Communicating Without Controlling: Part I
One of my favorite books on relationship is Susan Campbell’s Saying What’s Real. She claims that research shows that “nearly 90% of human communication comes from (the usually unconscious) intent to control.” Think about that for a moment. Ninety percent of what I say is really about trying to control someone else’s thoughts, behavior or emotions. I don’t know about you, but that feels pretty scary to me, and a wake-up call that I need to take a closer look at how I say things so that I am giving freedom to others to be their authentic selves, rather than consciously or unconsciously attempting to funnel them into my wants and ways. This is so important to me, that I’m going to devote the next six or eight of my blogs to sharing with you some simple and effective ways that we can adjust our language with others that stops controlling them, and gives more openness and connection to those we are speaking to. I guarantee you that following these examples will make a huge difference in your likeability and relatability to others. In short: use these suggestions sincerely with others, and people will love you for it! Not just that, but by relinquishing our default ways of attempting to control others through our language, you will be helping to create a more peaceful, connecting, loving and trusting world. What could be more important than that?
Key to communicating effectively is to be in the present. All too often, we speak in reaction to a restimulation of some past unpleasant experience, or in fear of some made-up (but seemingly real) future event. If you can turn your thought structure away from the past and future, and be in the ‘now’, you will find that things are much simpler, and a whole lot less scary.
So, let’s start with something that’s in the NOW: communicating our feelings. We are constantly receiving inputs from others: our partners, friends, the news, Face Book posts, etc. Sometimes we give feedback like, “You make me so angry,” or sad, or happy or scared. Often we skip that feedback and just react in retaliation, or isolation, smiles or withdrawal. But ¾ of those reactions actually pull you away from the other. How can we communicate in a way that lets the other understand what is happening for us, and still maintain connection? Susan Campbell suggest that we use the phrase, “Hearing you say that, I feel…” and filling in the blank after that with our emotion (sad, angry, happy, afraid, curious, upset, or other combination feeling), or our sensation (hot, cold, excitement, relaxed, tense, etc.).
Note that judgments are not included here, nor are “you” statements, like “I feel you are being stubborn,” which is not a feeling at all, but a judgment about the other, and in actuality, related to some past experience, and aimed at controlling the other, not at communicating what is happening inside us.
So what happens when we simply state how someone’s words and tone land on us like this? We give up trying to control by threat, shaming, implying, judging or dominating. Instead, we trust the listener to hear us and make their own adjustments in relating based on what they now understand about how we feel. Now turn the situation around, and entertain for a moment that you just heard feedback on how your words landed on someone. There is no effort on their part to control you. Wouldn’t you want to adjust your tone and language with them so that you could maintain a trusting, respectful communication? When immediate feelings or sensations are communicated, aren’t you relating within the realm of the present, about workability, instead of past hurts or future fears or hopes? Campbell says that “When you use this key phrase [hearing you say that, I feel] to help you embrace your pain voluntarily, there is a certain power and grace to that act.”
In fact, using this phrase can enhance intimacy with the other: you are giving them a peek inside you of your inner workings and responses. To do otherwise keeps things on a superficial level, and hides the authentic you from them.
So, from the coach to my peeps: here’s some homework to do over the next couple of weeks, and evaluate how it works for you. Try the phrase (as appropriate) with a coworker, boss, partner, child, “Hearing you say that I feel…” and fill it in with a feeling or sensation. Breathe. Give them room to respond. And then use the phrase again. Be curious. See how the conversation moves: is it less predictable, more open? How do you feel when communicating your feelings and sensations? Is there less sense of stuckness? I’d love to hear your comments. And another tip forthcoming next month!