Communicating is a tricky business. So many things can trigger us and block our ability to get what we need from conversations and relationships. For me it’s a process of continual learning too; and even if I’m aware of the following ‘traps’ I find it useful to be reminded. Perhaps it’s similar for you.
1. ‘But that was not my intention’. This is a sentence I hear a lot. That may well be the case – in my experience it is rare for someone to intentionally hurt/anger/upset another – but these words are a block to communication. They are a distraction from hearing what the other is saying. If someone is telling you about the impact on them of something you have said or done, try to resist any temptation to defend yourself with this line.
Instead, try thanking them for telling you, for confiding in you. If someone is telling me they are angry with me, I tend to feel grateful – relieved even that they are including me in the conversation. How can we work on it if I don’t know about it? That does not mean I have to agree with them – at all – but it makes it a communication at least. An excellent starting point.
2.‘Why are you telling me this now?’ is also a frequent flyer. And, another distraction from listening to the content of what you are hearing. If you are trying to listen, but it is particularly hard, be aware of that. But try – and then figure out what specifically makes it so hard for you to hear. Is the content unsettling, frightening, overwhelming, infuriating?
Invariably, the same communication lands differently with each of us. Work on being aware of your part in how something lands with you. For example, I may find what I’m hearing overwhelming because I am not used to frank conversation – I may even feel threatened and frightened in that overwhelm. And that may be because that was not the culture in my family growing up; and perhaps that I have not worked on improving my ‘resilience’ since then. A common response would be to defend; but your history, nature and choices will play a part in that overwhelm. Take responsibility for that part.
3.Speaking from ‘I’ before checking out what you’ve understood from the other person. Saying aloud what you’ve understood – and being corrected if need be – before speaking from your point of view is particularly useful if you are having a thorny discussion. It can work wonders.
Note: The above does not apply where there is abuse.. I’m not interested in communicating differently in that scenario, I’m interested in everyone being safe. This would be a time to seek one-to-one counselling: https://www.bacp.co.uk/search/Therapists.