I’ve boiled down everything I’ve learned in the past 35 years to have positive, effective communication in both your business and personal relationships, and I’m teaching it all to you today.
In this comprehensive and complete guide to effective communication in every relationship you’ll learn:
- The three reasons why you’ve tried effective communication tools in the past and they haven’t worked or been effective for the long-term
- The five signs that you’re not communicating
- My five-step process to effective communication in every relationship (which will surprise you, for sure
Prefer to listen to the podcast episodes on this topic? Find them here:
151: The 3 Reasons Why You’ve Tried Communication Tools in the Past and They Haven’t Worked
152: How to Know If They’ve Stopped Listening and You’re Not Communicating Anymore
153: The 5-Step Process to Effective Communication in Any Relationship
The 3 Reasons Why You’ve Tried Effective Communication Tools in the Past and They Haven’t Worked
You’ve tried all the communication tools: you’ve been to couples counseling, attended workshops, read books, listened to podcasts and watched countless YouTube videos to learn how to communicate more effectively in your personal or work life. You’ve tried the new tool you learned with vim and vigor and maybe you saw some positive changes but soon found yourself falling back into old, unwanted patterns.
There are three main reasons you’ve tried communication tools before and they haven’t worked. The good news is that once you understand these concepts, you’ll be able to effectively use all the great tools I’m going to teach you in the next section.
These are the tried-and-true things I end up repeating to every single client I work with, whether that’s coaching an executive to be more effective in their leadership or someone who’s trying to get their partner to understand them. You’ve likely heard me say these things before in various ways – but I’m bringing them all here together so you can shut out all the doubt and noise and come back to these like your mantra.
Reason #1: You Don’t Realize Your Unconscious is Ruling All Your Effective Communication Tools
Before I get into explaining what I mean by this, let’s first lay down some definitions. When I speak about your conscious mind, I’m talking about the memories, thoughts and feelings you’re aware of in any given moment. This is going to feel like your dominant brain, but it’s not. It’s actually driven by your unconscious or subconscious.
You might be wondering, “What’s the difference between the unconscious and the subconscious?” The short answer? There isn’t a difference in the therapy world.
If you’re speaking to those of us who do counseling (psychologists, psychiatrists, and the like) we use the term unconscious, but if you’re speaking to any old person on the street, they’d likely tell you that unconscious means passed out. We mental health professionals use the term unconscious as a noun (that guy is ruled by his unconscious; he doesn’t understand why he’s acting that way) while someone else would use it as an adjective (hey, that guy got knocked out and he’s unconscious).
I use the terms unconscious and subconscious interchangeably, so don’t get worried if you hear me use one and then the other. I’m talking about the same thing.
So, back to our program. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I read A LOT of books. And the one I’ve come back to over and over is Timothy Wilson’s Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. For me, this guy is one of the unsung heroes in our quest to learn about why we do what we do (and how to control or change it).
One of the pieces of information that I’ve long used from Wilson’s research is the understanding that your conscious brain processes information at a rate of 50 bits per second while your subconscious brain processes information at a rate of 11 million bits per second. (If I’m going to be completely transparent, he actually said in his book that it’s 40 bits not 50, but I mis-remembered it for a long time and said 50 bits for years before re-reading his book and realizing I was wrong. I’ve stuck with the 50 for the sake of ease but wanted to take this opportunity to out myself).
This means that whoever you’re speaking to doesn’t hear what you say, they hear what you mean. You can say all the right things but if your unconscious believes something else, that’s what the other person is listening to.
Have you ever been chatting with someone at work, and they were saying all the right things, but you got the sense that they were full of crap? Or you’ve “had a hunch” that something’s going on with your partner even if they’re acting like everything’s fine? These are times that you’re picking up on those 11 million bits versus the 50. You’re “hearing” what someone else’s subconscious is putting out, versus what they’re saying from their conscious mind.
