‘You don’t respect me.’
‘I really can’t stand you.’
‘You’re completely useless.’
Here’s a list of statements that you’ve probably either made yourself or had made about you, most likely in a fit of anger. Do they sound familiar?
In this article you’ll learn that these expressions represent one of the seven mistakes you absolutely must avoid making if you want to communicate effectively and express anger in a useful way.
If you were on the receiving end of phrases like these, how do you think you’d react? Would you be polite and sympathetic, or would you feel attacked, belittled and worthless?
The other person may well be right – for example, if you’re not keeping their relationship account topped up in the right way. Despite this you will most probably react along the latter rather than the former lines.
In this way, a conversation that starts out calmly can easily escalate into a conflict in which both you and your interlocutor try to attack each other with the aim of defending yourselves. In doing this, you would both continue to pour ‘petrol on the flames’, fuelling the argument even further.
How could you act differently in situations like this? You’ll find out very shortly.
Why communicating is not enough
We live in a world filled with countless technological means of communication. Yet even today the inability to express yourself fully, and the ambiguity that can result from this, can cause misunderstandings, misapprehensions and disagreements with the important people in your life.
This is why communicating in itself is not enough – you need to know how to communicate effectively. Effective communication is an essential part of ensuring your success and well-being, both in your personal life and your professional life.
Indeed, relationship problems – with your partner, your friends, your colleagues and even with people you hardly know – are very often caused by the interlocutors’ inability to communicate effectively and understand one another.
Let’s look at an example of a conflict between Victoria and Mark, which takes place after Mark has come home late.
Victoria: You don’t respect me!
Mark: That’s because you never listen to me!
Victoria: Of course I listen to you – it’s you who never takes my opinion into account!
Mark: That’s absolutely not true – it’s always you who doesn’t respect my point of view!
Victoria: What are you talking about? I always respect your point of view. Can’t you see? Yet again you’re not respecting me!
And so on.
The conversation could go on indefinitely.
Valentina and Marco are both expressing a lot of anger and frustration. They keep on attacking each other, though, and there’s no obvious way out of the situation.
Although they’re talking to each other, they’re by no means communicating effectively. In fact, they don’t seem to understand one other at all.
Who is wrong? Who is right? Most likely, neither of them and both of them.
What’s for sure is that if they keep on like this they won’t get anywhere.
Complaining, nitpicking, accusing: these are all unproductive ways of showing your anger. As long as Victoria and Mark continue to criticise each other, it will be difficult for them to escape from this vicious circle.
This doesn’t mean they have to keep their resentment to themselves, or, worse still, repress it. In fact, that could turn out to be even more harmful to their relationship.
As you can easily imagine, in situations like this you need to adopt a different strategy, one that will enable you to express your feelings but avoid hurting the other person.
It’s therefore essential to know how to express anger in a way that communicates to your interlocutor that their behaviour has hurt you, but without criticising or hurting the person who has behaved in this way.
Effective communication using the I-message technique
One effective communication technique for this kind of situation is known as the ‘I-message’ technique.
Developed by US psychologist Thomas Gordon, this technique is made up of three key steps:
- Describe the behaviour causing the problem, without expressing value judgments or criticisms;
- Describe how this behaviour makes you feel and what kind of reactions it elicits from you;
- Describe the response to its tangible, concrete effects, as well as the possible solutions.
In the case of Victoria and Mark, let’s see how the conversation could go. Victoria is angry because of what has happened, yet instead of saying ‘You don’t respect me!’ she could opt for:
1) Description of behaviour: ‘You came home late for dinner without letting me know in advance.’
2) Description of how it made you feel: ‘I felt ignored and disrespected…’
3) Description of response: ‘…because I had to wait for you and in the meantime dinner got cold.’
As for Mark, instead of replying, ‘That’s because you never listen to me’, he could explain his reasons more effectively, as follows:
1) Description of behaviour: ‘Before I went out I told you that I might be late and that I wasn’t taking my phone with me so wouldn’t be able to let you know.’
2) Description of how it made you feel: ‘I understand why you’re angry and I didn’t mean to hurt you. At the same time, my impression is that you didn’t listen to me.’
3) Description of response: ‘It seems that we’ve had a misunderstanding. I suggest therefore that we reheat dinner and enjoy our evening together.’
As you can see, with this method Victoria and Mark are able to communicate their true feelings without accusing or hurting each other.
Their attention is focused not on recrimination but on the consequences of their actions (‘dinner got cold’) and the possible solutions (‘I suggest that we reheat dinner and enjoy our evening together’).
This final point is fundamental: it’s useless to dwell on what has happened and to criticise the other person for something that has already taken place. Instead, it’s better to focus constructively on possible responses to the event, so that you deal with the situation usefully and proactively.
Next time you end up in this kind of situation, stop for a moment before accusing the other person and try to put these three steps into practice.
Remember: It’s the behaviour that creates the problem, not the person themselves.
So, condemn the behaviour, not the person.
Using the I-message strategy allows you to expressive your feelings coherently, to concentrate on possible resolutions and to take responsibility for the results you achieve.
Doing this gives you the means to change the way you relate to other people. By substituting habits that aren’t useful (accusations) for much more effective responses you will be able to achieve effective communication with others.
Seven communication mistakes to avoid
Even what seems to be the most trivial of interactions can hide many pitfalls. Recognising these and managing them in time can therefore ensure clearer, more effective and more satisfactory communication.
What you have just read about was an example of just one of the seven communication mistakes that it’s absolutely vital to avoid. There are (at least) six more! Want to know what they are?
Here’s a list:
- Mistake 1: Being restricted by your own perceptions
- Mistake 2: Adopting intuitive explanations
- Mistake 3: Confusing content and relationship
- Mistake 4: Making demeaning generalisations
- Mistake 5: Attacking the person
- Mistake 6: Feeding self-fulfilling prophecies
- Mistake 7: Creating communication redundancies
The mistake we looked at in this article is number 5.
As always, if you liked this article and found it useful, I invite you to like it or share it. It’s a small message from you that will give me satisfaction and will further motivate me to do my best.
And if you have comments or questions, don’t hesitate to let me know. I reply personally to each and every query I receive.
See you next time!