Good communication is essential for a healthy relationship. Unfortunately many of the tips that are given by professionals are hard to use. Not because they are difficult concepts but because they feel so unnatural. I hear people say all the time that they feel silly using them. Although this could break the tension in a situation by getting people laughing, I would like to help you learn how to use them in order to benefit from the techniques while also making them feel more natural so you are more likely to actually use them!
The first technique is called “I” statements. An “I” statement is when you change the way you word a complaint by using “I” instead of “you”. The format is “I feel ____ when you ____ because ______.” For instance, instead of saying “You are always late!” you can say “I feel frustrated and worried when you are running behind and don’t call because I never know if you are okay or when to expect you home.” Why make such a short statement into a longer, more complicated one? Well, when you phrase things as I did with the first statement, your partner is likely to get defensive which will only escalate the problem (not to mention I’m sure he/she is not always late!) By talking about yourself (I feel…) your partner is less likely to get defensive because there is less of a sense of finger pointing and they are better able to understand the impact the behavior (reason you need to have the “when” ____ part) has on you. The “because ____” part is your thinking that goes along with the feeling and helps them to understand the reasoning behind your feelings. This part is helpful but not essential and can be dropped if it makes it more likely you’ll use it. Although it may take some getting used to, the more you use “I” statements, the more natural they become. If you start out a difficult conversation with an “I” statement and talk calmly, it is less likely the conversation will develop into a full blown argument. You can make it feel more natural too by dropping the format of “I” statements and make it more free flowing. For instance, the above statement might be less stiff when you say “I worry about you when you are late and don’t call”.
The other technique that I believe is important but often doesn’t get used due to feeling unnatural is active listening. Many people have heard of the active listening techniques such as using “encouraging” words or actions such as head nodding, “uh huh”, “yes”, or “right” while someone is talking to let them know you are paying attention. For active listening to be really effective, however, it needs to be taken a step further. Your partner needs to know that you are not only listening but that you understand them. In order to do this during important conversations or arguments, you can repeat back to them what you heard and understood in your own words. For beginners, the format is often “What I heard is….” or “You feel…”. This gives the speaker an opportunity to either agree and let the listener know they understood or to rephrase what they said if the meaning was not understood. This technique helps cut down on many misunderstandings that contribute to arguments. Give your own flair to this feedback process by starting off however feels most comfortable to you. If appropriate, you can lighten things up by using inside jokes or funny expressions to help get your point across.
Basically, the intention of these techniques is the important part. You can play with the format of the statements and the way you deliver them to make them feel more natural and fun. Please let me know of ways in which you have altered these techniques in order to make them work for you!
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