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Don't Shoot the Messenger
“Whenever you have truth it must be given with love, or the message and the messenger will be rejected,” - Mahatma Gandhi.
In the previous article I described relationship anchoring - how a few seemingly common sense reactions can destroy even the best of relationships, and how by timing your reactions just a little differently you can easily turn things around. Today I continue the topic of creating extraordinary relationships by examining something that happens to all of us every day, yet something that only rarely people are skilled at - communicating negative emotions well.
Think of the last time Someone did Something that made you feel bad, and how you expressed your feelings. Did you get the emotional support you wanted, did you resolve it peacefully or did you get into a fight? Even if you believe that someone slighted you and made you feel bad (this line of thinking - "(s)he made me feel bad" - is a perversion of reality that I will talk about in the next article), it is still your responsibility to communicate skillfully how you feel. The worst kind of strategy you can use is to blow up and psychologically punch your "offender" (weren't you just yesterday saying how much you love her/him?)
Some simple examples when this happens include one partner coming home late from work, the other feeling upset. Or one leaving the bed unmade, the other feeling angry. Or one being busy, the other feeling uncared for. Or one flirting, the other feeling jealous. And millions of other everyday emotional disturbances.
Of course, it is important to speak your mind, to let people know how their behaviors affect you, especially if you are in a close relationship with them. Otherwise, if you repress your emotions, they slowly get built up inside, until you explode (and your relationship together with them). But, if you never learned how to communicate your feelings well, it is very easy to put people on defensive (or sometimes offensive) by blaming them.
The thing is, because most people's identities are not developed enough to withstand an attack, they react by throwing up mental shields to protect their selfs. Once their mental shields are up, they reject all of your words, even if they are appropriate. What follows is basically an escalation war, typically a lose-lose proposition. Example:
- "You are late again, we are going to miss our appointment."
- "Again? When was the last time I was late? You always exaggerate!"
- "No I don't. Remember..."
So, how do you get the message across without being shot as the messenger? The technique is deviously simple - instead of attacking the person because of their behavior, describe how you feel because of the problem that you foresee. In other words, think of it this way - there are three elements here at work: their behavior (e.g. being late), the problem that you foresee (e.g. missing appointment) and your emotional state (e.g. feeling worried). Blaming connects the first two elements together, i.e. behavior to problem, to create an attack (look at the example above again). Instead, skillful communicators use the technique that connects the second two elements together, i.e. problem to emotional state. Example:
- "I feel worried, because I am afraid we might miss our appointment."
- "Yes, sorry, I got stuck in traffic. Let me change really quick and we'll go."
Totally different interaction focused on finding solutions. Of course, it is still valuable to address lateness if it's a recurring patterns and if it's important enough. That can be done later once the emotions have subsided and you re-created strong rapport. A simple rule is to discuss differences and disagreements only AFTER you have great rapport, NEVER before.
Test this new strategy for communicating how you feel, and you will see first-hand just how much difference it makes in establishing a harmonious relationship. In the next article, I will describe the what and the how of blaming, and point out how the language gives your thoughts away to observant listeners.
You’ve just read TIP #80 FOR CREATING AN EXTRAORDINARY AND MEANINGFUL LIFE brought to you by Holographic University. To get the next Tip visit us at:
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May You Be Happy!
- Arman Darini, Ph.D.
About the Author: Arman Darini, Ph.D. is the director of Holographic University, the author of weekly Tips for Creating an Extraordinary and Meaningful Life, and a certified international NLP Trainer. As the leader of a dynamic team of Life Trainers and Coaches, Arman's motto is "I don't believe in your limitations". To learn more about Arman, visit ArmanDarini.com