Each week I spend quite a bit of time working with people who struggle to communicate effectively. They are either passive, passive aggressive, or aggressive in their communication style in efforts to get their personal needs met. For many they have never been taught effective communication patterns and are relying on old observations of role models. These old observations are well learned in a system (i.e. your family) that uses them, but not effective when you want to communicate in a different system (i.e. your work place).
In addition, I see many people who feel using a style, say passive aggressive, will get them what they want without conflict and are frustrated people around them haven’t picked up on the needs yet. Today we are going to talk about 5 effective communication tactics and why it is important to understand influence and impact, while also recognizing you cannot change anyone. You only have the ability to change your behavior and thus your results.
Number 1: No One Can Read Your Mind.
Recognize that no one can read your mind. Many of us were taught that if we dropped enough hints our loved ones would pick up on our needs, and this means we are loved and lovable. Not True. They may come close, yet we are often left feeling like something is missing, we are not important, or we do not feel seen and heard in our authentic expression. This is partly because we compromise our authentic expression trying to get them to really “see” us by using passive aggressive communication styles and partly because they cannot read our minds. Instead of dropping hints, martyring, or silently hoping someone will notice what you need, just ask for what you need and want. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Number 2: Shaming, Blaming, and Criticizing are not helpful.
I cannot shame you into long-term compliance and keep the relationship going. I can shame you into submission for a bit, but eventually shaming you, tearing you down, criticizing you, or blaming you will destroy our relationship. The more I nag you, the worse you may feel about yourself and more likely you are to leave. In addition, the more you feel put down and shamed the more likely you are to rebel, get angry, aggressive, and push back on me. This creates an explosive pattern where people say hurtful things that break apart the relationship.
Number 3: Intensity Matters
Honor the power of intensity. If I am always yelling at you, soon I will be heard no better than if I wasn’t speaking. People get used to intensity levels and they begin to tune them out. Usually leading to more frustrations, more intensity, blame, projection, and shaming tactics, which also do not work long term. Instead, realize that I control my intensity. I can shift my voice, word choice, and body posture to help me emphasize and communicate intensity. In addition, to choosing the right intensity, I must be aware of my non-verbal communication, which is about 80-90% of what I am trying to communication. Remember the saying “action speaks louder than words”, well it is true. People pay more attention to how you say something, than what you say. You can increase or decrease your emphasis by shifting your posture, eye contact, space use, and gestures. I am sometimes more effective when I use body posture and say nothing than when I scream and yell.
Number 4: Timing
Timing matters. My children were famous for waiting to ask me about eating candy until I was on the phone. They knew I was distracted and it would be easier to get me to concede to their request while I wanted to finish my conversation. To get them to stop, I would lock myself in the bathroom. They would get louder and more expressive. It took a bit, but I was finally able to shape their behavior away from asking for things while I was on the telephone.
If you want to be successful with a serious conversation, pay attention to the other person’s energy levels. If they are tired and stressed it will be less successful than if you give them a break or help them relax. You might be better off to plan your conversation when you are both feeling ready, have an environment without distractions, and are able to focus on each other. It is ok to say, “I want to talk about _____, when would be a good time to meet and discuss?”
It is also ok to write out your ideas, desires, and thoughts, opinions about a matter. It can be helpful to review your notes during a difficult discussion. It gives a moment of breathing room for everyone and shows you cared enough about the discussion to put some forethought into it. It helps decrease or increase intensity when used well. And, above all it is ok to say, “I need a break”. I see many couples who do not use this technique. They escalate, escalate, escalate until one of them has had enough and leaves the room. Be proactive and say, “I need a break, let’s take 10 minutes and come back to finish our discussion.” This is perfectly ok. I advise people to set a timer and come back together when it goes off, even if you are not ready to pick up the conversation yet. This helps each member feel important, part of the process, and no one feels abandoned or like it will never get resolved. If you have to agree to set another 10 minute timer or maybe you need to table for another time. Just make sure you both follow through on the commitment to finish the conversation.
