It’s Communication month! Last week we focused on your unconscious communication and how that affects you (and I gave you a one-week challenge – if you haven’t checked out the Align Your Mind Challenge yet, what are you waiting for)?!
Now it’s time to look at your conscious thinking and do some work to change it so you can communicate more effectively.
There are two tools I want to discuss today. These are simple in concept, but not always easy to stick with so I’m going to dive deep to make sure you understand how to integrate these new strategies into your daily life.
Strategy #1: Correct or Effective
The next time you’re in a disagreement with your partner (or anyone else for that matter), I want you to ask yourself, “Do I want to be correct or effective?”
This used to be the old “happy or right” but I found that people really didn’t like that one since everyone wants to be BOTH happy and right. I’d ask a client, “Well, do you want to be happy or right?” and they’d invariably reply, “Both!”
We’d end up in a stalemate and I was wondering if I was trying to be happy or right. I found, however, that when I changed the words—if I asked, “Do you want to be correct or effective?”—clients would choose “effective” almost every time.
Let me give you a great client example between Ted and Alice (names have been changed to protect the innocent). In early January, Ted had set up a meeting with their tax person for early February. Starting in early January, he asked Alice to pull together her receipts so he’d have them for their appointment.
She said, “Yes, sure, I’ll get those to you,” but she didn’t. He waited a week or more and then asked again. Alice replied, “Oh, sorry, I forgot – I’ll get those to you by tomorrow.” Tomorrow came with still no receipts. Ted waited another week – but still no luck. He ended up asking Alice two more times but never got his hands on those receipts. The appointment was now looming – it was on that Friday and, at this point, he only had one more day to get those receipts.
Ted was now angry because he’d initially asked with plenty of notice just so he could avoid this last-minute stuff that he hated. He thought, “It’s not like I’m looking forward to doing the taxes! This is so unfair! Now I have to go be the bad guy and get mad even though I did all the right things!” He had quite the good head of steam going because, after all, he was soooo in the right! Oh yeah! He was righteously right!!
Ted ended up confronting Alice with all his “rightness” and Alice blew up right back, telling him what a nag he was and that she said she’d get them and what’s the big deal anyway, she could always get them to the tax person after their initial meeting. It basically ended with lots of bad blood on both sides.
Because, now Alice thinks she’s “right” too! She was thinking, “I don’t deserve to get spoken to in this way! Who does he think he is yelling at me like I’m a child? He’s way too uptight and the receipts didn’t have to be there that minute! Maybe I messed up a bit, but he can’t just blow up at me whenever he doesn’t like how I act!”
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Have you ever had a situation like this in your own relationship?
Now, God bless Ted because, although he didn’t remember the best thing to do right away, he did realize very quickly that he was in a bad and familiar place with Alice when they were in the middle of a knock-down screamfest. He then remembered this very lesson that he’d learned with me.
In the next session, he recounted their initial fight and his mishandling of things. He then realized that he’d fallen into an old pattern. He said he had ended the “yelling match” by going for a walk, “so we both could cool down and I could try to think.”
On his walk he remembered his new tools, and so he started by asking himself some questions: “What is it that I’m trying to get done here?” His own answer was: “Get the receipts without an argument.”
He said his internal dialogue then went something like this: “I wonder why Alice isn’t getting me the receipts? It’s not like she’s not a capable person – so what’s the disconnect here? Why is this becoming something difficult?”
He realized that asking her over and over for the receipts has gotten him nowhere. He said he heard my voice in his head telling him, “If you did this at your job – did the same thing over and over but got the same crappy result, you’d get fired.”
So, he next asked himself: “What could I do differently? What could I say right now to be effective? What do I need to do so I can achieve my goal of getting the receipts without an argument?”
He said he was shocked that just asking himself the questions and really trying to answer them, opened up a whole line of questions and thoughts for himself. Because Ted is a star pupil, he thought that maybe he should ask Alice some questions.
So, his next conversation with Alice went something like this: “Hey babe – can I speak with you for a minute? So, I’ve been asking for the tax receipts for the last couple weeks and I’m realizing that you’re a very capable person so there must be a good reason I don’t have the receipts. Can you tell me what’s been going on? I figure there must be something happening I’m not aware of.” (He was empathizing and asking a question – bonus points for him).
Because what he really wanted to know was, “what the heck is up with Alice not getting me the receipts and how can we change that?” Now his tone was more loving and patient, and he put himself in a frame of mind where he was less focused on how right he was and more concerned about his partner’s well-being.
They had a very productive conversation after that. It turns out Alice was totally overwhelmed at work and their son had failed a recent test and was seeming depressed, so she was worried about him too. She was feeling like a bad mother and a bad employee and when the receipts weren’t there, she started to feel like a bad wife too.
Initially she’d just forgotten because she was so busy, but when Ted kept reminding her it started to make her feel like more of a failure. Instead of looking at her true feelings (which she said she wasn’t even conscious of), it was easier to turn all that depression into anger and lash out at Ted.
In addition, to start feeling some measure of control again, she became passive aggressive and didn’t give him the receipts. All of this was happening below the surface and it took Ted’s loving, patient and straightforward approach to get to what was really going on.
I see this scenario played out over and over again with my clients (and in my own life too, if I’m going to be honest). Shifting to this one question, asking if you want to be “correct or effective,” really changes the very nature of your engagement with your partner. It puts you on the same team instead of opposing sides of a power struggle.
