I wrote some blogs a few weeks back on how to talk to the difficult people in your household, especially those who find you even more difficult. I hope that’s been going well, but remember it does take practice.
Today I’m going to give some examples of things we say when we mean to be helpful but which never seem to make things better. I’m going to offer some alternatives.
Sentences that start:
Why don’t you …
If only you would …
All I ask is that …
… hardly ever work out.
You’ve probably noticed, giving the answers when you’re in the middle of an argument, is rarely successful. Advising people who are struggling, even if you’re not in conflict, often falls on deaf ears too. An alternative approach might be:
I can see that you’re feeling anxious/upset/hurt by [whatever it is]. I’d like to hear how you see things, and then perhaps you can hear my side too.
I know I might be getting this wrong, but I tried something once which helped me. Would you like me to tell you about it?
I can see this is difficult for you. Can you tell me what’s going on?
Sentences that start:
Don’t talk to me like that…
Please don’t talk to me like that…
If you talk to me like that I’m going to end this conversation…
… rarely end well.
Demands and threats are never easy to hear when you’re in conflict. What’s more the other person can only respond one of two ways to them – by resisting or submission. Submission might sound like what you are after, right then, but long term that’s no good either. The long term goal is to have them freely choose to behave in a way that meets both your and their needs. As a alternative you could try:
When you say [you have no intention of listening to me], I feel worried and upset because I want to be able to communicate with you freely. How can we work this out?
When you [go to the shop without asking me what we need] I feel frustrated and annoyed because shopping is such a palava at the moment and I want to manage it efficiently.
Yesterday when [you didn’t respond when I asked you whether you were upset about your friend] I felt confused and hurt because I was intending to be kind.
When you say you can’t stand living here with me and dad and you don’t think we are right to limit computer time, I feel frustrated and sad and also a bit bored. I have a need for us to communicate and connect and I am worried about your fitness. It’s difficult to get enough exercise at the moment and I’m wondering if a bike ride might cheer us all up.
I know this can sound a bit Pollyanna-ish and wooden, but trust me, once you get the hang of speaking from your feelings and needs rather than what you think about the other person and what you’d like them to do/stop doing, lockdown will be a lot more fun.
If you want to learn more, this book, Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication is the business.