1. Communicate directly with the person.
First make sure the situation has something to do with you directly. Decide if the situation is really worth your time and energy. Then go directly to the source, and try not mentioning things to others or posting comments on social media. Be respectful by being direct. Example: “I understand that you are angry with me, can you tell me why?” Or, “I heard that you are the manager for the new department and I would like to talk with you about possible upcoming positions”.
2. Start with a genuine compliment or positive statement.
Research shows that starting a conversation with a compliment or positive comment increases receptiveness in others. “Thank you for taking time to speak with me”. Or, “I know you were very angry last night and I appreciate your willingness to talk with me today”. With a child, it might sound like: “I really like how you calmed yourself down, good job”.
3. State your needs in a clear honest way.
Clarify in your mind exactly what you are asking for and why. Communicate that in a non-defensive tone. Research shows that too many words can confuse the listener. Try to state it 2-3 sentences. For example: “I wanted to talk with you about the fight at the table last night with your brother”. Vs. “I wanted to talk to you about that terrible tantrum you had at the table last night in front of our family, when you were acting like a 3 year old and picking on your brother”. Another example might be: “I would like to talk to you about the promotion. I understand I was not a candidate and would like to know why?” Vs. “I heard so-and-so got the promotion and I was so bummed to hear that because I thought I was a better candidate”.
4. Use “I” statements.
“I feel”, “I need”, “I want”. “I” statements are about you and no one can question your feelings or needs. It also outlines the place you are coming from. Then state your need. “I felt disappointed about the fight at Christmas dinner. I really wanted everyone to get along”. Or “I would like to apply for the promotion and would like to know what I need to do”. Stay out of their backyard and away from blaming. It puts people off and makes it harder for them to hear what you want. Focus on what you would like to see happen. “I would like to advance my position and use more of my skills to help this company increase it’s sales”. Or, “I would like for us to have family meals without fighting and am wondering what you think we could do together to make that happen?”
Yes, to their response. Often we have a script already running in our head about what they will say or what we need to say next. Turn that off. Make your statement, pause, take a breath and listen for their response. Be in the moment as much as possible. And let go of outcome. We can’t control others or the outcome, even if it’s with the best intentions.
6. Ask questions to clarify.
Coming into the conversation without a singular result in mind will allow for exploration and curiosity. Ask questions with an engaged curiosity. Seek to understand the other person’s perspective, their experience and their opinion.
7. Try phrasing it in a different way.
If the person does not understand what is being said, try phrasing, literally using different words. For example” “I feel like we haven’t spent any time together” (They don’t understand). Second try: I really like you and would like to spend more time together, what do you think about that?” If you are on the receiving end of communication and don’t understand what they are saying, ask for clarification. Ask for specifics. “ Can you give me an example of a time when I talked over you?”
8. Take a break if things start to get heated.
You can take a break anytime, especially if you know the next line of defense is going to be slinging hurtful insults you won’t be able to take back. Revisit it when you are both calm and level headed. Check-in with yourself to see if you missed something or maybe could try to say things in a different way. And if things can’t get resolved, try mediation or communicating through someone else, like a counselor.
9. Apologize and reconcile when possible.
They are healing acts that help move relationships forward. Some people think that apologizing is sign of weakness but it’s actually a sign of respect towards the self and others. We are after all human and fallible. Admitting that actually takes courage and emotional maturity. Some say that reconciliation and forgiveness are the most important parts of the communication process.
Resources and References
The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns
When Anger Hurts, Quieting the Storm Within, by Matthew McKay, Ph.D., Peter D. Rogers and Judith McKay
Articles & Blog Posts:
Counseling Advice: Healthy Communication & Relationships by Amy McNamara, LMFT, CounselingPsychology.org.
The 7 Cs of Communication: A Checklist for Clear Communication on MindTools.com.
Tips for Better Communication on LoveIsRespect.org.
5 Habits of Highly Effective Communicators by Susan Tardanico, Forbes.com.
14 Very Effective Communication Skills on AdvancedLifeSkills.com.
10 Effective Communication Habits of the Most Successful People, by Marcel Schwantes, Inc.com.
6 Surprising Ways to Communicate Better With Your Partner by F. Diane Barth L.C.S.W., PsychologyToday.com.
Simple, Powerful Tools for Becoming a Great Communicator on MastersinCommunication.org.