By Dr. Marta Adelsman
Verde Valley AZ (September 14, 2012) – Have you ever had the experience of wondering why, when you talk with someone, they suddenly become defensive or reactive in some way? You may actually set up your friends or family to react to you without being aware that you are doing so. Today I’m sharing with you four points from a “Chat ‘n’ Chew” discussion I led at Jerona Café last week on this topic. These should support you to avoid communicating the following:
1) Accusation. The question “Why?” often puts others on the defensive. Perhaps it stems from parents accusingly asking you, when you were a child, “Why did you…?”. For whatever reason, the question often leaves me feeling accused, so I avoid it. I encourage you to substitute “How come?” or “Help me understand the reason for…” instead of “Why?” It also helps if you speak the substitute phrases with curiosity in your voice rather than accusation or blame.
2) Judgment and blame. When you use phrases like “You should,” “You’re wrong,” “That was bad,” etc., these often cause the other person to resist what you’re saying. They imply judgment and give the message that you know better than someone else what is best for them. Even labeling somebody as “right” or “good” can erode another person’s trust in you because these are also judgments. They imply that you will easily slip into using their opposites.
Instead, practice using “serves” or “doesn’t serve” when describing something you might otherwise label as wrong or bad. You could also say, “works for me/doesn’t work for me” or “is useful/not useful” to get across the same message. If you disagree with someone, instead of “You’re wrong,” you can say “I don’t share your perspective,” or “I have a different opinion.”
3) Vagueness. Watch how often you use such phrases as “I need to,” I have to,” and “I’ll try to.” These words communicate vagueness. They subtly leave the other person wondering whether or not you’re telling the truth about what you say you want to do. They also leave room for that part of you that resists being definite. It provides the ego with an opportunity to sneak out the back door of commitment.
To avoid vagueness, I encourage you to substitute “I choose to,” “I commit to,” or “I will.” One participant at the Chat ‘n’ Chew discussion also suggested the use of “I promise.” These words communicate strength and definiteness rather than a wishy-washy vagueness.
If you are unwilling to use these alternate phrases, then perhaps you’re not ready to carry out what you say you “need to” or will “try to” do. If not, then tell the truth about that, or say nothing at all. Realize that it’s perfectly okay not to choose or commit to something. If others judge you for it, that’s about them, not about you.
4) Opinion. If you want to offer your opinion about something, ask permission first. Others will more likely listen to you if you say, “May I offer you something?” If they say yes, then offer it merely as your opinion – as kitty litter. If they say no, respect that and move on.
I trust that these hints will support you to say cleanly and clearly what you really mean to say in a way that decreases the risk of defensive or confused responses. Tuck these away in your communication toolbox and pull them out when you need them!
Dr. Marta is available for individual and couples coaching. Write her at email@example.com or call 928-451-9482.