By Jennifer Garza
Communication is the most important – and most difficult – thing to master in any relationship. We often don’t say how we feel, and instead, lash out at our family, partner and friends. Some of us become aggressive, and others become passive-aggressive. But learning to communicate in a direct and kind way can nurture relationships instead of tearing them apart.
So how do you communicate with kindness?
Say what you mean from a personal perspective. Use “I statements” to convey your message in a way that diminishes the chance the other person will react from a defensive standpoint. For instance, suppose your partner is running late at work. At first, you worry. As more and more time passes, you begin to talk yourself into a frenzy and become angry. You start thinking “Who does he/she think he/she is? All it takes is a simple phone call. He/She has no respect for me.”
When your partner makes it home, apologetic, and explains he got held over in a meeting, you are in a state of anger and feeling not cared for, so you lash out and say something like this: “You’re so inconsiderate. I can’t believe you can’t do something as simple as pick up the phone and call. You obviously don’t care about me at all.”
At this point, your partner feels attacked. He or she is thinking about the long meeting they were stuck in, when all they wanted was to get home and spend time with family. The person waiting for a phone call expects the other person to be apologetic and sympathize. But no one is sympathetic after his/her character is attacked. So your partner reacts in anger, and all communication ceases. Your partner shuts down or becomes angry, and now you feel even less cared for.
Starting with an empathetic stance and following with an “I statement” can alleviate this cycle. An “I statement” looks like this: “When X happens, I feel X. I would really appreciate X.”
Here is an example of an “I statement” conversation: “I know that occasionally you get held up at work, and I understand. When I don’t get a call saying you’re going to be late from work, I feel worried. The more time that passes, I begin to feel angry and disrespected that I haven’t been notified. I would really appreciate a call to let me know what’s going on.” This allows for the person with a complaint to state his/her feelings and concerns in a way that doesn’t attack the other person’s character.
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Purposefully exercise empathy when communicating. Before allowing anger to set in, think about how your partner feels having to put in extra time at work. Remember the stress involved at the workplace, and how he or she must be feeling at the end of the day. Perhaps there was no time to call or text before your partner’s meeting. Remember your anger does not stem from the event, but from personal emotions you have attached to an event. Viewing events from this perspective helps alleviate your anger before you begin communicating.
After all, once anger becomes a part of the equation, there is no communication.
Jennifer Garza, M.S., has a master of science in counseling and psychology. She is a former therapist and has taught life enhancement classes at venues including college campuses, state conferences and prisons. She is the author of the inspiration journal “365 Days to Happiness: Use Your Strengths, Thoughts, and Dreams to Manifest a New Life.” Garza has been featured in Natural Health magazine, AOL, BusinessInsider.com, Young Entrepreneur.com, and on FTNS radio. Visit her website at www.authorjennifergarza.com or connect with her.