In a relationship, when we have a wish or a need for something to be different, most of us would like to feel that we can speak up, be heard, and see changes. And most of us have at least a few stories to tell about times that didn’t happen. Either we found it difficult to speak up for ourselves, didn’t feel that the other person really heard us, or didn’t experience a change.
It can be scary to speak up for yourself when you need or want something because it leaves you feeling more vulnerable to rejection. Conflict is hard for people to manage for a variety of reasons. By not addressing your needs, though, you’re not avoiding conflict. You still feel those needs. And they are still unmet. That’s a pretty great recipe for resentment. In the short term, it might seem easier not to voice your concerns, not to ask for something to change. The longer you keep quiet, the longer your needs stay unmet and the worse it feels.
So, what can you do to express what you need in a way that someone is likely to hear?
To start, speak in an even, calm tone that conveys respect. Most people won’t readily listen to (or care about) what is being asked of them if you are defensive, condescending, or attacking. A calm, respectful tone helps the listener to feel safer. When someone feels safe, they are much more likely to consider what is being communicated to them. Likewise, by keeping yourself calm, you are more likely to feel confident about what you are saying. When you feel confident, you don’t need to rely on a defensive or condescending tone. Win-win.
Remember I-statements? Use them. Tell me what you think sounds better to you:
A) “What the hell?! I thought you said you were going to wash the dishes before you went to bed! Why are they still sitting here sixteen hours later?! You had time to play around on your iPad two hours, but you didn’t have time to do the dishes? How many times are we going to have to go through this before you decide to stop being so lazy?!”
B) “I felt mad and disappointed when I went into the kitchen and saw the dirty dishes still sitting there. When you don’t do something you said you would do, I feel disregarded.”
Would A or B help you feel more receptive to what another person is saying? I guess most people would choose B. Example B doesn’t attack, doesn’t condescend, and clearly communicates the speaker’s experience.
Keep it solution-focused, not problem-focused. Solution-focused identifies strategies to try that would produce an ideal outcome. Problem-focused highlights what went wrong and is a slippery slope on the way to both of you feeling polarized on the subject. Solution-focused says, “Tonight, let’s decide who will cook dinner and who will wash the dishes. Whoever chooses to do dishes will uphold their end of the bargain by washing them before we sit down to watch Modern Family.” By focusing on how you would like the situation to play out, you are keeping a hopeful and positive perspective while addressing what isn’t working. When you focus only on what isn’t working, the other person can feel blamed and criticized.
By using these techniques, you can help create a safer environment for your loved one to hear feedback and foster a dynamic of responsibility and respect.
Love and Be Loved,