My guess is that, if asked, most of us would think we’re pretty good communicators. Interestingly, most of us aren’t as great as we think we are! Good communication isn’t just about speaking well. It’s about how well we are able to articulate what we are thinking and feeling to most effectively get our message across. Let’s use a specific example to highlight several typical ways of communicating:
Scenario: Your partner informs you that she told a mutual friend that you would help her with a project Saturday morning. You had been thinking about treating yourself to a walk on the beach that day and now you’re feeling cornered into doing something you didn’t want to do and you’re angry about it.
One possible response is that you think to yourself, “I can’t believe she did that! I’m so angry that I‘d better not say anything because if I do, it’s just going to cause a big fight and I have no interest in fighting.” So you reply with a frustrated, “Fine…” and internalize your anger and frustration. This usually leads to your emotionally shutting down and building up resentment.
Another response is that you express your anger and say, “I can’t believe you did that!” You have no right to volunteer me for anything. Now that makes ME look like a jerk if I call her and tell her I had other plans!” Don’t EVER do that to me again!” This response IS healthier than the first, but the result is anger on your part, defensiveness on your partner’s part and major tension going forward.
The best response is to think about what it is you want and don’t want. Then articulate THAT. “I understand you were only trying to help Esmerelda, but making a commitment before checking with me doesn’t work for me. I had tentative plans for Saturday morning and now I’m going to be doing something that I would not have volunteered to do. From now on I really want you to check with me before making plans that involve me. Okay?”
If what you want is to prevent the scenario from happening again, it’s more effective to explain why it doesn’t work for you AND to get your partner’s buy-in simply by asking, “Okay?”
As emotional beings, our first instinct is to react. While you may have an immediate physical reaction (like a surge of anger) when faced with a situation, try taking a deep breath, stopping before you speak and asking yourself which serves YOU better, blowing up or making sure your feelings about the situation are understood.
It’s up to us to learn how to communicate to get what we want and need. Unless your partner or spouse is a carnival mind reader, don’t ever assume they know why you may be angry or frustrated. We are all works-in-progress, and communicating effectively is a skill that CAN be learned!