You need to remember that this is true the other way also! When you’re trying to communicate with someone else, they pick up on what your subconscious mind is communicating as opposed to what you’re saying! This is one of the main reasons there are so many miscommunications, and you feel like you’re going crazy.
So, maybe you’ve been working on a particular relationship in your life. You’ve read a book or you went to counseling and now you’re trying out some new communication tool or strategy with your partner, coworker, or your parent.
Consciously you’re thinking, “Yes, this is really going to help!” But, subconsciously, there’s doubt and maybe some resentment.
- Your subconscious dialogue goes something like this with your partner: “We’ve had these problems a long time, it’s going to take forever to make changes and I don’t know if I have it in me!”
- Or the dialogue is something like this with that work colleague: “Nothing’s ever going to change because they refuse to do anything differently or see that they’re part of the problem!”
- Or you’re speaking to your dad but thinking, “I’ve asked him so many times to stop being critical and he gets better for a little while, but then he ends up just doing it again. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Nothing ever works!”
All (or most) of this thinking is subconscious. You might notice it sometimes, but not all the time. Or you think you’re aware of it fully, but don’t realize just how much it’s affecting your communication.
So, you forge ahead with the new effective communication tip or technique you learned. However, unbeknownst to you, the other person picks up on your doubt, resentment, anxiety and hopelessness which makes them not want to change because it feels the same. They’re picking up on your incongruity. They’re subconsciously thinking, “Sure, you’re doing some new things but how long is this going to last? I’m just going to wait it out.”
Then you don’t see the changes you want in your partner, coworker or dad (despite all these great changes you’re making) and you think, “See? Nothing works!” And you revert to your same old patterns, which leaves the other person thinking that they were right not to waste time trying to do anything differently!
Reason #2: Your Brain is Keeping You Stuck
If you’ve tried to communicate effectively with someone many times before and have left these conversations feeling misunderstood or not heard, over time you end up with feelings like resentment, frustration, sadness, anxiety, and hopelessness. When this happens, you spend a lot of time focusing on the other person and what’s wrong with them. When you start thinking like this, you start to see the negative everywhere.
Essentially, you start proving yourself right.
This happens for two main reasons: your confirmation bias and your reticular activating system.
First let’s talk about your confirmation bias
Your brain works as fast as a computer that can process one trillion bits of information per second. You have about 100 billion neurons in your brain and each of those connects to about 10,000 other neurons so things are happening faster than you can imagine. You’ve probably heard that you only use 10% of your brain, but that’s not true. You actually use the majority of your brain power daily, but about 95% of that is subconscious.
Your subconscious mind is like an overbearing but loving Jewish mother (I can say that because I am one). It takes care of your physical self through something called your homeostatic impulse. This is all the stuff controlled by your autonomic nervous system like breathing, respiration, heartbeat and your body temperature.
Like a good Jewish mother, your subconscious is also regulating your mental self. You’ve got a ton of information coming in every second, so your subconscious is constantly filtering out what’s important and what’s not. It does this by bringing your attention to anything that’s repeated. Repeated thoughts are also known as your beliefs. In the end, your brain only shows you things that confirm what you already believe, something we psychologists call the confirmation bias.
The confirmation bias means that your subconscious will search for and favor information that supports something you already believe and will ignore information that doesn’t support what you already believe.
So, repetition is your best friend and your enemy. The more you notice and feel something, the more priority your brain gives it. This works against you with things like repeated fears you have. These repeated thoughts, create repeated feelings which are then ingrained in your subconscious.
When you allow your brain to think over and over that something isn’t going to work or that your boss is a jerk, that’s all you’re going to think and see.
This is also why it’s hard to incorporate new effective communication tools. For example, one of my favorite tools is to set intention before a conversation (I’ll be going over this later). When you first start to set intention with your partner every day, your brain doesn’t think it’s very important and doesn’t assign much to it. However, over time, as you repeat it over and over, the brain assigns more and more importance to it. So, initially it’s hard to remember to do it. But, if you stick to it, you’ll remember more easily until it’s automatic. Before you know it, you’ve got a real behavior change resulting in more effective communication!
