Tag Archives: effective 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.”

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


Compassionate Confrontation:
“He said he’d spend more time with me, but has not followed through.”

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

When a person who has agreed to a behavioral change does not follow through, the ability to confront that person with compassion is essential. No matter how justified your anger, a hostile confrontation or withdrawal will only result in more frustration and distance.

The goal of a compassionate confrontation is to generate mutual understanding before taking action. Starting with this kind of dialogue is far more effective than letting your anger take over.

Arrange a Meeting

It is important to avoid simply jumping into a difficult conversation. You will be much more effective if you arrange a meeting with the following parameters in mind:

1. The meeting takes place in a safe place,

2. With adequate time for full discussion,

3. Without other people or the children around,

4. Not right before going to bed, and

5. Not when either of you is exhausted, has been drinking, or is hungry.

Ask the other person to agree to two conditions:

1. To give the discussion a certain amount of time so that neither of you will leave before the time is up, and

2. To avoid attacking each other and interrupting. If you are attacked or interrupted, don’t get angry. Just say, “Hey, let’s do this without attacking or interrupting each other, like we agreed.”

State of Mind

To effectively confront someone, you have to start the conversation when you’re emotionally able to manage your stress and reactivity. You have to resist blaming or judging. An effective discussion starts from a position of appreciation, that is, you have to find a way to value and understand the other person and to convey that you want what is best for both of you.

To know what action to take, you will need to have a full understanding of what’s going on. Keep your emotional focus on valuing the other person even if you don’t like what they are saying. It is crucial not to take things personally when they speak from a position of fear.

Communications Professor Dalton Kehoe suggests that in a situation where you’re hearing negative attacks to view yourself as a matador with a raging bull coming at you. Simply step aside rather than stand in its way.

Starting the Discussion

Ranting may temporarily relieve your stress but it has a damaging effect on dialogue. The whole point is to get a deeper understanding of the other person’s view of the situation. In fact, you will often be surprised by the the other person’s point of view.

To start the discussion, you can say, “I think this affects both of us.” Describe the situation briefly and factually, being as neutral as you can. For example, “Two months ago, I asked you to spend more time with me. You agreed to come home earlier, but haven’t.”

State your concern with only one sentence, so that the other person doesn’t shut down or become defensive. For instance, “I’d like to be in a relationship where we enjoy more time together.”

Active Listening

Then ask how the other person views the situation. “How do you see it?”

Be sure to actively listen to gain understanding. Don’t become defensive. Try to understand the other point of view, even if you don’t agree. Encourage a full explanation of their view without interjecting judgment or arguing back.

To neutralize the unhelpful tone of a confrontational discussion, take the negative content and re-frame it without the negative emotion. Reinterpret what’s being said into neutral language.

For instance, if he says, “I work like crazy, and get home to your nagging me to do more work,” you can re-frame it by saying, “I’m so sorry that you feel annoyed by the way I approach you when you come home.”

Your Point of View

Once you have gotten the full story and the other person has run out of emotional heat, then you can ask if they will listen to your perspective. Again keep it neutral and descriptive so as to gain their understanding. Keep it calm and brief.

Once May Not Be Enough

While this is the most effective method for dealing with conflict, it may take a few times before there’s enough trust built up for the attacks and defense to diminish. At that point, people may become more comfortable in being open and honest to themselves and each other.

Solution

Do not rush to solve a problem when you only understand part of the story. Once there is true understanding, problem-solving becomes a relatively easy and minor part of the discussion. Problem-solving can only occur when people really understand the problem from both points of view. The solution then becomes obvious, although it may still be painful. Life often demands that we adjust our dreams and hopes to reality. But first it is crucial to find out what the other person’s reality really is.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


Recommended and Reference: “Effective Communication Skills” by Professor Dalton Kehoe from The Great Courses.


How to have a productive argument: “You’re simply wrong.”

"Poetry - Arnold Palmer" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Poetry – Arnold Palmer” by Mimi Stuart ©

To resolve conflict, solve problems, and influence people, you have to be diplomatic and strategic. Argue with the idea, not the person.

1. Find common ground. Start with the part you agree with.

“I understand where you’re coming from.” Or

“Yes, I have also found that…”

2. Find out the reasoning for their perspective.

“That’s an interesting way of looking at it. What makes you feel that way?” Or

“Tell me more about your position.”

3. Separate the idea from the person.

“The issue I have with that idea is that…”

4. Show concern rather than insistence by showing a compassionate side. Watch that your body language and facial expressions don’t convey superiority.

“My concern is…”

5. Broaden the other person’s perspective by posing a question. Even if someone doesn’t concede your point during the discussion, they may start considering it if you are not aggressive about it.

“Don’t you find…?” Or

“What if someone…?”

6. Don’t insist on resolving the issue now.

“Let’s think about this some more and see how we can fine-tune our ideas.”

Being strategic and diplomatic is not manipulative. It will allow you to hear what the other person has to say and you may learn something yourself. If you are soft on the person and curious about the issue at hand, you both might end up with a more nuanced solution than either one of you imagined.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

How to express anger effectively: Nonviolent communication

Everyone has reasons to get angry once in a while. But if you lose your temper or become mean and hostile, you are not going to improve your long-term relationships. When you lose your temper and attack another person, that person is likely to feel horrible and defensive rather than receptive and compassionate toward you.

