People often tell me that when they try to make suggestions to friends and loved ones, their well-meaning intentions are often rewarded with unpleasantness and heated discussions. Indeed, it’s virtually impossible to get a point across to anyone who feels that you’re meddling in something that’s none of your business.
That being said, the great majority of relationship problems boil down to poor communication. Sometimes people are so intent on getting their message across that they don’t take the listener into consideration. The intimate connection that exists among family and friends is not a license to ignore good manners and civility. Respectful, non-threatening communication, i.e., taking the listener’s feelings into consideration, can help avoid arguments and ensure your point is well taken.
I’ve put together ten practical tips for clear, rational conversation. Each and every one of them grew out of experiences my clients have had over the years.
- Do not interrupt. When there is a pause, politely ask, “Are you finished?” When you’re both talking at the same time, nobody’s hearing what anybody’s saying.
- Actively listen. In other words, think about what he is saying. Look for evidence of honest misunderstandings. These are the biggest causes of most family and marital quarrels.
- Do not try to formulate your answer while she’s talking. When it’s your turn to speak, carefully formulate your response. Don’t rush things.
- Allow time-outs! If you’re too emotional to continue, call for a break. Take responsibility for reinitiating the discussion when the agreed-upon time has passed. Time-outs can be frustrating, but it is more frustrating to carry on a conversation when you’re too emotional to think clearly.
- Avoid saying things you don’t mean. Hurtful statements made in the heat of the moment can do irreparable damage. Words have consequences, and many can never fully be taken back.
- Remind yourself that you are an adult and no longer a child at the mercy of adults. You’re in this relationship by choice, and you owe it to yourself to resolve the conflict rationally so that you both can be happy.
- Try to avoid generalized comments such as, “You always accuse me…” or “You never show me you love me.…” In the intensity of the discussion, you might feel they are true, but feelings and facts are not always the same thing.
- Avoid defensiveness. You don’t have to protect yourself against enemy attacks from the person you supposedly love. Instead, calmly ask for the evidence that, for example, you never show that you care, or that you are not truthful, or whatever. You do not have to accept assertions without proof.
- If your partner does provide convincing evidence for a criticism, act like a grownup and accept responsibility. Adherence to reality is a virtue and a sign of maturity. Your partner or friend will respect you, and admitting accountability will help improve your self-esteem. Denying that something is true when you know full well that it is can be insulting, hurtful, and create permanent damage.
- Always remember that feelings and facts are not necessarily the same thing. So many psychological issues end up boiling down to this one fact.
Nobody has the right to declare their feelings as truth without valid facts to back them up. Ignore this rule, and true happiness in a relationship will never be possible.
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