The secret behind effective communication: let’s talk RAS
Now let’s get back to the other way your brain is keeping you stuck: your reticular activating system or RAS for short. The RAS is a network of neurons located in the brain stem and it’s where most of your senses come in.
Your RAS is a filter between your conscious brain and your subconscious. Specifically, it takes instructions from your conscious mind and passes them on to your subconscious. You’re constantly giving your RAS instructions by what you’re thinking about, the problem is that you don’t even realize it.
So, if you’re thinking, “My partner is always judging and criticizing me,” the RAS hears this as the instruction or order: “Look for my partner criticizing me.”
Sure enough, your partner is “always” criticizing, you hear it constantly. If you’ve ever bought a new car, you’ve seen your RAS at work. You buy yourself a grey Toyota Highlander and suddenly you see grey Toyota Highlanders everywhere! It’s like they suddenly started making more of them. This is your conscious mind thinking about something and sending it to your subconscious to look for it.
So, if you’re thinking:
- “We don’t communicate because he never listens!”
- “I’m going to try, but I know what she’s going to say”
- “I know it’s not going to work”
- “The only problem at my job is that my boss is an asshole!”
You’re essentially telling that RAS to look for all those things and it will find it…. OFTEN!
And here’s the really scary part: your RAS will also filter out anything that doesn’t match what you’re thinking! So, when your partner is loving, appreciative, thoughtful and kind you won’t see it! When your boss tells you what a great job you’re doing, you’ll dismiss it! This is why you get into those “they said/you said” arguments: “I don’t remember you doing that!” “You didn’t say that!” It’s because your RAS filtered those nice things out and you were left proving yourself “right” over and over. When this is working with your confirmation bias, you can see how it’s a losing battle.
Ready to align your conscious and unconscious mind? Sign up below to download my free guide!
Reason #3: You’re Blaming Someone Else
If you’re blaming anyone else for the reason communication is failing, you’re setting yourself up to fail. If you want to consistently and effectively communicate you need to take 100% responsibility and focus on your side of the street and not the other person.
You co-create every single relationship you have, so focus on your part of that creation. When I say 100% responsibility, I’m not talking about blame or fault. I’m not telling you to take on the other person’s responsibility in the relationship. That would be you owning 150% and that’s called codependency.
The cornerstone of taking full responsibility is setting and keeping personal boundaries.
Having healthy emotional boundaries means you know what you need to feel safe and confident in your world. It means that you take full responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings and actions and take NO responsibility for another person’s thoughts, feelings or actions.
Don’t blame someone else for not respecting your boundaries. It’s your job to respect and hold your boundaries. Having said that, please don’t beat up on yourself if it’s been tough in the past for you to say no or confront someone who’s trampled your boundaries. Holding boundaries is a skill and, like any skill, you need to practice to get good at it.
When you keep your healthy emotional boundaries, you’ll have great benefits including:
- Higher self-esteem, confidence and self-respect
- Being less codependent overall as you separate your thoughts, feelings and needs from others
- More loving relationships because you’ll be able to trust and be more vulnerable
- Stronger sense of self and self-identity
The 5 Signs Someone Isn’t Listening to You
If you were sitting alone in a room and talking out loud, would you define that as communicating? No, I didn’t think so. But half the time you’re practically doing just that but calling it communicating. You’re speaking to (or at) your partner, coworker or child and think you’re communicating even though they’re not really listening to a word you’re saying! You might as well be alone speaking to an empty room for all the good it’s doing you (I bet you’ve even yelled that out loud in frustration once or twice)!
Too often we learn great tools for effective communication but we’re missing the signs that the other person isn’t listening! And trust me, you’re getting those signals telling you that what you’re saying isn’t landing, but you ignore them and keep moving full steam ahead. You can feel in your gut that you’re not being heard or understood but, instead of stopping right there and figuring it out, you end up speaking louder (or is that just me?), getting angry and frustrated, and walking away feeling hurt and resentful. Then later you’re saying, “I told you that already! No one listens to me around here!” (or is that just me too?).
