In a recent job interview, I was asked, “How would you get your client to see things your way?”
I said, “By seeing things his way first.”
The associate looked a little confused, so I continued.
“You aren’t going to get anywhere if you don’t listen first, right? You can’t make him come around to your plan, if you don’t understand the purpose and intention behind his plan.”
In their insightful book, We Need to Talk: Steps to Better Communication, Paul Donoghue, PhD and Mary Siegel, PhD discuss how a few tweaks in how we approach difficult conversations can save relationships.
Whether it be confrontations between spouses, parents and children, work colleagues, or friends, knowing a few basic skills of expressing ourselves can lead to safer, closer bonds between everyone involved. I’ve excerpted the following steps from chapter fourteen, entitled “Communicating Effectively.”
Step one: stop to reflect.
Per the authors: “You must be clear within yourself first if you want to have a chance of being transparent to others. Effective communication with others relies on successful communication with yourself.” This is an exercise in stepping back to come up with a plan before you open your mouth.
Step two: know your intentions.
This is not as easy as it sounds. So often we speak not knowing what we truly want. We think our intention is one thing–for example, getting our parents to exercise–when, in reality, the deeper intention is to express our overriding concern about our parents’ health, and for them to know that their health decisions affect us.
Step three: start by saying “I.”
I learned how to use “I” statements back in eighth grade, when my mom made my sisters and me attend groups for children of alcoholics. The great thing about “I” statements is that you can pretty much say anything you want to, because you’re keeping the focus on you, and you have the right to express your needs, perceptions, intentions, beliefs, and thoughts. By beginning your statements with “I,” you prevent unfair accusations.
Step four: say what you are feeling.
“I” statements aren’t effective if the pronoun isn’t followed by the word “feel” or something equivalent. This is easier for some more than others. If you are not accustomed to this way of talking, the authors suggest start with basic adjectives like “good” and “bad,” or spatial terms like “close” and “distant.” Like a foreign language, it may require some practice.
Step five: identify your perceptions.
A perception is the reason for your feeling. If you were an attorney, you might call it Exhibit A. Because, in most cases, you need to provide some rationale or justification for your feeling. Donoghue and Siegel explain: “Your feelings are not governed by another’s behavior but by the way that you interpret that behavior. You have every right to your emotions and to your perceptions. But good communication requires that you accept that YOUR feelings are based on YOUR perceptions.”
Step six: expressing your perceptions.
The final step often involves using the word “when,” so that you can direct your feelings and perceptions to a specific moment, which improves your chances of being heard and understood by the other person.