. Here are some ideas that have worked for some of my clients.
Before expressing feelings about something ask yourself:
Is it kind? Kindness goes a long way in effective communication. While some honest truth might be hurtful, it can still be kind to share your observations.
Is it authentic? Authenticity brings value to what you are saying. Being authentic means being who you are and speaking your truth while considering the values and beliefs of the other person.
Is it necessary? Sometimes we say things that don't need to be said. Repeating or bringing up certain things that the other persona already knows isn't always necessary. If it isn't necessary, then what is the motivation to share that particular piece of information or observation? If it isn't necessary then is likely not to be kind either.
When there is something important and/or sensitive that you want to discuss, consider timing, tone, tact, and intention in order to have the best possible chance of a successful conversation.
Timing: everyone has times in their day that are not good for anything stressful. Know the other person's timing and approach when the individual is most likely to be receptive. Some say there is no such thing as good timing for a challenging conversation, but avoiding important topics erodes connection. Find the "least objectionable" time and move forward.
Tone: how you speak is important. Know that voice, facial expressions, and body language all contribute to the potential interpretation of the listener. Be calm, maintain a non-threatening volume, and choose to be face-to-face at the same level.
Tact: the words you use make a difference. Use tentative language that opens the door to more possibilities for a resolution. Avoid attacking "you" language. The problem belongs to both of you.
Intention: sometimes we have good intentions with poor execution. If you feel verbally attacked, consider the intention, and ask questions before responding with defensiveness, dismissiveness, or deflection.
Perception: when we feel defensive, annoyed, irritated by something our partner said, consider the intention. Are the feelings more about us or about what they actually did? We can have a negative perception to a positive intention. If so, it's more about us than them. Before responding with negativity, make sure you know to what you are responding: what they said or how you feel?
In order to have a productive conversation it is important to stay focused on the issue at hand. When a person feels uncomfortable with a challenging statement or question, they may try to avoid addressing the problem by using any of the following:
Defensiveness is justifying whatever action or inaction that has been communicated to us. Before defending yourself, consider the possible validity to the issue being communicated. Acknowledge what was heard. Be accountable for your choices. If you feel the need to explain yourself, do so, but only after making sure both of you are talking about the same problem or issue.
Dismissiveness is responding to the other person's comment with something like, "it's not a big deal" or "I don't know why you're making an issue out of this". Dismissing the other person's concern tells them their thoughts and preferences don't matter which leads to feeling unheard and appreciated. If the topic was brought up then it's important to them. Don't dismiss their feelings.
Deflection is changing the topic or putting the problem back on the other person. While the other person might be a contributing factor to the problem, keep the focus on what they presented. You can have another conversation about your concerns later.
When we become stressed about something, we frequently want to place blame. Sometimes that doesn't help, especially when the person we want to blame doesn't have any more control over the problem than we do. We can solve problems without placing blame. Focus on the situation and how it can affect both people and how it can be improved without pointing fingers. When we address problems in this manner, we work with others to find a solution instead of working against one another by placing blame.
Sometimes when we are approached with something that feels negative, we are quick to become defensive. Before responding, consider that you might need more information about what the other person is saying. Sometimes the problem is something that hasn't been said but needs to be addressed. Seek to understand how they are feeling and what they want before responding to their initial request or observation. When we seek to understand, we exhibit empathy, slow down emotional responses, and can come to a resolution to the presenting concern more effectively and with more kindness.
Our communication is full of phrases with multiple meanings both literally and figuratively. When a relationship is having difficulty it can be important to say what you mean and mean what you say instead of talking around something by using sarcasm, teasing, joking, or avoidance. If you are asked to do something that you don't want to do, it might be better to be honest and kind instead of agreeing and then "forgetting" or not "finding the time" to do the task. Failing to follow through on agreements lead to an erosion of trust.
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