There are five major signs that effective communication isn’t happening and you’ve got to learn them if you want to start having effective communication with the people around you. Keep in mind that it might be you doing one of these five things or the person you’re speaking with. Either way, it’s time to reset and re-strategize!
As usual, I’ve created one of my great acronyms so you can easily remember what to look out for: BRAID.
If you or the other person is acting like a victim or blaming one another or anyone else for the situation, true communication has stopped. Think about it, if the person you’re trying to communicate with is blaming you, it means they’re not taking responsibility for whatever happened, which means they’re certainly not going to take responsibility or listen now. And the same goes for you. If you’re walking into a conversation blaming the other person for your feelings, then you haven’t taken responsibility, so you’re not trying to communicate effectively, you’re just trying to make the other person feel bad too (I say with love).
You can’t read anyone’s mind and they can’t read yours. If the conversation has sentences like, “I know what you’re thinking,” “I know what you’re going to say, so I’m not going to ask,” “You should know by now what I want,” or “You knew what I meant, and you did it anyway!” then the conversation should stop right then and there. Whoever thinks they can read minds isn’t looking to have a real dialogue. They’re not being curious or seeking to understand. They’re just trying to prove themselves right.
Once you start attacking one another in any way, the game is well and truly over. But having a full out fight with raised voices isn’t the only way arguing shows up. There are many behaviors that fall into this category that you might not realize are hostile that include:
- Passive aggressive remarks and actions (aggression is right there in the title)
- Biting or constant sarcasm (What, you can’t take a joke? You take everything so seriously!)
- Name-calling even in a calm tone (You’re being such an asshole)
- Diagnosing (You’re bipolar!)
- Discounting or minimizing (I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal about this)
- Attacks on character (You’ve always been a drama queen, no wonder you have no friends)
- Silence: The cold shoulder, withdrawal from a conversation, “Yes dear,” shoulder shrugs and “I don’t know”
Any of these behaviors are letting you know that the communication train is well and truly off the rails!
If you’re being interrupted or if you start talking over another person, conversation has stopped. If you’re being interrupted, it means the other person is in fight/flight/freeze or fawn mode so that amygdala is turned on and they are no longer listening (if they ever were). Interrupting can also be if the person takes a call, looks at their phone, gets distracted by something or someone outside the conversation or you can see that they’re trying to say something while you’re speaking.
Any defensiveness at all, again by you or the other person, is a sign that people are in that fight/flight/freeze/fawn mode and no communication is happening so it’s time to re-set or come back to the conversation at another time.
Keep this acronym in your head, make it the wallpaper on your phone or print it out and hang it on the refrigerator – anything to ensure that you remember to watch out for these five signs that your communication has stalled and it’s time to regroup.
The Five Step Process to Effective Communication in Every Relationship
You’re here! You’ve made it! You can now tell when you’ve lost your audience and the other person isn’t listening (so not communicating) and the reasons why you’ve had difficulty communicating in the past.
Armed with this information, you’re ready to have some great dialogues where people feel understood, heard and appreciated. You’re ready to build conversations where effective communication can happen more easily and fluidly.
And now comes my surprise. SURPRISE! I’m not going to give you my top five communication tips (or some similar title), because that’s not what you really need.
What you need is a process, a habit of interacting, so you can have connecting, clear conversations over and over, no matter who you’re speaking with! It’s time to have effective communication in every relationship, consistently.
Step 1: Set Yourself up for Effective Communication Success
I’ve seen many a communication effort fail because it was set up to fail. There are two main things you need to be aware of before you have a meaningful conversation.
The first is timing: When you’re ready to effectively communicate you want to make sure you have time. You don’t want to be rushed, glancing at your watch or feeling impatient when you’re trying to communicate effectively. Sometimes it’s great to set up a time to talk so you know you can have the physical and emotional space you need. This can also help if you’re one of those folks who chickens out (I say with love) once it comes time to talk to someone. Planning a specific time can help you keep your commitment.
