Many people start relationship therapy or coaching with requests to communicate better. And we, as therapists and coaches, usually teach clients a lot about how to listen, as it is one of the very best things you can do for someone else. We all enjoy being listened to and being understood. In all our personal and business relationships and especially in our primary relationship we want understanding.
The other communication skill to learn is speaking – the other half of listening. When you want to begin a conversation about a difficult or sensitive subject you want to do a number of things to make it successful. Use this in both your personal and professional conversations.
Have an attitude of synergy, being on the same team, and being kind. Think about the subject and consider how to say it without criticism and blame. Even if you are angry, the purpose is to get your message across to the other person and you want to speak in a way that will make it easier for them to listen to you. This conversation is not for venting or saying you are right. It is for understanding and possibly finding a solution to some problem or issue.
How to Start
Being kind, you will want to say what you want to be heard and understood about. Say it in a soft manner without anger. And begin with your feelings. “I feel …” is an easy start-up. Be sure to cover the multitude of feelings you may have on the subject. Talking about yourself is something that is not easy to argue with because you are the only one who knows how you feel.
What to Say
Your speech will be best received if you keep it simple and talk only about yourself.
A good beginning sentence would be, “I feel… about…”
Here is where you talk about what you feel, what you said, what you did, what you heard, what you saw, what you experienced, as if you are a reporter. This is your “reality”, your “story”, or your perception. This is not necessarily the facts, but the facts according to your observations and perceptions. It is important for you to try and avoid talking about the other person except when it is included in what you heard them say or what you saw them do. What you heard or saw is good speaking as opposed to poor speaking which would be that they said or did something.
For example, you might say, “I heard you tell me you were going to meet your friends tomorrow at 7:00 and be home in several hours.” Or, “I saw you go to the other room when you got a call from Fred and you spoke with him with the door closed.” These would be better than saying, “You always leave me out of your plans and go out all night with your friends, like you are doing tomorrow.” Or, “You didn’t want me to hear what you were saying and you always keep secrets from me, especially when it is about Fred.”
Your job as speaker is to talk about yourself in “I” statements rather than “you” statements. In other words, you talk about your feelings, your observations, what you said, what you did, what you saw and what you heard, not the other’s intentions or interpretations of their actions.
So far you have thought about this subject, prepared for opening the conversations, and stated your feelings. You have also stated what the conversation is about and given your “reality” about it.
The last sentence you want to say is, “I need (or want) …”
Here is where you say what you want. Say directly your wishes, “I want to know when I can expect you home so I don’t worry about you. I would like a phone call if you will be out later than 10:00 tomorrow. Could you do that?” Or to use our other example above, “I need to know you are being honest with me. Having a conversation with Fred about your plans where I can hear your side of the conversation makes it easier for me to feel secure and trusting.”
Review Your Sentence
“I feel… about… and I need…”
As the speaker wanting to have your point be understood and sometimes wanting a decision, you will start with a teamwork approach of healthy non-jugdmentalness. You will talk about your feelings and perceptions, adding a lot of “I” statements to the mixture. Then you will finish off with what you need or want instead of criticism.
When you have completed this, the listener now becomes the speaker and gets to share what they heard you say and validate your feelings before they go through the above steps of being the speaker.
All of this seems slow and quite prescribed. It is. And it works. Try it and get really good at it if you want understanding and respectful relationships.
If you need help with this kind of communication, email me or call at 702-242-4222.