Category Archives: Communication

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

Becoming overwhelmed with emotion is counterproductive to taking appropriate action or communicating with others. So when you experience fear or anger, take a deep breath, and then switch over to your intuition and rational mind to determine what to do next.

Calm down

It is very important to calm down and get centered before you speak. Otherwise your anxiety, hostility or panic will be ineffective and infectious. Your tone of voice and sarcasm will betray you and put the other person on the defensive and prevent you from resolving the situation.

You may need to talk with someone else or take a walk alone to calm down. 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 serious situations, such as infidelity or a breakup, it may take days or weeks to get enough handle over your feelings to have an effective conversation.

If someone wants to talk immediately but you need time to feel in control, it is critical that you say that you need to calm down first and to do so. Give a time frame: “I need some time to calm down. Let’s talk in five minutes/after dinner/tomorrow.” Otherwise, if you simply walk away, the other person may feel rejected, abandoned, or ignored and become angry, which is not helpful.

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 some time.” 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 more likely that others will 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. Keep yourself from exaggerating or listing all the bad things the other person has ever done. Then it more likely that the other person will actually listen to you.

You’ll have a more productive conversation if you say,  “I waited for 20 minutes. What happened?” than if you exclaim: “You drive me crazy the way you are always late. You are 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 is important not to become identified with or immersed in what you are feeling. If you are sad, you can show a little sadness, but don’t fall apart. If you are angry, express the fact that you are angry, but 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 being signaled.

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 really loves me and expresses it.”

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 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.”

How to Give a Great Compliment

“The Sound of Purple Rain” Mimi Stuart ©

While it’s nice to say, “You’re terrific” or “You’re so smart,” there are much better, more meaningful ways to compliment a person.

A great compliment is both specific and personal. The compliment praises the individual for a particular characteristic, act or behavior, and it highlights the effect it has on oneself or others.

For example, “When I see you walk into the room, my heart lights up and I feel lucky to know you.”

“The way you handle hardship with tenacity, courage and a good attitude has inspired me to try to do the same during these difficult times.”

“Your way with words makes even the most ordinary conversation interesting and enjoyable.”

“Your beaming smile is contagious and makes me feel happy.”

“I admire how you see the bigger picture and understand nuanced and multiple viewpoints in a world where people are often too one-sided.”

“Your painting brings to life the joy and beauty in the melancholy of rain.”

Another example of a great compliment is from the movie “As good as it gets,” where Melvyn, played by Jack Nicholson, concludes his oblique compliment by saying, “You make me want to be a better man.”

Compliments that are specific and personal can’t help but make someone feel good.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


Six Words to Express Yourself while Keeping the Peace

“Imagination”—Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©

Two people with different opinions can have an effective discussion if they listen to each other and speak in a way that will make them likely to be listened to. Here is an effective way to transition to your own point of view:

“Yes, though I see it differently.”

“Yes”

“Yes” shows that you have heard what the other person said. Of course it’s important to actually listen to the other person. “Yes” can be expanded to express what you understand the other person’s viewpoint to be.

For example, “Yes, I see that you think I criticized you.”

“Yes, I understand that you are really angry.”

“Yes, I recognize that she yelled at you.”

Tone

Tone of voice is key. A tone of condescension will cause the other person to bristle. A tone of hostility will cause the other to become defensive. A tone of weakness or victimhood will trigger the bully in the other person. So your tone should express self confidence as well as respect for the other.

“Though I see it differently”

Stating that you see things differently is quite different from saying one of the following:

“You’re wrong.”

“That’s stupid.”

“No, you don’t understand.”

It’s hard for the other person to argue against you simply because you “see things differently.” By approaching a difficult conversation in this way, you can politely and calmly introduce other considerations.

Your viewpoint

When you express your opinion, use terms such as “I believe,” “I think,” “My experience is,” “I have noticed,” “I want,” or “I need.”

For example, “I believe her anger comes from fear and not knowing how to communicate effectively. So I want to give her a chance.”

“To me, time alone is re-energizing; it’s not about being away from you. I simply need to recharge.”

“I really value compromise. I want to figure out a way to satisfy both of us as best as possible.”

Most discussions involve viewpoints rather than facts. So it’s best to avoid assuming a false dichotomy where only one person is right and the other is wrong. Others are more likely to really listen to you when you use words and body language that show respect and understanding for different points of view.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


Contempt, Lying & Outside Relationships

“Song of Maui” by Mimi Stuart ©

My boyfriend is texting, calling, and attempting to meet up with his ex or another new girl every time we have a (terrible) fight and he lies about them. I know he’s sick and tired of our constant fights and we have issues such as contempt/disrespect from my side and communication/withdrawal/leadership issues from his side.

Should I just be a big girl and ignore these behaviors as there is no physical cheating yet? Are these behaviors harmless?

M

Dear M,

The behaviors you are each engaged in are very destructive to the relationship.

Contempt and disrespect

You say you treat your boyfriend with contempt and disrespect. No relationship can withstand contempt for long. Often people are disrespectful because they blame their frustrations on their partner and don’t know how to effectively express those frustrations.

Let’s focus on you. You obviously do not feel good about yourself and your behavior in this relationship. Consider John Gottman’s research that shows that if 80% of communication is not positive between a couple, that relationship will disintegrate. As you really only have control over your own conduct, eliminate your disrespectful behavior and your life will improve whether or not you stay with your boyfriend.

