Effective communication is a skill and anyone can learn to communicate effectively on condition they follow certain rules.
I don’t want to get into all of them in today’s blog. Prompted by a pattern that I see in many people that I accompany as a life coach, I would like focus on what I consider to be the number 1 and most important rule for communicating our “woes” to someone.
Many people complain that they either feel not heard or that discussions turn into arguments. Others don’t dare bring up the subject for fear of “hurting” their loved ones. Whichever the case is, they all feel frustrated and their issue is not resolved.
The first thing I do in such cases is ask them what they would like to say. What is impressive is they almost always start with
“HE or SHE does or does not do this or that and…”
They get so worked up that I have trouble getting them to hear what I have to say.
I usually go:
“Ok. Ok. I get it. Can I ask you to do it differently?”
I then ask them to pretend that I am the person they want to say all these things to. They usually look away and have trouble picturing me as the person that did them wrong but I ask them to look me in the eye and start talking saying exactly what they want to say to their partner/spouse/boyfriend/brother/friend etc.
In almost all cases they start with YOU. “You do this and you don’t do that” etc. and then I have to stop them again and ask them a series of questions. Here’s the most recent example with a lady that I will call Jane.
ME: “Whose is complaining? Who is unhappy with the situation?”
JANE: “I am”
ME: “Then why do you start every phrase with YOU?”
JANE: “Because HE/SHE is responsible or to blame.”
ME: “How would you feel if someone came to talk to you and the first thing that came out of their mouth was an accusation? That YOU are to blame for something? Wouldn’t you feel attacked?”
ME: “How willing would you be to actively listen to what they are saying?”
ME: “When we feel under attack, we are more likely to mentally start preparing our defense rather than stay curious as to what the other person has to say. We stop listening so as to prepare what we are going to say next to get off the hook rather than try to resolve the issue. Don’t you think?”
JANE: “I guess so.”
ME: “Why don’t you start again but this time with I instead of YOU. Start by saying how YOU feel about or how YOU perceive the situation.”
I can’t tell you that what happens next is that they can easily express their feeling abstaining from accusations or renouncing their own responsibility. Because, in a way, they ARE responsible too if they let it happen again and again without doing anything to stop it or to alert the other person as to what their behavior was causing in a way that they would understand. Of course. I don’t tell them that. That would put them in defense mode and there would be no progress. Instead, I ask them:
“What is more important for you: pinning the blame on someone else or resolving the issue?”
It’s not easy telling others how we feel. It makes us vulnerable and, to many, vulnerability shows weakness. Nonetheless, vulnerability is the opposite of weakness. Vulnerability shows strength and courage. It takes a lot of courage and strength to be authentic because, when we start doing it, it feels like a leap of faith. We don’t know what will happen next. Nevertheless, it pays off because no matter what happens next, it helps us take the next step. With honesty and vulnerability, we KNOW that there is a next step. The step that will break the vicious circle. We can finally move forward than live and relive the same situation. The issue will either be resolved amicably or we might need to move forward into a different direction. We might need to make decisions.
The most important thing is that we took action, in a gentle, vulnerable way that gave the other person a lot of room for reflection and space to for them to make their own decisions.
So, even if we have learnt that I is all about the EGO, in this case the use of I is all about selflessness!
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