The question you want to consistently answer is something I discussed in last week’s podcast: What’s your end game here? What are you trying to get done? What goal, both emotionally and physically, are you trying to accomplish? Yes, maybe you’re “correct” that your partner left his dirty socks in the middle of the floor (again) but do you want to fight about socks or have a fun night watching Game of Thrones?
Instead of being correct you could be effective and change your stance, your tone or the words that you use (or just hire a housekeeper). After all, if he keeps leaving his socks around even though you’ve “discussed” this (over and over), are you being effective and getting him to change his behavior or are you just feeling like a bitchy nag? You can be correct all day, but is this getting you to your goal of a happy home life and being better understood?
How many times does this type of thing happen? And how many times has it devolved into a bad situation? I invite you to do this all differently, and choosing to be effective over being correct is a great start.
Strategy #2: Feelings Not Facts
If you’re not resolving a disagreement it might be because you’re focusing on facts and ignoring or minimizing feelings. Think of the last argument you had – it probably went something like this: You explained your side of things and your partner said their side of things and you went back and forth discussing the “truth.”
You were trying to convince your partner of something, and they were trying to convince you of something. The problem with focusing on the “truth” or the “facts” is that there are many sides to a dispute. If five people see a car wreck from five different positions, you’re going to get five different accounts of who’s at fault or how the accident happened. Everyone thinks they’re “right” and have the real facts. This same dynamic happens in your personal relationships all the time.
Couples often come to my office disputing how a conversation happened. One of them will say what was said and the other will interrupt and say, “Well, that’s not what really happened. This is what happened…” They’ll then go on to recount the “true” events that took place. Then the first person will jump in and say, “No, that happened, but not that. That went this way…” Blah, blah, blah. It goes on and on as they each tell their “side” of the story and try to get everything told “exactly right.”
And now you’ll remember why I spent a whole month talking about competition being a cancer in your relationship. When you focus on facts, you end up taking opposite sides. You only choose sides in things like games, court battles and war. Hopefully, your personal disagreements don’t fall into any of those categories.
Stop focusing on “getting” your partner to believe or agree with your side of things. Instead, focus on how you’re feeling or try to take a guess about what they’re feeling (this could be dangerous, so it’s better to stay with your own feelings, at first).
The wonderful thing here is that your feelings can’t be wrong. So, while someone could continue to argue with you about the “facts” of a situation, they can’t tell you that you don’t feel a certain way. (Well, they can try but at least then you know that they’re the crazy one). It’s harder for the other person to tell you you’re wrong or debate what you’re saying since they’re your feelings.
Real Life Example
Let me give you a quick example. I was working with a couple, Cindy and Brian, who had separated for a few months but had recently decided to work on things and had moved back in together. Two days later, Brian invited his parents to come and stay with them for two weeks.
Cindy told Brian that she was upset that he’d invited them. He responded angrily saying things like, “I never get to see my parents,” and “They’ve done so much for us, it’s the least we can do.” He immediately focused on the content of what she was saying and not her feelings. He was going on and on with the “facts,” which were all true, by the way.
Cindy waited until he said his piece and listened attentively. She then said, “That’s all true, I have no argument for that. I’m telling you that I’m upset that you’re inviting them to stay with us since we’re barely back together and I’m still feeling shaky, scared and unsure.” Cindy “said yes first” or empathized first (saying, “That’s all true”) and then stayed away from the content (his parents coming) and simply told him her feelings.
This approach not only diffused the argument, but Brian made the decision to wait to have his parents visit.
Discussing actual feelings accomplishes three amazing and interconnected things:
- First, we learn more about our partner and ourselves. We learn about who they are at their core: what’s important to them, their fears and their deepest desires. This in turn allows us to…
- Get closer to our partners and create more intimacy. When we’re sharing at a feeling level, we’re more vulnerable. This generally encourages our partner to be more open and compassionate. The tone completely changes when we see someone crying, open, vulnerable or real. We want to be right there with them, so now our feelings have changed—we’re less hostile and more compassionate. Finally, because we’re now open to other possibilities…
- We find real resolutions to whatever we were arguing about! The best part is that it becomes combined or shared consensus and problem-solving as a couple. There’s no need to “compromise” or negotiate anymore. You just end up problem-solving together.
Overall when there’s less or no content, and only feelings, there’s not so much someone can argue or debate, so the fighting and animosity generally alleviates almost immediately, creating more closeness and connection.
Focusing on feelings is simple, but not easy. When your partner is talking and giving you content (meaning the facts of a given situation), stop them and ask how they feel. You might have to do this a few times depending on how comfortable your partner is with feelings.
I’ve had to repeat this question with certain clients. I’ll ask how they feel about something and they’ll tell me content. “Well, it’s just that this is important, and I want my husband to understand.” That’s not a feeling. That’s smoke and mirrors.
If you have to, download one of those sheets with all the little feeling faces off the internet and hand it to your partner and tell them to pick one (or two). Feelings are just that: mad, glad, angry, sad, overwhelmed, confused, shy, happy, frustrated, etc. Content is all the words and facts that make up a situation.
In the end, try to be less lawyer and more lover. If you really are a lawyer, then keep the “proving your point thing” for work and not for home. Even if the other person continues to challenge, remember to keep coming back with how you’re feeling. Use this strategy consistently and you’ll start to see a difference in how you feel after a disagreement. Instead of frustration and hopelessness, you’ll find self-confidence and sanity.
I’ve got an awesome exercise that has totally stood the test of time for helping you focus on feelings not facts. It’s super easy and incredibly effective. You can download the I Feel Formula right here and start connecting right now!