Having enough time doesn’t mean endless time; don’t talk for five hours about something – no one can listen for that long! It’s also important to pay attention to the time of day you’re speaking. Don’t talk late at night; no one has the bandwidth for thinking clearly after a long day.
Whenever possible, it’s great to have these conversations when you’re not upset with the other person. You likely usually avoid these conversations when things are going well because you don’t want to rock the boat, but it’s actually the time when you’ll have the best outcomes!
The second is to eliminate distractions: Effective communication means you are only doing that, not multi-tasking. Don’t be in an environment with lots of other things pulling at your attention (i.e., cell phone, kids, coworkers, laundry, hunger). Cell phones should, literally, be put away when you’re speaking, don’t even have them open on the table because research shows it worsens communication.
Step 2: Ask Yourself Why You Want to Have this Conversation
What’s your motivation for this conversation and what do you want the end game to be? In a work setting, people are often pretty clear on why they’re having a meeting and what they’d like to accomplish. For some reason, in our one-on-one relationships, we often just think, “I’m so upset about this. I need to speak to X about it” without any clear forethought.
The key question to ask yourself is, “do I want to be correct or effective?”
Yes, you’re “right” when you tell your son (for the 10th time) to put his dishes in the dishwasher and that he should just be able to do it without you reminding him. But, if you’ve asked multiple times and it’s still not happening, then you’ve got to take a different approach. You’ve got to ask yourself, “do you want to be correct or effective?”
And, of course, if your coworker is still late getting you that report you should just be able to demand it. But, if you’ve asked multiple times and they still haven’t done it, you’ve got to try to find another way of speaking to them about it. You’ve got to ask yourself, “do you want to be correct or effective?”
And I absolutely agree that it’s not fair that your partner can’t hit the hamper with their dirty underwear but is your nagging them about it getting you results? You’re certainly correct in your wishes but is your communication effective?
Get out of being right and thinking that this is enough. It’s time to get effective so you can get your needs met and move a situation forward.
When you get out of being right, you can really ask yourself what your motivation is for this conversation in the first place. Are you pissed and want to take it out on your partner for “making you feel that way?” Are you trying to control your friend or a situation? When you look at your motivation you might find that you either need to wait for another time to have the conversation or that your approach needs to be radically changed.
The three questions you want to ask yourself before having any conversation:
- “What’s my endgame with this conversation?” What are you hoping to get out of having this discussion?
- How do I want the other person to feel at the end of this talk?
- How do I want to feel at the end of this conversation?
Step 3: Be Mindful and Set Intention
Check in with yourself before you start the conversation and as often as possible during the conversation. This means being fully present in your own mind and body. How are you feeling emotionally? Are you noticing any tightness or changes in your body?
I talk a lot about mindfulness because, without it, you’re just going to be reacting and having the same conversation you’ve had a bunch of times already. When you’re mindful, you’re in the moment, noticing your reactions to what the other person is saying and you’ll be able to act, not react when you respond.
You know how you’ve walked away from conversations before thinking, “Ugh! Why did I say that?!” or maybe hours later you’ve realized, “Oh! I should have said this! How did I forget that?!” Mindfulness puts an end to those kinds of internal dialogues and opens the way for real connection.
You can learn all about being mindful in your relationships right here and download the free mindfulness starter kit when you’re ready.
The best way to check in with yourself is to notice what you’re feeling as you walk into a conversation and then set intention for how you’d like the conversation to progress.
I call setting intention the 18-Second Shift because that’s how long it takes to do and it’s a complete game changer! You can also set intention with the other person. You might start the conversation by saying something like, “I want to talk to you about x. It’s my intention to be patient and really listen to your thoughts and feelings about it. I plan to be loving and open and I’m really looking forward to us connecting and finding a solution together.”
