As a Life Strategies Coach, I work with clients to clean up the clutter in their lives, literally and figuratively. The “literal clutter” cleanup is easy: figure out your goals, come up with a systematic and achievable plan, get organized, and go for it! Clearing away the “figurative” mind and emotional clutter takes a bit more work. This type of clutter is usually the result of feelings not shared with a spouse, friend, co-worker, or family member. Holding on to these hurt, angry, frustrated, or confused feelings often results in low self-esteem, self-doubt, reluctance to take action, and even physical illness or pain.
The typical reason that most of us do not vent these vitriolic emotions is due to fear of the dreaded . . . confrontation. What’s so bad about confrontation? Isn’t it, after all, simply communication? Communication: good. Confrontation: bad! (Said the grunting monster.)
The problem is that most of us associate confrontation with aggression, anger, attack, sometimes even violence. According to the dictionary, the root of confrontation – confront – means: “to face in hostility or defiance, to oppose.” This is clearly what most of us wish to avoid. But it also states the following: “to stand in front of or meet facing; to present for acknowledgment.” That doesn’t sound so bad, to present for acknowledgment. To present your feelings so that they can be acknowledged. Surely that is the real core response we all seek, when “confronting.” An acknowledgment of our feelings. If you think hard about it, you’ll admit an appreciation of our feelings is far more important than who was right and who was wrong. (Do not forget, that there are two sides to every story, and the truth is somewhere in the middle!)
But where we get stuck when trying to communicate our feelings – where it turns into the negative aspects of a confrontation – is in our delivery and our recipient’s response. With attention spans so short, and everything else moving so fast in our society (from food to entertainment to cars), is it any wonder that we are predisposed to offensive and defensive modes of communication? Throw your words out there…feel attacked…respond defensively with an assault (or insult). Rapid fire words to hit where they hurt, then duck and cover. Muscles tighten, the body fills with tension.
That’s how I perceive many attempts at communication where hurt or frustrated feelings are concerned. This is not communication, it is confrontation in the “face in hostility or defiance” definition. I, too, would do all I could to avoid confrontations if that is how it would always result.
But what would happen if we all changed our delivery when a confrontation was needed? If we calmly articulated the facts of how we feel (for the facts about how you feel cannot be disputed), and did so from a perspective of understanding that the other person may well have felt their own levels of hurt or frustration.
We must let go of the battle over which came first (the proverbial chicken or the egg), and just acknowledge that both parties used poor communication or thoughtless actions. Promise to do our best to think before we speak or act in the future, and more importantly, acknowledge the other’s feelings in this situation.
Confrontation would loose its intimidating factor if it were nothing more than an intense communication between parties in which they stated their feelings, acknowledged each other, and moved on with a new awareness.
So if you have been avoiding confronting someone (in the old negative definition), try this new approach. You have nothing to lose, and plenty to gain. I can feel my muscles just relaxing thinking about it. How about you?
She says one thing and means another!
Do either of these statements sound familiar to you?
What one thing can keep marriages healthy, friendships growing, and countries living in harmony? Good communication! Yet that is the one thing that fails most regularly. Why? Many reasons, but the prime reason is that different genders and generations communicate in different ways. The most common complaint that I hear from my clients is that their spouse/significant other, or co-worker or employer doesn’t listen to them.
This communication breakdown is the subject of numerous studies by everyone from professionals to couples at a dinner party. They usually focus on the differences between how men and women talk, listen, and interpret. More scientific (or physco-analytical) approaches focus on the right and left hemispheres of our brains and how the we react differently depending on which side of our brain hemispheres dominate (right side being creative and emotional, left side being critical and analytical). Some just blame it on diverse lifestyles that render opposites (opponents) unable to relate.
I boil it down to two concepts.
1. People do not LISTEN to each other. And by listen, I mean hear what the other person means, what they are really saying, not necessarily their words. Instead of feeling their intentions, and trying to understand their motivations, we react to their words, before their actions have a chance to clarify anything misunderstood. Then we are further confused when their actions do not match our expectations.
2. People do not SPEAK CLEARLY. I am a huge proponent of being honest and asking for what you need from another person. When you cover the true need with superfluous embellishments, apologies, caveats, etc., your message (intent) is lost in translation!
As an example, say you need more help at home from your spouse, or to remove something from your over-burdened “plate” at work. Instead of saying I need help. I’m stressed and feel in over my head, you say is there any way that I could possibly have you do me a favor? It won’t take long, if you can’t that’s okay, I understand, oh never mind. What that much fluff around your true intention, is it any wonder that all the other person hears is “yada yada yada could you…okay, never mind?
So how do we repair our communication breakdowns? I employ two simple techniques. Streamlined questioning followed by active listening.
1. Before you ask a question, know your true intentions. What do you really need to ask? Are you beating around the bush? Are you afraid to come forward and ask for what you really need? Don’t play the martyr, people don’t respect it.
Be reasonable, be straight-forward, and 99% of the time, the other person will gladly honor your request. Hopefully, they in turn, will be honest and tell you if they cannot or are unwilling to comply. That goes for you too. You must be honest with yourself and others when called upon for help or a favor. If it’s too difficult for you to achieve at this time, for whatever reason, just say so. Doing someone a favor when it makes for a hardship in your life, helps no one.
2. Listen to answers…think before you speak. Try to not to anticipate, or have expectations of what you want to hear from another person. This will eliminate the feeling of disappointment if the answer isn’t what you had hoped for.
Take a moment to digest what has been said, or how you wish to respond. Keep in mind all the variables that can change perception. What are they/you doing at this moment? Do you have only half their attention or vice versa? Are there distractions, complications?. Was the question clear? Does the answer need clarification? What does their/your body language say?
Once you get in the habit of straight-to-the-point (but not tactless) questions, and active open listening, your communication skills will improve. This will boost the communication skills of those around you as well (especially in intimate relationships). Teach these techniques to your spouses, children, and co-workers. Though this may not improve global communication, if one person at a time make an concerted effort to be honest and listen well, our world may have a lot less bickering!