barb crosses her arms and raises her voice, “you never take out the trash!”
harry sighs and says, “i really should stop worrying about this.”
raj keeps on playing his computer game and grunts, “sure!”
what do these three have in common?
barb, harry and raj find themselves in an uncomfortable situation, and they use ways of coping that are familiar and comfortable for them. they use words and body language that have always worked – or so it seems.
words like never, always, should, have to are often signs that we are using these coping methods. behaviours like arm crossing, sticking your hands in your pants pockets, sighing, nervous laughing, or just not paying attention can be used to the same purpose.
the question is, how well do these ways of communicating work?
let’s take barb as an example. what does she really want? on the obvious level, she wants the trash taken out. on a not-so-obvious level, maybe she feels that the other person is not pulling their weight. maybe she feels overwhelmed. maybe she just needs more support.
so it looks like barb wants one thing but is saying another.
what prevents barb from being open and honest and saying something like, “please take out the trash, and please make sure that you remember it next time. i really think i’ve done my part. i just feel quite overwhelmed right now”?
in a lot of situations, it’s fear that prevents us from communicating clearly, respectfully and honestly. fear is also what makes barb protect herself by crossing her arms – she protects her heart area, both literally and figuratively.
often, the reason for the fear is a long time in the past. maybe barb grew up in a family where clarity, respect and honesty were punished by ridicule or hostility.
let’s assume that barb wants to communicate better. that she wants to be free from falling into old patterns.
what can she do?
the neat thing, as a friend of mine recently pointed out, is that we can all use these very communication patterns to help us grow out of them.
here is something you can do:
- take a moment to reflect on this: are there any phrases or types of body language that feel familiar – but just a little yucky?
- pay attention to when you use these ways of communicating
- once you’re able to notice this communication style, observe how you feel and what you think
- ask yourself: “what is underneath all this?”
- experiment with alternate ways of expressing yourself. for example, raj could look up from his computer game and truly pay attention to the person who is talking to him.
what are your “yucky” communication styles? are you ready to change them?
if you’d like a bit of help with this, drop me a line.
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