Looking for another effective communication tool? Learn how to set intention in just 18 seconds with this video!
You’ve got to remember that you need to connect to correct. Meaning, you’ve got to have an emotional connection with someone if you want them to listen well and change how you interact together. When you set intention and you remind the other person that you love them, that you want to connect, or that the relationship is valuable to you, you’re making that connection.
And you can bring them into the mindful space with you by asking them for their intention. It might seem strange or artificial at first, but I’m telling you it has a profound effect on how people interact afterwards.
We connect with feelings, not thoughts. So, it’s important share how you’re feeling (I’m a little nervous to speak to you about this) before and during the conversation. At any point in the conversation, ask the other person how they’re feeling in that moment. You’ll be shocked at how it slows or stops any negative momentum and brings people into a more connecting space together.
Just be mindful to share feelings not thoughts. Often, when I ask a client how they feel, they answer with a thought. For example, if you ask and they respond, “I’m feeling like there’s no way out of this,” they’re sharing a thought, not a feeling so ask again. “That’s a thought, tell me how you feel.” Sometimes it takes asking a few times because people are so far from their feelings and so caught up in their thoughts. I’ve had people get upset with me because they were having such a hard time finding their feelings, but just stay loving and kind until they can get there.
Step 4: Come from Love, Not Fear
In my experience, the number one culprit for poor communication overall is your conscious or unconscious fear. Your fear shows up with a number of fear-based feelings and behaviors such as anxiety, jealousy, worry, concern, helplessness, hopelessness, rage, resentment, frustration, and overwhelm. All of these feelings leave you wanting to control, lash out, punish or withdraw. Your partner picks up on your fear and that’s what they’re reacting to (as you learned in the previous sections). If you take care of the fear FIRST, the conversation will blossom.
No matter what, when you enter into a conversation where you want to effectively communicate, you’ve got to have an intention that focuses on a love-based emotion such as kindness, appreciation, gratitude, openness, curiosity, empathy, enthusiasm, humor, connection, ease, comfort, and compassion.
You’ve got to get yourself into that state, that frame of thinking, before you start the conversation. It needs to be part of your motive. When you break it all down, you’re having this conversation because you want to connect. You want to move forward with ease, openness and love (even at work). If that’s your overall goal, you can’t base the conversation on fear. No relationship or communication was ever made better by fear.
Step 5: Be Curious and Ask Good Questions
Normally we start a conversation with telling the other person our thoughts and feelings about something. We’re feeling hurt or maybe misunderstood and we want to let the other person know what we need from them instead.
The problem with this way of presenting something is that you’re going into the conversation telling the other person that they’re doing something wrong (either consciously or unconsciously) and this generally puts them on the defensive no matter how nice or thoughtful your words are! I know you’ve been there!
If you think about it, you’re going into most of these conversations thinking that you’re right and they’re wrong and you’re trying to “get them” over to your way of thinking. The other person ends up feeling controlled or manipulated (much like you do when they come at you this way).
So, you’ve got to go into these conversations with real curiosity. It’s not “WHY ARE THEY ACTING THIS WAY?!?!?!” but rather, “Huh. I wonder why they’re acting this way?” The only way to find out, is to ask questions.
Starting a conversation with good questions is the key. “Good” questions are questions that elicit conversation, vulnerability and openness. They are not interrogating “why?” questions. They are truly interested questions you’re asking to better understand what’s happening.
If you’re upset with your partner about something they said you might start a conversation with these questions (remember, this is after you’ve done the previous steps in the effective communication process):
- I want to better understand something you said the other day. Could you tell me more about what you meant when you said X?
- I know neither of us liked that argument we had yesterday. If you had to say to me again what you said yesterday, how would you say it differently?
- I’d really like to hear what you were trying to tell me yesterday but I got hurt and shut down. Could you say it to me again in a different way so I can understand what you want?
