When lecturing our loved ones, less is more
We have a lot to say and we want to say it. Especially when it comes to explaining why we’re upset, we don’t like to spare words. It’s important to us that the offender understands his or her offence. To this end we will name it, explain it, give examples of it, give previous examples of it, describe its impact, describe its past impact, describe its future impact, and more.
A woman is hurt by something her husband said, and lets him know it. “When you speak to me in that tone of voice, I feel completely disrespected, like nothing I say or think matters and then I feel, what’s the point? Why even try to communicate because anyway, you’re just going to dismiss everything I say as being completely uninformed and ignorant. And so I’ve learned to just keep my mouth shut except for today, when for some reason, I decided to take a risk and try — just try — to make just a small suggestion. But, silly me, I should never have done it because look what happened. The same as always — like the day of our wedding when I suggested that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to let the kids play in the hall. And even then — I should have seen it coming, what the rest of my life with you would look like — evem then, when we were just married, you let me know how ridiculous my idea was. What do you think I felt at that time? Yes! Exactly like I feel right now!”
So Hard to Hear
Despite the fact that we want to say it, the truth is, that no one wants to hear it!
“When my mother starts with one of her famous lectures, I just close my ears and wait for the noise to stop. She just goes on and on and on, even though she made her point in her first three words.”
The more we talk about an upsetting topic, the more stress chemistry we pour through our bodies. We should cease and desist if only for our own sake!
We don’t do so because we don’t feel satsified even after all our ranting and raving.
Long expansions of our basic complaint are generally meant to drive the point home. When we feel that we’ve driven it home, that something finally “clicked into place,” then we’re done.
Unfortunately, lectures rarely achieve their goal. In fact, because people tune us out, long critical complaints often lead to endless debates (fights). What we really need is a short, pointed conversation that produces a resolution.
Fortunately, there is a way to get that.
How to Do It
The first trick, is to never issue a verbal complaint while feeling upset. When we’re upset, a simple complaint often morphs into a tirade. The length of the attack makes it feel like a tirade (or tantrum or fit) even when spoken in a quiet, respectful manner. Too many words makes a simple complaint feel like some sort of verbal assault.
Therefore, we don’t want to share our complaint until we have the presence of mind to be able to express it succinctly to ourselves first. We need to be able to squeeze our complaint into 10 to 25 words. Harville Hendrix’s formula can help us: “When you do X, I feel Y.” For example: “When you speak to me in that tone of voice, I feel disrespected.”
Now the complaint is short and sweet, but it’s still incomplete. No complaint should be issued until we’ve also figured out exactly what we’re asking for. This, too, can be expressed succinctly, in around 10 to 25 words. “What I really want is for you to use the same calm tone of voice that you use when speaking to your father, even if you think I’m wrong.”
By getting right to the point, we avoid losing our audience. By asking clearly for what we want, we increase our chances of getting the resolution we’re seeking. Yes, there may be a need for a bit of a conversation and negotiation, but the heavy work has already been done.
When you find yourself going on and on, just close your mouth in mid-sentence. Don’t worry — no one is listening, so they won’t even notice. For more positive results going forward, use less word power.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 729)
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