Whether in the kitchen or in the cubicle, communication is difficult. There are those emotions, perceptions, judgments and personalities to deal with. Here is a 5-point checklist for communication that cultivates great relationships.
When you listen to your kids what are you listening for? Do you stop to correct their grammar? Do you let emotions clog your ears when they tell you they want to pierce their tongue? When your spouse announces his promotion, does your agenda of wanting a new Lexus tarnish his silver? When a client or associate gives you critical feedback do you get so defensive you can’t benefit from the suggestions?
When your wife comes crying to you about her weight and her depression do you give her a can of Slim Fast and a pep talk? What your kids wanted was your attention. Your husband needed your admiration. Your boss wanted you to improve and your wife wanted your sympathy. We can give people what they desire if we offer our ear instead of our judgments, advice and hidden agenda. Unfortunately sometimes we don’t get what we want unless we ask.
ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT
Often we are more aware of what we don’t want than what we do want. Suppose your twelve-year-old daughter has a habit of leaving her bedroom light on. What is your response: “I don’t want to have to remind you to turn out your bedroom light!” Now, turn that around: “I’d like you to get into the habit of turning your lights out without being reminded. What do you suggest I do if you aren’t able to comply with this request?” Now you have asked for what you want, (instead of what you don’t want) and you have let her help decide the consequences. You have taught by example how to become a creator.
The same principle applies at work. Instead of saying to your employee, “I don’t want to walk in on this kind of mess again,” you say: “I want to walk into a perfectly organized office and know that you have things under control.” Going from negative to positive is a technique that aids in cooperation and lessens the likelihood of resentment from subordinates.
If you feel resentment or anger toward someone, it’s likely that a boundary either needs to be set, or a boundary has been crossed. Many of us neglect to articulate our boundaries or we aren’t sure if boundaries are appropriate. For example, if you have a manager who has a tendency to raise his voice-do you have any rights other than going to the front office? You can set a boundary by saying: “I’d like to address this, however I’m not available to be yelled at. I will check back with you at 2:00.” (Of course plan B is going to the office.) The point is, if you have tolerated screaming before and suddenly go to the office you look like a crybaby or a troublemaker. Setting boundaries is one way to communicate what is acceptable and what isn’t. Setting good boundaries helps to eliminate relationship drama.
A major problem is setting boundaries that you either can’t keep or don’t intend to keep. Don’t cry wolf-it’s worse than setting no boundaries at all. If you have failed to set or keep boundaries you must recognize the part you played in the negative pattern.
OWN YOUR STUFF
“Owning your stuff” softens criticism while letting someone save face. For example, a coworker’s joking has crossed your (unmentioned) boundaries. You are feeling disgusted, yet at the same time you have permitted it and perhaps even encouraged the joking by pretending it was funny, rolling your eyes or keeping silent. How do you stop it without crying sexual harassment? Recognize your part.
You say, “Chris-I need to talk to you about something. I’m sorry that I haven’t been completely honest with you. I have actually laughed at a few things that have offended me and now I’m afraid it threatens our working relationship.” Then you go on to explain that you are ‘owning up’ because you want the behavior to stop, you want to remain friends, and you feel that you are partly to blame.
Most people are so humbled at your honesty and intentions to retain the relationship that they are willing to comply with your new rules. In the future, remember to fully represent yourself.
Representing yourself means you only take care of your own business. It’s the practice of using statements that cannot be disputed. This is accomplished by starting your statements with the pronoun “I.” “I am angry,” rather than “you make me angry.” It means taking responsibility for your emotions, thoughts and feelings while leaving out the blame and judgments. For example, “You are trying to irritate me,” is a judgment. However, “I’m feeling irritated and need some space,” is a statement and an expressed need. “You are lazy,” is a judgment (perhaps based on observation) but, “I need some help,” is a way to represent yourself without casting your values on someone else.
When I share my feelings, desires and perceptions, I speak from my experience, which may or may not be the same as yours. It’s a method to experience differences, express differences and stay in charge of yourself and the relationship.