Improving Communication (Part 2)
By: Telicia Swihart LMFT
In my last blog, I wrote about tips for improving your communication skills. If you have been trying them out, you may have discovered that in some situations you can be using the most effective communication skills possible, but the person you are speaking with is blocking the communication from moving forward. See the list below for common communication blockers and how to address them.
· Laughing It Off
When a person makes a joke of your concern, or tries to laugh it off, use a content-to-process shift. In other words, shift the focus of the conversation from the topic to what is occurring between you and the other person.
Example: You are discussing with a friend an incident where something they said was hurtful to you. The friend begins teasing you, saying that you are too sensitive! They meant what they said as a joke! Rather than continuing to discuss the original incident, shift the focus to their current behavior. Try saying something like, “By saying it was only a joke, you are discounting my feelings. Please do not joke about that topic in the future.”
When a person turns the blame on you, use clouding. Clouding agrees with a portion of what the other person is accusing you of.
Example: You and your partner have an agreement that if you cook dinner, they will do the dishes. Typically, dinner is around 7pm, but tonight you got home late from work and weren’t able to have dinner ready until 8pm. Your partner is now upset about having to do the dishes because they want to go to bed. Using clouding, you can agree with part of your partner’s point, “Yes, dinner was late, but the dishes are still your responsibility”. You can also go on to suggest a compromise in this situation.
· The Beat-Up
When a person responds to your concern with a personal attack, there are three techniques you can choose from: broken record, defusing, or assertive delay. Broken record repeats a short, concise statement that gets your point across. Defusing is the same as taking a time-out. Assertive delay is to put off responding until you can do so calmly or have time to gather more information.
Example: Recently, you have noticed a decline in the work performance of a colleague. You consider yourself to be friendly with this colleague, so you decide to check-in with them to see if they are alright. The colleague responds to your concern aggressively, stating that you should mind your own business and begins to call you rude names. This understandably upsets you, but you want to avoid getting into an argument so you use assertive delay, “I don’t want to get into an argument with you, so let’s talk about this tomorrow during lunch.” (For an example of using broken record, see “delaying”. For an example of defusing, see “threats”.)
When a person puts off, or avoids, addressing your concern, use broken record.
Example: Your family member has a health concern and you are worried. You want them to make an appointment with a doctor, but they are avoiding doing so and have been changing the subject each time you bring it up. Decide on a short, concise statement that you will repeat like a broken record. Such as, “I am worried about your health. Please make an appointment with your doctor.” If they change the subject, or brush you off, continue to repeat that short, concise statement.
When a person responds to your concern or request by asking why, use broken record or content-to-process shift.
Example: You are speaking with your child about their chores. You have asked them to take out the trash and they asked why. You responded that the trashcan is full, and it is their responsibility to take it out. They again ask why they have to do it, why can’t someone else do it. In order to put a stop to this conversational spiral, you can disengage from answering the ‘why’ question and use broken record. Repeat a concise, clear statement each time they ask why, “It is your responsibility to take out the trash. Please do so before you go to bed tonight.” You could also use content-to-process shift by drawing attention to the dynamic occurring in the conversation, “You continuing to ask ‘why’ will not change your responsibility. Please take out the trash before you go to bed tonight.”
When a person responds by attempting to make you feel guilty, use assertive agreement.
Example: During a conversation with your partner about wanting to spend more quality time together, they share feeling that you are asking too much. They go on to say that they work full-time, have time commitments regarding the children and other family members, and that you are not grateful for all that they do since you are complaining about spending more time together! You begin to feel guilty for not being more grateful for all they do, but it remains important to you that you spend more quality time together, so you use assertive agreement. “I understand that you do a lot for our family, and I truly am grateful. At the same time, I am feeling distant from you with us both being so busy and I want to make a concrete plan to spend some quality time together.”
When a person argues with you about your concern, use content-to-process shift.
Example: After having a celebration for your parents’ anniversary, you ask your sibling for the money to cover their half of the expenses. Your sibling argues that they never agreed to split the cost with you. The inequality with splitting expenses has come up in the past and you begin to address this with your sibling. They continue to argue, saying that they have always paid their share of expenses. Rather than continue to argue back-and-forth, you chose to focus on the arguing rather than money. “We are arguing now and have gotten off the main point. The point is that I don’t want money to be a sore spot in our relationship, so in the future let’s agree to purchase things for our parents separately.”
When a person threatens you during an argument, use content-to-process shift, defusing, or assertive inquiry. With assertive inquiry, you are attempting to discover what is really bothering the person.
Example: You are planning to attend an event with a friend tomorrow night, but your child has a fever today and you aren’t sure if they will be feeling better by the time you are scheduled to attend the event. You tell your friend that you may have to cancel and your friend gets angry. They start to yell and threaten you, saying that they won’t speak to you again if you do not attend the event with them. Using defusing, you can take a time-out. “I see that you’re upset, let’s talk about this later tonight before we go to bed.” Alternatively, you can use assertive inquiry by asking, “What is it about going to the event alone, or missing the event, that bothers you?” (For examples of content-to-process shift, see “Quibbling”, “Why?”, or “Laughing it Off”.)
When a person denies the truth or validity of your concern, use clouding.
Example: You have a meeting scheduled with a co-worker to discuss a project you are working on together. The meeting time comes, and your co-worker does not attend. When you ask them about their absence later, they say that the two of you never had a meeting scheduled. Rather than engage in an argument about whether or not there was a meeting, you chose to use clouding, “It’s possible we had a miscommunication. Let’s schedule a meeting to brainstorm about our project.”
Using these techniques, along with the tips from my previous blog, you can begin to communicate more effectively with the people in your life, regardless of their communication styles! Effective communication is not always easy, but the more you practice, the easier it will become!