Communicating Effectively under Stress:
“This is horrible!”

"Enlightenment" Dalai Lama by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Enlightenment” Dalai Lama by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

Fear and anger are signals to pay attention to your physical surroundings, your current situation or your relationships. Appropriate fear and anger often mean that you may be in danger or are being treated unfairly.

When you recognize the emotional signal, take a deep breath, and switch over to your intuition and rational mind to determine what to do next. Becoming overwhelmed with emotion is usually counterproductive when you need to take action or communicate with others.

Get calm

It’s highly important to calm down and get centered before you speak. Otherwise your anxiety, hostility or panic will be infectious. There are subtle forms of tone of voice and sarcasm that will put the other person on the defensive and hinder your ability to resolve the situation effectively.

You may need to take a walk or talk with someone. It may take a few minutes or it may take hours to feel balanced and calm enough to be able to have an effective conversation. In certain serious situations, such as potential divorce, it may take days or weeks to get a handle over your feelings and gain adequate perspective to have an effective conversation.

If you need time to feel in control before speaking to someone, but if that person wants to speak with you right then, it’s critical that you say that you need to calm down first and to do so. If you simply walk away to calm down, the other person may feel rejected, abandoned, or ignored and become angry, which is not helpful.

It’s better to give a time frame:
“I need some time to calm down. Let’s talk in five minutes/after dinner/tomorrow.”

If the other person says, “What do you mean? Let’s talk about it now,” just firmly say, “That’s not going to be productive. I need a minute/some time alone.” Stand firm and don’t be swayed.

Tone of voice

Tone of voice and body language are more important than words. Some research says that they account for 80% of what is communicated. They can convey positive intention, self-control, respect, and self-respect, which will make it easier for others to really listen to you. Or they can convey weakness, loss of control, and desperation, which can freak people out or put them on the defensive. Even if you are extremely angry, it is more powerful and effective to show self-control than to let your anger loose.

No judgment

Avoid negative judgment, name-calling, and expressing yourself in a way that makes the other person feel attacked. By keeping yourself from exaggerating or listing all the bad things the other person has ever done, you make it more likely that the other person will listen rather than take things personally and defend him- or herself.

You’ll have a more productive conversation if you say,  “I waited for 20 minutes,” than if you exclaim: “You drive me crazy the way you are always late. It’s so rude!”

Feelings

Some people tend to control others rather than simply state their own feelings because they don’t want to seem weak or self-oriented. Yet a direct declaration of one’s feelings is powerful, not weak. Rather than attacking the other person, state your own feelings: “I was worried.” “I felt angry.” “I’m disappointed.” “I was sad.” “I felt frustrated.” When you state a feeling, no one can reasonably argue with it.

Feelings are not judgments such as, “I feel that you are selfish.” That’s a negative judgment pretending to be a feeling.

It’s important not to become immersed in the feeling or identified with the feeling. If you’re sad, you can show a little sadness, but don’t fall apart. If you’re angry, don’t become ballistic. People who are able to express their emotions without being overwhelmed by them, garner more respect and empathy from others. They are also more capable of dealing effectively with the problems the feelings are signaling.

Desires and needs

Express what you desire, value, or need. “I would like more intimacy.” “I want a trusting relationship.” “I need support.” “I would like to have more time alone each day.” “I want to pursue my passions.”

Some people don’t like to express their needs because they don’t want to appear needy. Yet a direct declaration what you value and want is less manipulative than using blame or guilt trips. Such openness also supports the other person’s autonomy, allowing the other person to choose his or her actions freely.

Needs and desires are general, not tied to a particular person. For example, “I need you to love me more” should be replaced with “I want to be in a relationship with someone who loves me.”

No one can argue against your desires or needs even if they might not fulfill them.

Make a specific positive request

  • Specific: General requests such as “Support me” or “Clean your room” are not nearly as effective as a specific request such as “Would you help me pay the bills tonight?” or “Would you be willing to put your clothes lying on the floor there, inside your closet?”
  • Positive: Beware of saying something like “If you’d just get up off the couch and help around the house once in a while.” This reeks of hostile criticism.
  • Request: A request is not a threat or a demand. By making a request, you offer the other person the opportunity to do something nice for you. Rather than a scolding session, where everyone feels lousy, it can be a win-win situation, in which someone will likely help you and you will feel appreciative.

Transform the relationship

If you make repeated reasonable requests and another person repeatedly refuses to accommodate you, that is the other person’s prerogative. However, you should probably change your expectations of the other person and in some cases consider changing the scope of the relationship.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Anger: ‘I have a right to be angry.’”

Watch “Expressing Anger Effectively.”

Read “Random Thoughts from So What I Really Meant.”

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3 thoughts on “Communicating Effectively under Stress:
“This is horrible!”

  1. Vanessa

    Dear Alison,

    Thank you! I couldn’t agree with you more on your comments especially concerning the elements of wisdom, common sense and objectivity. Moving forward, in honesty and confidence can dispel fear..building a bridge of ‘new hope’ and understanding that relationships to take work and are worthwhile. I know this in my back ground as a Lay Minister. Life is constantly evolving as are our relationships, at times they may need to be pruned with elements of ‘flexibility, built with love, understanding which ensuring that are healthy’.

    Looking forward to your next posts, and I have already forwarded your website to my professional colleagues for their interest.

    Reply
  2. Vanessa Rottner

    Thank you for this invaluable article. .

    The aspects of a healthy relationship is paramount to our emotional well-being and soul.

    How I value my intuition for that to enable us to ‘monitor’ both fear and anger which are very primal emotions, a metaphorical and practical bridge.

    In my opinion the problem often arises in personal relationships (both personal and family) is that we value these relationships…which often can hold us back (fear and feelings). Also we can become too comfortable, and that can lead to either side being taken advantage of – without it being realized (A person might be totally in their own world, self absorbed or not even be able to deal with their emotions, or effectively communicate). We can be honest and open in our communication. As you say be letting our desires be known, without invoking ‘hostile criticism or pushing the other person’s buttons, making the situation worse”.

    We almost have to ‘remove’ our selves from the situation don’t we – taking on a new perspective. Relationships do shift and change from time to time.

    Alison, I have really learned a lot today….thank you for letting me express mine…I know others will have theirs. Cordially, Vanessa

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      You’re absolutely right Vanessa. The fear of losing a relationship or of incurring disappointment or disapproval can hold someone back in expressing their fear or feelings, in following their passions, and in stating their opinions. That very fear that holds us back can also cause the relationship to become too comfortable, too fused, and too stagnant. Another way of saying that we have to almost remove ourselves is that we have to notice our feelings but not be completely led by those feelings, but also invoke wisdom, common sense, and an objective long-term view, which may be similar to wisdom.

      Thank you for your comment. Alison

      Reply

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