So how can you express anger effectively, and what can you learn about yourself from your anger?

What emotion is hiding beneath the anger?

Often the fear of abandonment or of losing love and connection is what is fueling the anger. Sometimes it is a feeling of being insignificant or unappreciated that underlies the anger.

Frequent triggers to anger include not be listened to, anxiety, or feeling powerless.

Uncontrolled anger backfires and often causes the very thing you fear. For instance, you may fear abandonment. Yet when you become angry and possessive, you push the other person away.

Self-reflection

1. Recognize your feelings before you explode in anger. When you feel a mere irritation, it’s easier to do or say something calmly than when anger has built up.

2. Know what you need to do for yourself rather than expect another person to do something for you. Don’t expect others to read your mind or to satisfy your desires and needs.

Sometimes you do need to express your anger to another person. Here is how we change powerless hostility to personal power to inspire transformation:

Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication:

The most important component of this four-step process is that the intent shown through tone of voice is to treat the other person with respect while respecting our own needs. Without a calm tone and demeanor, it will be difficult to be effective even with the right words.

If you’re too angry, let the other person know you’ll discuss this later when you’re calm.

1. State the facts. Express the facts neutrally and factually without exaggeration and without saying “You never” or “You always”.

2. Express your feelings. “I feel angry/ sad/ defensive/ lonely.” Saying you feel angry is very different than expressing hostility and anger through yelling. Make sure your feelings aren’t in fact judgments. “I feel that you’re a jerk” is not a feeling.

3. Express your need or desire. “I need support/ to be able to trust someone/ to have more fun.” Be careful that your needs are not specifically about the other person. “I need you to clean your room” is not as effective as “I need order and cleanliness.” Remember that you have to satisfy many of your needs yourself.

4. Make a specific positive request, not a demand. Don’t be too abstract, e.g., “I want you to love me forever.” Avoid negative requests, e.g., “I want you to stop being selfish.” An example of a specific positive doable request would be “Let’s go out to dinner Friday night,” or “Would you help me do the dishes after dinner.”

Rather than complaining or nagging, you’re giving the other person the opportunity to do something thoughtful for you.

5. Observe patterns. This is an added step to consider it your requests keep getting ignored. You don’t want to try to control other people. Yet if you see that a person is repeatedly ignoring your reasonable requests, desires, and expectations, then you want to change your expectations and perhaps limit your relationship with that person. By changing your expectations, you’re less likely to be disappointed and once in a while you’ll be surprised to find the other person treating you with more respect.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Dealing with Angry People.”

“How can you be so naïve! Don’t get mad at me when I’m just pointing out how he takes advantage of you!”

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

“Syncopation” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

John Gottman’s research shows that the first three minutes of a discussion determines the tone and direction of the remainder of the discussion in 96% of cases. Criticisms, such as “You’re so naïve,” or “Why are you so selfish?” do the most harm at the beginning of a discussion. So be careful how you start a conversation.

Gottman found that happy couples express near zero contempt toward their partner even in times of conflict. They usually discuss their problems in a neutral way. Moreover, when they do experience conflict, they have fewer emotional exchanges during the conflict than unhappy couples.

Thus, it is critical to avoid expressing negative emotions during a conflict or an argument. This includes thinly-veiled contempt or an air of superiority.

The following behaviors are very predictive of a doomed relationship:

1. escalation of conflict

2. negative interpretation of comments

3. invalidation of the partner

4. withdrawal from the partner

How to approach your partner to talk about a problem

It’s best to startup the conversation in a positive way, particularly if you’re dealing with someone who tends to become defensive.

1. Be positive. “Honey, I love you and care about you very much. I’d like to talk to you about a concern I have. Is this a good time?”

2. Neutrally and briefly mention the facts, your feelings and your wishes without being critical, superior, or controlling. “In the past, I’ve seen your friend not follow through on his end of the deal. I appreciate that you want to see the best in people. Yet it makes me sad and frustrated to see you disappointed and aggravated when he disappoints you. I don’t want to tell you what to do. I am just reminding you that he has taken advantage of you in the past, and I hope that you can avoid letting a similar situation happen again.”

3. Stop and listen carefully to the other person’s response without jumping in to clarify or defend yourself.

4. When the person’s finished, try to be understanding. Repeat his concerns back to him so he knows you are listening. End the conversation with humor and/or appreciation. “Thanks for listening to my concern.”

5. If the time comes when your partner complains about being used, simply use humor or compassion, and say, “Yep, that’s too bad,” without being drawn into any drama.

6. If he continues to complain, say “I know. It’s disappointing. But let’s focus on something we can change. Hopefully you will not trust him in the future. ”

Finally, it’s important to avoid trying to control another person. You can give a warning to him and protect yourself as best you can. But remember that if you allow differences in personality to lead to an escalatiion in conflict, the resulting negativity is likely to become more damaging than the issue you are arguing about.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Reference: John Gottman’s “The Science of Trust.”

Read “I end up arguing with him because he’s usually too busy working to talk.”

Watch “How to Respond to Rudeness: ‘I TOLD you to get it for me!!!’”

Read “Dealing with conflict and volatility: ‘You’re being irrational!’”