I'll be honest here, I'm kind of a quick-witted piece of shit sometimes. Well, I definitely used to be! Over the years I've learned how to "win" arguments (who really wins, though?). I've learned how to say what makes me seem smarter, or faster, or better than others. I took to heart that the last person to say their point takes the prize. But it took me hella long to realize that in the game of communication, no one wins unless both people win. And this is the key to my long-term relationships with friends, family, and lovers.
But this isn't going to be some article about how important communication is. I'm giving real concrete steps on HOW to communicate better! Because you've heard it all your life, that communication is the key to relationships. What we are always missing from these discussions is the how.
First, you should decide that you want to have communication that grows your relationships instead of hurts them. I know this sounds like an odd first step, but when things get tough (and they likely will) it's easy to remind yourself that you've made this choice grow through communication. Trust me. Write it down. Keep it somewhere you'll see it daily. And remind yourself of your promise to yourself that you want this road when the road gets bumpy. Resist the urge to make this promise for other people. Make it for you alone.
Next, you should get to know how you feel when you are triggered. Try to recall the last time you were triggered or became upset by something. What was happening in your body? Did your stomach get upset? Did your head start to hurt? Did you dissociate from the situation? Getting to know how our triggers feel will help us identify them sooner. And identifying them sooner will help us pause and start this process below quicker.
Identify the feeling. Now that you've realized you're in a process, you can start to identify the feeling. Are you mad? Sad? Scared? This is actually the hardest step for most people because we have rarely been taught how to identify our emotions. It was for sure the hardest for me and took me years of therapy to suss out! Usually, we are taught that feelings are too difficult to deal with so we should hide them. And we do. But, no more! I want you to become a feelings animal, so in tune with your feelings they become second nature. Check out the awesome tool below, called a feelings wheel, to help you identify how you are feeling. Start in the center and keep moving out until you find the right feeling. The difference between distant and jealous could be a huge leap, that will absolutely change how the conversation flows. So, get to know these feelings.
Next, I want you to take a step back from the situation if you can. If you are really feeling hateful, then you shouldn't try to continue a conversation in that state. The hate will come out if you don't try to calm down and get some space first. And if the hate comes out, it will not help you create a conversation around growth. Remember that none of these feelings above are "bad". It's ok to feel hateful. It's ok to feel insecure, or lonely. It's about what we do when we feel these feelings that makes them productive or destructive. Journaling helps me immensely in these situations. Or taking a walk. Talking to a loved one could help, but make sure they don't add to your feelings, and they are just there to listen. This isn't a time to call your BFF and throw the other person you're mad at under the bus. This is a time to reflect on the feeling, and how you want to resolve it.
Once you are in more of a neutral mood, now you can move on to the best part of this technique: I feel statements. The first thing you want to say to someone you are having a tizzy with is, "I feel (insert feeling here) when (insert their action here)". Then let them process and respond. You don't have to elaborate. Simple is actually better. Don't go adding anything that isn't a fact of their actions to the second part. This is a death sentence to growth communication.
Take note of the difference in these two examples: I feel insignificant when you turn away from me when we are talking VS. I feel insignificant when you ignore me. You aren't actually inside their brain (as much as you would like to think you are), so you don't know they are ignoring you! They will get defensive if you accuse them of ignoring you. But if you state their actions, there's nothing to get defensive about. Maybe there's a perfectly good explanation to why they turn away. Maybe this is a defense mechanism they learned in childhood to deescalate things. Maybe they don't even realize they are doing it. Maybe they are just now realizing how hurtful that could be even if they were doing it intentionally. It opens up conversation to move in the direction of growth.
Now you can both talk about the actions of what happened, and not what you think happened. See how much different the conversations from above can go just by changing the response to an action? This is all done from a conscious perspective. Also remember that their response is a reflection of them, not you. If they do get upset that you've pointed out an action that has hurt you, take note. Are they unwilling to change in order to help you not feel that feeling? Take note. Not everyone should change everything that we say hurts us, but the people who care about you will at least be interested in if they hurt you and want to try to do things that don't hurt you. Just take note.
Growth communication is possible! It's not some fairy tale. But it takes practice and understanding. You probably won't get it the first time. Have a conversation with your closest loved ones that you are aiming to use growth communication from now on and explain it. This will help you both. Also ask for understanding now, and tell them you're not perfect, but you're trying. This will go so far in establishing a base of support for each other when trying to figure out this new style. I believe in you.
INSPIRED ACTION: Journal about your triggers and what it feels like to be triggered in your body. Identifying this step is so critical in getting the process started. If you can identify the trigger as it's happening then you can redirect the conversation towards growth there, and not dig deeper into the hole.