Communication that works - Our personal challenge
Saanich News April 13, 2005
Paul Beckow M.Sc. R.P.C.
Individual couple and Famliy Counsellor
In the last column we explored the major ways human beings react in the face of conflict.
The passive style, with the tendency to withdraw from conflict, to appease, give one self up, leads to resentment.
The aggressive approaches, with attempts to use one’s upset to try to control or change the other person produce defensiveness, hurt, and protection.
For the most part, these ways don’t work. They leave partners feeling dissatisfied, distanced and toughened.
Clients come to counselling when they have grown weary of the distance and sensitivity these ways produce.
A new possibility emerges as people begin to learn and practice effective ways to communicate when experiencing conflict.
One of these new ways can be simply called assertiveness.
What do we mean by assertiveness? Well, being assertive is NOT “I’m not taking it anymore” It is not letting “it all hang out”. It is not “saying what you think” and “venting” on your partner.
Being assertive is a thoughtful communication. It has the feel of a communication that is clean, clear and straight. It takes nothing away from the other. It is communication without blame and judgement. It does not threaten. It informs. Being assertive requires consciousness and stands on a commitment to share while doing no harm whatsoever to the other.
I remember some years ago when I would ask something of my teenage children and, if I was annoyed, I would regularly find myself in a lengthy hassle or quarrel of some kind.
“Hey you guys. What about these books in the hallway? I’ve asked you before. Why aren’t you helping me? I told you we have company coming. Doesn’t any one listen?” Etc.
This stirred up a heck of a mess. Until I came to see that the defensiveness, or fuss, I got back was directly caused by me – by the way I just communicated !
“Daaa- aad. They’re not my books! I didn’t leave them here. I never. I always. Well YOU… Etc., etc.
This was very wearing indeed - and we still had at least five more years living together !
So I became determined to learn how to communicate cleanly and effectively, to learn to express myself without judgment or blame. This is what I wanted in all my relationships. I was committed to discover this and I went to work on it.
The first thing I saw was that, if I was upset, FIRST, I had to stop and not simply “react”. I needed to become clear. What is happening, what am I feeling, what do I want? What is the real intention of wanting to communicate ?
Further, I discovered that assertive communication was simple, true, brief, clear. I would practice learning to compose these clean and clear statements,. I would even write them down. I wanted to know what good communication sounded like.
I discovered it looked something like this:
To my kids: “ When I find shoes, and books on the floor in front of the door, and I’ve asked for them to be removed, I have the thought I’m being ignored and I feel annoyed.”
There. These statements hurt no-one. They simply reported what was happening. They were simply my experience. I did not blame or hurt anyone’s sense of themselves.
Then I saw something else. Without threatening or using anger or my upset to get my way, I could make a clear request.
“I would like your help with keeping the hallway clean. Please. Everything away. By tomorrow morning would be fine.”
So far so good.
I found I could even describe the actions I would take if I didn’t get help. Not actions to force or hurt them. But actions that took care of my self.
“And if these aren’t cleared by tomorrow am, I’ll place all books and boots in the family lost and found.”
So my words had real actions associated with them.
My new communications felt very, very good.
While this didn’t necessarily guarantee that I would get what I wanted, I was beginning to produce communication that worked, for me and for them. Just responding with these new skills was itself a source of real satisfaction for me.
I was learning not to react, to make others wrong, and slip in and out of blame when I was upset. As well, I was learning not to withhold, withdraw and become resentful. I was learning to communicate cleanly, effectively, in the face of conflict.
To see our way through conflict without causing its escalation, with care for the other, is a skill desperately wanted in our world today.
Paul Beckow is a certified individual, marriage, and family therapist. If you have a relationship, personal issue or concern, he can be reached by phoning the Victoria Family Institute at 721 2477 or contacted through his web site at www.paulbeckow.com
For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.