Number 5: No Projection, Instead Understand Your Own Issues
Many people use this to help themselves feel better. They project their own discomfort, limiting beliefs, values, opinions, and goals onto the other person. They say things as though it is the other person’s problem, when it is really their own. The other person may share a part of the issue, however this tactic is often used to dismiss the other’s thoughts, opinions, values, and emotions in efforts to avoid dealing with their own personal issues. When people have done their own work they can avoid yelling at the kids because their boss yelled at them or picking on their partner because they feel small and insignificant. They can own personal anger and deal with it effectively instead of misplacing it on something or someone “safer” to be upset with. It is easy to blame someone else for something you feel uncomfortable about, but in the end you will eventually have to deal with your own shit. Do not emotionally vomit all over someone else.
Above all else, remember what people say and do is about them. You cannot control what comes out of their mouth, how they hold their body, or what they choose to focus on/care about. What you do is all about you. If you verbally bully someone, it is you who feels small, insignificant, demeaned, or hurt. If you steal someone else’s idea it is you who feels you cannot create your own. If you have not explored why you think, feel, value something it is no one else job to change their thoughts, opinions, values to be like you.
Now … I often hear, but words hurt and do change things. True. We have the power to impact and influence others with our communication. So why not use it to be effective rather than destructive (to others or ourselves).
Impact & Influence:
We do impact and influence each other very much. I can wreck havoc on my family’s day by throwing a fit during our morning routine. I can also make their day better by uplifting them during said routine. I can help shift focus, belief patterns, and actions by my word choices. I can role model effective behavior and patterns of relating I want them to incorporate as their own. I can help them see themselves as powerful, capable, willing, and connected just by interacting with them effectively.
Many people do not realize when people come together into relationship they are greater than the sum of their two parts. Instead they feel threatened and overwhelmed, thus become less than the sum of two parts by tearing each other down, gossiping, blaming, shaming, projecting, and criticizing.
While making sure we are aware of our impact it is important to have grace with those who are not there yet. Many people have been taught to use ineffective communication tactics as ways to control, contain, manage, and feel powerful. They are not aware that their style is actually getting in the way of something better than what they have now. They spend a lot of time ruminating, focused on, and plotting against “attacks” whether they be real or imagined, and often find themselves surrounded by others who are just like them, making the threat of being negated in communication even greater. Give them grace, while clearly and honestly setting a firm boundary. This is part of how we eliminate ineffective communication from our lives. We set boundaries over and over, with grace and teach people how to treat us. In our ability to speak clearly about what we will accept and not accept in our space with compassion (which sometimes looks like a firm and solid no) we tell people not to speak to us that way, not to expect we will comply, and not to assume we agree.
When we recognize the power of influence it can help us choose our words carefully, pick appropriate timing, do our own work so our emotions, values, opinions, and beliefs are not being projected onto the other making our communication much more clear. We can ask for what we want with tact and effectively say no without tearing apart a relationship or ourselves. We can set boundaries that keep us moving down our path with success and focus, while staying in connection feeling part of something larger than ourselves.
Effective Communication Today:
Today make a commitment to step back from negative communication patterns and work on taking ownership of your role in the relationship. Everything you say and do is about you. Even when it feels like they “made you mad”. Nope you got mad because you impacted by something they said. You chose to get mad or not, to let your feelings dictate your reaction, rather than address it objectively with a statement like “that hurt my feelings, I would appreciate it if you didn’t use those words with me” or something like that”. Believe me, it takes some practice and can feel silly at first.
When you can effectively address slights, hurts, bullying, etc in the moment objectively and in a responsive (vs. reactive) manner you will be more effective getting what you want and need. You take ownership of how you show up in the relationship, even when they show up ineffective. If you are the bully in the situation recognize that you cannot use force to make a relationship work long term. You cannot put people down and expect them to give you their best. They will defend against you even if not in obvious ways. You do not win by breaking people down, everyone loses what could have been greater than the sum of two parts, ideas, or solutions. You are not stronger because you “were in charge”, people do not respect titles – they respect people who are respectful. See last week’s topic on leadership for more information on being a good leader.
Today, work to make your communication style open, your body posture available for positive communication, and your words, timing, intensity, and tone fit the situation you are in – not the one you wish you were in. Work to be clear, say what you mean, mean what you say, ask for what you want with confidence and style fitting of the situation, and say no to what you do not want with grace and strength.