- You can also start bigger and then come back to your specific issue (to connect before you correct). “What do you want to see more of in our relationship? (Make sure the answers are what they do want to see, not what they don’t want you to do). Then follow up with other questions, “What’s one thing I could do to show you x?” “What’s one thing I could say to show you more of y?” “What’s your favorite thing I do for/say to you?”
If you’re upset with your friend or sibling, you might start a conversation with these questions:
- How did you feel after yesterday’s conversation?
- What’s the one thing you’d like to see more of in our relationship?
- What’s the one thing you’d like to see less of in our relationship?
- When have you felt fully understood/heard by me?
- You told me x yesterday. What was your intention in telling me that? What were you hoping for?
What you really want to do is listen like you’re wrong. You want to let go of being right or where you think the conversation should go and be open to what might evolve. You want to find that empathy and put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a moment and find a solution and way of interacting that works for both of you. You want to ask questions that open people up and help you both be vulnerable and build trust.
Ask questions to clarify meaning. Be sure you understand what’s being said. “Can you tell me more about X?” “What did you mean when you said Y?” “I still don’t think I understand X. Can you say it to me in a different way? I really want to understand.”
General Guidelines for Effective Communication
You’d think I’d leave you alone by now, but I just can’t because there are a few last points that didn’t quite fit in anywhere else that I’d like you to add to the overall repertoire.
- At some point in the conversation, reflect back what you’ve heard so you can be sure you’re getting it right. The easiest way to do that is to say something along the lines of: “What I heard you saying is…”
- As I mentioned earlier, it’s important not to interrupt the other person when they’re speaking. So, before responding, ask: “Are you ready for some feedback?” “Is there anything else you wanted to say?”
- When the other person is sharing, don’t rehearse what you’re going to say. You can’t listen fully if you’re thinking of your response.
- No matter what else you do during the conversation, don’t SAC. Don’t offer Suggestions, give Advice or C (And don’t try to sneak in a suggestion in the form of a question, “Have you thought of x?” is a no-no).
- Get rid of “all or nothing” Do not utter the words: “You always X” or “You never Y.” The big problem with this type of language is that it’s not true. The person you’re talking to knows it’s not true. So, when you say, “You always nag me” or “You never let me finish my sentences,” the other person is immediately thinking of all the times they didn’t nag you and did let you finish a sentence (even if you don’t remember, they do!). In the end, they dismiss what you’re saying completely because you’re, in effect, lying: you’re over-generalizing, exaggerating and being melodramatic (their words, not mine).
- No more buts. Stop using the word “but” completely and start using the word “and.” Saying anything like, “I hear what you’re saying, but I think X” just negates everything the other person said and means you don’t actually “hear” what they’re saying at all (well, you might hear it, but you’re not listening). It means that, while they were talking, you were thinking of your rebuttal. No matter how you use it, “but” means you don’t believe or agree with what the other person is saying and you’re rejecting it. Instead, try: “I hear what you’re saying and what do you think of X?” is going to come across very differently.
- When problem-solving, say “we” instead of “you” as much as possible. It’s not, “What are you going to do about this problem?” It’s “How are we going to solve this?” or “How can we work together to make X happen?” or “How can I help you with X so you know I have your back?” You don’t want to set up sides and a “me versus you” mentality.
How Setting Intention Will Change Your Life
The Real Reason Why You Have Negative Thoughts and 2 Things You Can Do About It
Boundaries: How to Identify Them and How to Hold Them
8 Ways to Build Your Confidence and Self-Esteem
How to Know If I’m Doing Too Much for Others
Your People Pleasing Might Be a Trauma Response
Stop Phubbing: It’s Killing Your Relationship
How to Make Mindfulness a Consistent Habit
Download the Mindfulness Starter Kit Here (Scroll down to the bottom)
How to Set Intention in Just 18 Seconds (aka The 18-Second Shift)
Bad Questions Are Ruining Your Relationship
Timothy Wilson, Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious
John A. Bargh and Ezequiel Morsella, “The Unconscious Mind,” Perspectives in Psychological Science 3, no. 1 (2008): 73-79.