Sunday, 2 October 2011

Three Words That Promote Change

It seems to me that when we try to communicate we get hung up on telling the truth. So what is the truth? Very often when it comes to two people telling the story of their relationship there are often different truths. They may agree that they are not getting on. They may agree it's about communication. They will, however,  often have different reasons and they nearly always blame the other partner. That is their truth. My job is to help them understand each other's perspectives and what it feels like for the other person to be in the relationship. It is often an eye opening experience especially for the partner who is convinced that they are right and telling the truth.

I have long been of the opinion that we use and understand language in different ways. One of the I first things I do when I agree to work with a couple is I give them a list of adjectives and ask them to tick which ones apply to them and which apply to the partner. It's usually not long before they acknowledge that they interpret the words in different ways. That's because there isn't one interpretation. 'Ah' you may say but somethings are irrefutable say for example if you see an accident? But if you ask any policeman about interviewing witnesses they will probably say that everyone tells a slightly different story. In fact if they don't then they (the police) usually suspect collusion. As I remarked to a twitter mate only yesterday. It depends where you are stood in the field as to what you see.

So communication - how to get your point across without rancour - can it be done? I think it can. If you want to convert other people to your point of view then that's trickier. I think that's where the majority of us go wrong. We want to convince the other person that we are right and they are wrong. Well in my opinion when it comes to relationships then someone being right or wrong doesn't do it. It means someone is a persecutor and someone is a victim. It's just not useful. The question to ask yourself  when communicating is  'do I feel understood'? If the answer is no then it would probably be useful to work out what prevents you from being understood.

My solution is to first delete a couple of  words from your vocabulary and replace them with more useful ones. The first to go is SHOULD don't worry the sky won't fall in! The reason you're dropping it is that SHOULD is an instruction without choice and who wants to follow those? Then you are going to replace it with COULD. I'm sure you can see that immediately you've given yourself an option? To hammer the point home further just imagine you are with your partner and he/she tells you that you SHOULD be do something to help. How do you feel? Probably criticised?  Now if  they ask if you COULD help?  Don't you want to accommodate them either immediately or later? Perhaps the wits among you will say 'well I don't want to help anyway',  but then perhaps they could ask themselves what's happening for them to make them respond in that way?

The second word to be deleted is CAN'T because if this word is in regular use you are not going to make any changes - you've already said you're helpless? That's not a comfortable position so lets replace it with WON'T now that's a word with some power? So it's not that you can't understand your partner's point of view it's that you don't want to understand. What could be the reason for that? Perhaps it's because if you understand it behoves you to make some adjustments and very often that feels hard. I mean we're mostly of the opinion that our way is the right way aren't we?

Next I want you to try I out for size. So instead of  making general statements which normalise your behaviour and imply this is how it SHOULD be done your going to say this is what I think, feel, like, want. This takes a bit of practice because you probably don't really know what you think, feel, like or want you're probably just carrying around all those instructions from childhood when you didn't have a choice. What I can say is that when you get used to saying I it makes you feel more powerful and you will be communicating more honestly. In a relationship where there is an issue say around timekeeping an example of useful communication would be something along the lines of  'I know that you're busy and you get sidetracked but I don't like it when you don't let me know when you're going to be late. I understand that you feel I'm trying to control you. I'm not but I worry something has happened and you're not OK. Could you perhaps ring me before you set off home'? The thing is you're making a statement but you're also acknowledging the other persons difficulty and explaining your point of view. I'm not saying this is foolproof because I don't think anything is but you stand a better chance of the other person being co-operative.

So to reiterate 3 simple changes I know work and which you could make to improve your communication style and feel more in control.

1) Drop should and use could
2) Drop can't and use won't and then ask yourself what makes you say you don't want to
3) Use I to get in touch with your thoughts and feelings and clarify your statements

What do you think, is it worth a try?


  1. The time keeping scenario made me LOL! It's the bane of my life. I still feel the urge to leave on my own and let my husband come home to find I've started without him.
    I say SHOULD and not COULD but I say WON'T not CAN'T, so maybe I'm right up there on my high horse.
    Some people wont try to change the way they say things. I've realised lately that my other half says 'I hate that, or I don't like that' an awful lot, to the point where I feel he doesnt like very much of anything, the way he communicates is very negative, which in turn makes me avoid conversation. There isn't any upbeat subject I can touch on.
    When friends are around though, he's a laugh a minute.
    We had some parents of a German friend to stay a while ago, the husband was sunny and jolly, even with the language barrier, I had been lead to believe he was serious and boring. Me and his wife were in the garden and she suddenly said that he wasnt normally like that, they ate in silence and the most she could raise was a grunt.
    I commented on this to my other half and he seemed to think I was being unreasonable and taking the 'woman's side'. I actually do some of the things he does sometimes, so it's not the 'Woman's side' it's just a view point you share with someone who has the same issues and angst inducing emotions, be it male or female.
    I'm going to make a point of thinking about my responses before I say the wrong thing and see if I'm the catalyst for his doldrums.

  2. Thank you for your comments. I used the time keeping scenario because it's a common problem. In fact I've experienced it myself in the past. I can understand your frustration because what feels like relentless negativity is difficult to deal with. It sounds as if your spouse is unhappy and doesn't know how to share it? However, it is not your responsibility. You can can offer to listen but he would have to talk. It may be that he's literally saying he's not happy but he may be saying he feels criticised and unloved. If you adopt the strategies you will be clearer about what you think and feel and be communicating clearly. It goes without saying you can only change yourself but if you change other's cannot remain the same

  3. Fab blog Barbara! I'm so glad that you have singled out two of my most disliked words 'should' and 'can't'. They have such negative connotations for me and I always envisage 'should' being said with a pointed finger! And 'can't' just means won't try!!! Wise words again from a wise soul! Thank you x Sharon C

  4. Thank you Sharon that's a good interpretation of the words that hold us back. Thanks so much for commenting :)

  5. I've never thought of the word should like that and now will do my best to get rid of it. I use it a lot at work but you've made such a great point. I've never said I can't because I can do anything! 

  6. language is so powerful isn't it Suzie? I've been feeling that I should be happy instead of I could be happy. It's now a question of what's stopping me? :) I believe you can do anything too. Thanks for stopping by :)