If you’d like to cultivate your ability to communicate authentically, I have some suggestions. It’s difficult to remember to speak authentically when you’re in the middle of an argument, so the more you practice when you’re not arguing, the better you’ll get. In most conflicts, very little listening takes place; they are little more than two people delivering monologues to each other. Changing this one dynamic can change everything. Here are some of my suggestions.
- Be present to what the other person is saying. That means listening to their words and their nonverbal communication. It means not formulating your response while they’re still talking.
- Pause before responding. Take a couple of seconds to notice how you feel about what they said, and to decide what you want to say.
- Be honest and kind. Thank them for their openness, and let them know how you felt about what they said. If you have something else to say, do so after acknowledging what they said first. If you’re too angry to be kind, at least be honest.
- Paraphrase what they’ve just said, and begin with “What I heard you just say is…” You should be able to do this if you’ve been present to what they’re saying.
- Check to see if you heard them correctly by saying something like, “Did I get that right?” If you didn’t get it right, ask them to clarify it for you.
- Validate their experience, even if you don’t understand it. This one is confusing for people. You’re not saying that they are right, you are saying, “Given how you see the situation, I can understand you would feel the way you do.”
When it’s time to state your position, try these techniques.
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- Using “I” language; starting an argument with “You” will cause just about anyone to go on the defensive.
- State your feelings and own them. Instead of saying, “You make me feel…” try this: “I feel … when you do….” Remember, no one can make you feel anything. You are the one responsible for your feelings.
- Avoid the words “always” and “never.” Instead of saying “You never come home on time,” try this: “I feel …. when you come home late so often.”
- Don’t have a big BUT. A big but in the middle of what you’re saying will negate everything you’ve just said. For example, “I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t think you’re listening to me” get shortened in the other person’s mind to “I don’t think you’re listening to me.”
At first you may feel awkward and unnatural communicating in this way. With some practice, these techniques will become more natural. You may eventually find that the heated arguments disappear, replaced with honest, open discussions about how you are each feeling and responding to each other.