Continuing in my series on how to talk to difficult people, especially those who insist you are the difficult one:

In the previous post I talked about the benefits of asking the difficult person how they’re feeling and the importance of listening to the answer; how to check and demonstrate you’ve understood them, and if you haven’t, to listen again until they know they’ve really been heard.

All this time, though, you haven’t had a look in. Now it’s your turn. You can’t wait to launch in with your much more accurate recollection and much more justified hurt. But wait. There’s no point doing that if they’re not ready to listen, so step one is:

1   Thank the difficult person for explaining how they’re feeling and ask them if they would be willing to listen to you;

2  If they say yes – skip to 3; if they say no, it’s probably best to leave it until they are willing. You might say something like: “Fair enough, perhaps we can come back to this when we’re both feeling like it. Would you mind if I brought it up again later? It’s really important to me.” If you’ve done a good job with your own listening, it’s unlikely to even come to this.

3  Assuming they agree, now is your chance. But there are some vital rules which mean you don’t waste the excellent listening you’ve done by telling them something that it’s impossible fo them to hear. The rules, briefly, are: no judgement, no blame, no threats, no criticism.  Yeah, I know, hard to think what else to offer in the case of this particular difficult person. It’s a new language, is the truth of it.

4  Start with “I” and follow it with “feel”. Talk about what you’re feeling, really feeling, from inside. It might be sad, or upset, or terrified, or resentful, or relieved, or interested.  Anything that you are genuinely feeling.  You can download lists of feelings here

If you start with “I feel’ and follow it with “like” or “that” you won’t be doing it properly, but will simply be substituting “feel” for “think”. Not only will your opinion probably fall on deaf ears, but it’s also poor use of the English language.  Sorry, but it’s true.

5  If you can, and this takes some practice, follow your emotion with something about your needs. If you’re feeling something negative (sad, upset, lonely, hurt), it’s going to point to a need of yours that isn’t met by the present situation. If you’re feeling something positive, that means a needs is met.

So what are these needs, and how can I stop talking about them make me sound needy?

In answer to the first, we’re talking about universal human needs, experienced by every human being across the globe. Maslow put them in a pyramid. Some needs are basic and essential – safety, nourishment, shelter and rest; higher up the scale but still felt universally, are things like communication, connection, understanding, fun. During this pandemic many of the needs we take for granted have been shaken up.

How not to sound needy? We sound needy when we haven’t identified or expressed our needs; when we know what’s going on we usually sound pretty sorted. On top of  that, it’s important to keep an eye on the bigger picture. The prospect of talking about your needs might make you feel queasy but the aim is harmony in the house.

This language takes some getting used to.  Practice is the best way, and buying Marshall Rosenberg’s book.

6   This feelings and needs languages is the basis of conflict resolution. Practice it on everyone you come across, see what happens.

Next time.  Common pitfalls …