Take heart - you have the ability to change your part of any pattern you notice isn’t working.
Most of us don’t have too much trouble speaking our mind in an argument (much easier than listening, yes?). But, if we’re honest, we have to admit that we could all use a little tune-up in the style department.
You know what I mean, right? Or perhaps you’re one of the fortunate few who’s never blown their lid in anger during a conversation, or watched confused as your partner (or mother, teenager or coworker) blew theirs . . . No?
Well then. In the interest of helping us all keep our lids firmly in place, I offer the following 8 tips for when it’s your turn to speak:
1. Set aside a calm time to talk, and keep the time free from interruptions. Put the children to bed, take the dog out one last time, turn off the TV and silence the cell phone.
2. Speak calmly and in a quiet, respectful tone. If you become too upset to do this, ask for a quick break to self-soothe (sit down, breathe deep, and/or talk yourself down off the anger ledge) and then come back to the conversation when you’re in a better place.
3. Speak about your own experience, not the other person’s personality. Use I messages (I feel, I think, I would like . . .) instead of blaming ones (You are, You make me . . .). People will usually tune us out if they feel blamed or attacked. Don’t you do the same?
4. Rephrase complaints into requests, and focus your request on specific behaviors, not the person as a whole. As in ”I would like you to stop leaving your shoes in the hallway,” not “I would like you to stop being such a slob.” Don’t demand. Ask. And don’t expect the other person to mind-read. Be clear about your request.
5. Use the “sandwich” technique – start with praise, make your request, end with praise. Like a spoonful of sugar, this technique helps your appeal for change (with its accompanying implication that things are not okay the way they are) go down a lot easier.
6. Don’t say “never” or “always.” First, it’s highly unlikely the behaviors in question are actually either “never” or “always” present. But, more importantly, these extreme expressions of blame will usually make the other person pretty defensive, and someone who’s busy defending themselves isn’t going to be very open to change.
7. Don’t offer your theory/explanation/diagnosis as to why they did what they did along with your request. In other words, don’t therapize. It’s annoying and off-putting; plus, you’re probably wrong. You do you. It’s the other person’s job to do them.
8. Stay focused on one issue at a time. It’s not helpful to store up resentments and throw them out all at once, like a garbage truck on a dump run at the end of the day. If additional issues come up for you as you are speaking (and they probably will), make a mental or written note to set aside a different time to discuss them.
There’s a lot here, I know. But take heart: you have the ability to change your part of any pattern you notice isn’t working because feelings, thoughts and stories don’t control your actions – you do! And you shouldn’t assume the other person can’t or won’t change. Remember how difficult this stuff is for you, and then be patient and give them a chance to show you their flexibility.
Most importantly, remember that the goal in any conversation, especially one about a difficult topic, is not to win the contest or be right about things, but to solve the problem in a way that allows you to both get what you need.
Anne Barker is a writer and psychotherapist in Omaha, NE, specializing in working with couples and individuals on all manner of relationship issues. Visit Anne’s relationship blog at Hitch Fix or her website to find out more about her writing and services.
This article was originally published at www.barkertherapyarts.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.