Communication is key in any healthy relationship and plays a large role in getting more of what you want in life. Unfortunately, this is a vital skill that is often rough around the edges or in need of refining.
Too often I hear my clients say that their conversations – with spouses, children, family or co-workers – can trigger defense mechanisms and close doors rather than create understanding and positive discussion.
To support greater harmony and more effective dialogue, I invite you to integrate more of these fundamental talking tips into your life.
1. Speak in “I” statements rather then “you” statements.
By speaking in I statements you claim ownership for your own feelings and experiences. Speaking in the “I” allows you to release yourself from telling others what they should do next, how to act or what to feel.
Especially when added with an open invitation for support rather than a demand, I believe this is the number one communication tool.
When the “you” is added to the equation, it turns the responsibility and energy outward. This can often feel like an accusation or attack, whether intended or not. Even if what you are saying is true, being on the other end of a “you” statement will usually trigger an instinctual defensive position that can lead to a verbal counter attack or emotional shut down rather than productive dialogue.
For example, if you are unhappy with the chore division in your household, a common occurrence in many households, look at the two statements below and think about how you would instinctively respond.
I Statement “I am feeling frustrated by the amount of time I’m spending doing chores around the house. I’m wondering if we could brainstorm to explore solutions that feel comfortable and balanced for all of us.”
YOU Statement “You don’t help enough around the house and it’s making me feel overloaded.”
While this latter statement could be 100% true, what is your body’s response if someone were to say it to you? Often as soon as the “you don’t” starts, the body contracts inward which kicks off the stress response and can shut not only the conversation but a person down.
2. Before jumping to conclusions, neutrally ask for more information.
The react and jump to penalties was a response I found myself drawn into repeatedly with my kids during their teenage years. Some of this was due to the brevity of teen texting. Some of my own entrenched pattern of reaction when feeling like my boundaries weren’t being honored.
So when my son would text, “I’m going to be late for my curfew” instead of asking for more details, I would whip out the consequence.
After having to retract my own actions several times after finding out there were extenuating circumstances, I finally got with the program and learned to get more information BEFORE acting with a simple question…
This simple question not only gave me the additional details so I could make a thoughtful decision before reacting in haste, but it also gave me an emotional pause to take a breath inside of myself and corral my own instinctual responses.
Sounds logical and simple – and with practice it can help to break the cycles of habitual relationship conversation pitfalls.
3. Artfully use yes…and/but statements to help honor your boundaries while supporting another.
I had a client who was struggling to say no to requests by others – to coworkers, to her son, to her husband – even if they came at a time that was problematic for her.
Many requests come with a sense of time urgency from the other person. While sometimes there truly is something that needs to be taken care of immediately – a broken water pipe perhaps – more often than not the urgency is self created by the other person’s desires.
While my client wanted to be caring and supportive to others, she was also growing into her own self respect and value and that meant honoring her boundaries.
Over the coaching session, my client discovered by using two words YES… BUT or AND together in her answer, she could honor both herself and the other person.
Spouse: Can you help me deal with _______________________?
Client: YES, I’d love to help BUT/AND I’m right in the middle of finishing my self care exercises. I’d be happy to help anytime after the next 30 minutes.
Saying YES let’s the person asking know you are open to support and responsive to them. The BUT/AND put in place the timing that will work for you to honor your needs.
4. Use questions in place of directing comments or old actions that lead to resentment.
Another common communication pattern I see involves feeling stuck in a situation where someone has done something (usually a chronic behavior that sets you off) that has you feeling that a) you either have fix it or b) you want to tell the person to fix it.
In this pattern, fixing it yourself often leads people to feeling resentful for having to “yet once again” take care of the situation.
The other choice is to have a conversation pointing out the problem and telling/directing the other person to fix or deal with it. This falls into the category of “you” directive statements.
But there is a third choice which involves an I statement followed by a question inviting collaboration.
I had a client in just such a situation involving a household project of sanding. The client was delighted that the project was underway. And the husband left the bedroom doors open. Yup, sawdust all over both rooms. Rutrow!
Her old pattern was to feel like she had to clean it up, creating more work for her and leaving her resentful. In her communication explorations, she was considering having a conversation “addressing the problem” which involved asking him to clean it up. But this seemed like a conversation minefield sure to set off a reaction from her husband.
Instead, my client put into affect option three by changing the statement into a question: “I noticed that during the sanding it looks like the doors unintentionally got left open leaving saw dust all over. How do you want to handle this?”
She took it further and recognized that the tone she used in asking the question was also a factor. She wanted to be neutral and inviting rather than bringing judgment into the tone. Lastly she made one more small but significant word shift. In the question, she changed it from “what do you want to do about it?” to “what should we do about it?”
5. Focus on the positive.
In the Fulfillment Model of coaching I practice, this is the foundation of much of my client interaction based on the idea that what you focus on expands. By putting attention on the positive results or action, you encourage and expand more of that. By focusing on the positive, you acknowledge what is already going right – which often gets overlooked by the small amount that isn’t working.
By keeping a positive focus, you continue to move in the direction of success, abundance and where you want to be.
While most people see the benefit of this idea, when it comes to relationships I often get the “yeah but” to it.
“Yes, I can focus on the positive with my son but how does that help me when he’s still not doing his chores? If I don’t point out what he’s missing or nag him, it just doesn’t happen.”
“I get what you’re saying but as a manager it’s my job to correct mistakes and give constructive feedback.”
The book “The Carrot Principle” talks more about the power of this approach but the reality is that by continuing to acknowledge the positive actions you want – whether in your kids or your employees – you are stressing the behavior and actions that you want while helping the person feel good about what they are doing.
On the flip side, just like above when I spoke about “you” statements, all forms of criticism whether constructive or nor, make a person contract and brace inside and truly don’t yield the positive results you’re looking for.
This approach takes patience, but try it with one person for a month and see what happens.
6. Listen more, talk less.
I recently heard a neighbor say to their daughter in a discussion, “God gave me two ears and one mouth so I could listen more and speak better.” Not my neighbor’s original saying but so spot on.
To truly converse and engage in productive dialogue means to understand the other person and that requires listening. Too often people are planning out their next response while another is talking. Instead, practice letting go of your expectations, opinions, and agendas to HEAR the person speaking.
Many times people come to a conversation not wanting answers but simply the space to be heard. Allowing the other to share without interspersing your thoughts, opinions, and solutions can be a great gift of support and open the door to deeper sharing and engagement.
Jamie Durner, Holistic Wellness-Life-Business Coach
I specialize in helping individuals create and live a magnificently abundant life. As a holistic coach, I use my integrated background in life coaching, Ayurvedic medicine, yoga technologies, medicinal aromatherapy, and energy work to help you clear your blocks, shift unsupportive habits, and get you where you want to be.
I passionately believe that abundance and fulfillment are the natural results of living in connection to your unique authentic self. When you are this aligned space of being your best, you enjoy many benefits including vital wellbeing, healthy and harmonious relationships, greater satisfaction and balance in life and work, and the ability to go through life’s transitions with ease.
My areas of expertise include:
- Health and wellness on all levels of body, mind, and spirit
- Aging with ease – getting older doesn’t mean developing chronic health conditions
- Developing your personalized healthy lifestyle
- Work-Life transitions and balance
- Developing and expanding a yoga and meditation practice
- Business coaching for holistic practitioners
- Holistic Corporate Wellness programs
Through individualized and group coaching programs, DIY wellness products, and corporate wellness in-services, Jamie’s mission is to help you be your best: health body, sharp mind, balanced energy, and fulfilled life.
Get ready to get MORE of what you want – it’s time!
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