Have you ever had the feeling, “He just doesn’t understand” or, “Why waste my breath, she won’t listen anyway”? Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants at least one other person to really understand them.
There’s a chance you are not sending your message so that it can be heard. How we talk to each other has a lot to do with how understood we feel, and how satisfied we are in our relationships, any relationship, parent and child, romantic partners, friends even family. Effective communication helps us to hear each other, be able to speak our truth and eventually heal our conflicts.
The first step in this communication process is to send “I” messages. An “I” message is anything about the speaker. It might sound something like this— “I get angry when I see socks on the floor”, or “I don’t really like your green hair” or even, “I did a nice job with this party”. The purpose of the “I” message is for the speaker to tell some truth about himself.
Most of us have not been taught to speak this way. It is more common to hear, “You are a slob” or, “You’re nothing but a stoned out punk” or my personal favorite, “What were you thinking about?”. These are labeled “YOU” statements. This is when the speaker says something about the other person. This is the trap. The receiver is backed into a corner. He can either agree with the judgement and admit to being a jerk, or he can start defending himself to save his self-respect or he can simply tune it out. This is when I hear comments like, “He just doesn’t listen to me any more”. No kidding? You think he might be tired of hearing about what he is doing wrong?
Keep in mind not all “YOU” statements are bad. Anything that starts out “YOU” and ends in something positive is usually welcome, as long as it’s the truth. Wouldn’t you love to hear “You did a good job”, or “You’re an important part of this family”?
When people use lots of negative “YOU” statements, the conversation usually has an attack=defense quality to it. Something like:
“You never help me”.
“I help you all the time, you just like to have something to nag about”.
“I’m not a nag, you just leave everything for me to do you selfish pig”. Now that’s productive!
Speaking constructively to each other is hard work. The goal is for each speaker to stay in contact with their own experience, and their own “I”. If one says,
“I get angry when I see socks on the floor” the other, after checking their reality can make any number of truthful replies such as,
“I don’t really care” or,
“I also hate to see socks on the floor” or,
“I like to put my socks right there, it is the easiest thing for me to do”. With some practice, this strategy could keep the conversation going long enough to reach resolution.
When I was teaching communication to my Psychology class last semester, a nice looking, bright young man commented “I can’t do this, if I don’t tell my wife what she is doing wrong, she will never know how to change”. Now this relationship may have bigger problems than communication, but most people can learn to communicate effectively on their own. It takes
Self awareness (What am I feeling right now? What do I think about this situation? What do I need?)
The ability to share that awareness with the other person (I think___) and
Most importantly, the desire and ability to hear the truth of the other.
It might be easier to just tell the partner what they are doing wrong and how they need to change, we can all do that. But in the long run relationships with the ability for honest exchange have the best chance to thrive and grow. Deepak Chopra said
“Communion is the root word in communication, reminding us that to communicate with another person isn’t to pass on information. It is to draw another into union with ourselves”.