To sustain a good relationship, you need to clearly and respectfully communicate your needs and expectations, while actively listening to your partner’s point of view. You need to learn to communicate effectively and respectfully, through counseling or effective communication classes, such as Marshall Rosenberg’s “nonviolent communication,” where you learn to express your desires without putting the other person on the defensive. It is very self-empowering to be able to clearly express yourself without judgment, contempt, or manipulation.

Seeking outside relationships and lying

I can see why your boyfriend would want to seek validation from others if you are treating him with contempt. But pursuing others without breaking up first and then lying to you afterwards shows that he is willing to deceive you and deny you your own life choices for the sake of his convenience.

You cannot trust someone who wants to continue a relationship while secretly exploring new ones. You cannot enjoy a committed relationship with someone who does not have the courage to be honest with you.

Thus, I suggest leaving this relationship to the realm of life experience and learning, and instead focus on the way you handle yourself in future relationships.

What now?

If I were in your situation, I would start by taking responsibility for my own behavior. If you find yourself treating anyone with contempt, apologize immediately and show a willingness to stop that harmful behavior. Find a positive way to express your needs and desires.

In the future, the main thing is that both partners learn to listen to one another without judgment and argument. You should be able to discuss anything, including hurt feelings and even breaking up while treating the other person humanely. Focus on speaking candidly in a compassionate way in order to make the relationship work.

Good luck.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

How to Increase Interest and Desire in your Relationship

“Perfect Swing” — Paula Creamer by Mimi Stuart ©


In a good long-term relationship, curiosity, interest, fun and desire thrive because there is adequate independence in the relationship. Here are some suggestions on how to avoid too much emotional fusion and codependence, which will smother the mystery, fun and desire in a relationship:

Don’t express every feeling and thought.

Hurt feelings, misunderstandings and other stresses will inevitably occur in any relationship. So you need to be able to communicate effectively, that is, being candid while having compassion. Express yourself briefly and on point, and ask yourself “is what I am about to say/do/ask helpful or hurtful, and is it necessary?”

Do not communicate every thought and feeling, and become annoying and tedious. Constantly expressing what’s on your mind is unnecessary and a sure way to kill all curiosity and ultimately the relationship.

“I’m bored.”
“I’m lonely.”
“I’m hungry.”
“I don’t like the way she talks.”
“I gained weight and feel sluggish.”
“I think I’ll have a cookie.”

Try to contain the more mundane thoughts and feelings, and express only the more interesting and important ones.

Don’t be controlling.

People generally become controlling out of their own insecurity. They may assume that if they can control the other person’s actions and thoughts, they might avoid potentially losing them. The opposite is true. The controlling person becomes oppressive and undesirable, making others want to flee.

Avoid nagging, pushing and managing your partner. Avoid telling your partner what to do or what to think all of the time. Allow some freedom, independence, and space between the two of you – it’s important. You want to be with a separate individual, not a puppet.

Don’t be needy.

At the beginning of the relationship, you may have felt whole and fulfilled as though all your needs were being met. But many of those feelings of fulfillment are a result of the initial excitement of falling in love, as well as your own projections, that is, your fantasy of who that other person is.

When you continue to expect another person to satisfy all your needs, you burden the relationship with your own unrealistic expectations. No other person will totally satisfy your emotional needs. You need to meet those needs yourself.

Enjoy your time together, but don’t require your partner to validate you constantly and to fulfill all your needs. That will only lead to disappointment and resentment.

Enrich your life.

If you want to feel desired, you need to be desirable. People shine when they live a full and vital life, engage in interests and with a variety of people, and have independent thoughts and pursuits. So pursue your passions and nourish your friendships.

Some partners may feel threatened by this, but the alternative is worse. Restricting your life by eliminating your passions and other friendships will ultimately doom the relationship and your own life to misery and meagerness.

You can start with small steps. When you see how effective those steps are, it will become easy, fun and rewarding to make your life more abundant and multifaceted. For example, do some things on your own or with friends instead of always waiting at home. Suggest new activities to your partner, but if he or she is uninterested, then go do it alone or with someone else. Take a walk, see a movie, take a trip to the beach, take up a new hobby, travel on your own or with friends.

You will become more interesting, fulfilled, and desirable.

If following these suggestions is difficult for you, you can get help and learn specific actions to take to develop healthier loving relationships at Co-Dependence Anonymous or with a good cognitive behavioral therapist.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Turning a Complaint into Enticement
“We never go dancing or do anything fun anymore!”

"Dazzle" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

So what I really meant was…

“Let’s go dancing!”

Exaggeration and blame make a person feel defensive instead of accommodating. Self-pity is unattractive—definitely not a seductive way to get someone to want to go dancing with you!

When people demonstrate personal authority and show excitement, they have a lot more magnetism than when they complain. Expressing desire is more effective than expressing discontent. So communicate in a positive, irresistible way:

“I’d love it if you came dancing with me tonight/next week/every Saturday!”

If the answer is “no,” find someone else to go dancing with, go on your own, or find something you both want to do together—but express yourself in a positive way, remembering that the goal is to enjoy your time together.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Spending Time Together as a Couple.”