Groundhog Day – Communication Styles

“Just tell me right out what is wrong!” says our exchange student. And I can’t help but feel that this situation is quite surreal. I came to Canada from Germany 16 years ago and have since adapted to the Anglo-American indirect communication style. I can still feel that need to blurt right out what I am feeling bubble up at times but I dutifully squelch it—most of the time—because I have learned such uninhibited “vomiting” of thoughts or feelings will not be well received.

So for almost three weeks I have been saying things like, “Your dishes can go into the dishwasher. The frying pan needs to be washed in the sink,” and I assumed, based on my current social environment, this would translate into, “Please put your dishes into the dishwasher and clean the frying pan after you have used it.” I have also been saying, “Do you have an alarm on your phone you can set for in the mornings?” instead of “Please set your alarm for 6:30 and get up by yourself.” And “Please text us your plans,” instead of “We are having dinner at 8:00. If you are not planning to be home for dinner, please let us know ahead of time.”

It is not that this direct way of speech is unfamiliar to me. Had I been speaking in German, I would have automatically slipped into those phrases in German. But with the language and cultural context, I had made assumptions. I expected the receiver of my communication to be capable of inferring from my words to the meta-message.

communication - responsibility lies with sender

We make assumptions all the time. Do you have a family member or co-worker who is not responding to what you are trying to convey? Does it feel like they don’t hear you? We can feel so alone and get really frustrated when that occurs. However, we need to keep in mind that the responsibility for communication always lies with the sender.  Communication is successful when the sender’s message is correctly received and understood. Therefore, it is the sender’s responsibility to communicate clearly and effectively and to check the understanding of the delivered message.

I had not done that. I had found myself in a rendition of Groundhog Day, where each morning the almost 18-year-old man needed to be kicked out of bed after oversleeping, and where each morning, after his departure, the dirty frying pan and spatula were sitting on top of the stove and the unwashed plate and cup in the sink. What does Bill Murray do in Groundhog Day? He first goes crazy until he decides to let go and enjoy himself in the ever repeating reality.

Groundhog-Day

If you are feeling like it’s Groundhog Day, you neither have to go crazy, nor just let it go. You have the key to ending the miscommunication by changing your end of it. That might be the content of your messages, the tone of your voice, the non-verbal signals, or all of the above. When communication is not working, it’s not the receiver’s fault. Too often, we make people wrong in the process of not being able to get through to them. Their communication style is not wrong, just different.

Sometimes when communication is frustrating we feel irritated and annoyed. That sends additional interfering messages to the person at the receiving end. They feel not good enough in some way, perhaps like a burden, or unappreciated, or lectured to, or criticized. Step one is to check your communication honestly for that destructive energy. When we can perceive the receiver as willing and capable, our meta-message is one of trust and respect, instead of annoyed superiority.

Step two, change the choice of your words and double check the result. You might have to try out something completely different that you have not tried yet, and monitor the result. Sometimes your words might be too indirect; at other times the words might have too much edge. Do you perhaps need to use gentler start ups to ensure your receiver remains open to receiving your communication?

I am glad our Groundhog Days at home are over. I am very impressed by how us adapting our communication style slightly has allowed our exchange student to also adapt to planning ahead and being very considerate. Communication can create frustration, but when successful, communication creates wonderful bonds of connection.

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

Please check out the upcoming relationship workshop which will include tools for more successful communication, especially for conflicts.

Angelika Baum

Belief Change and Relationship Coach

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Accepting, Acknowledging and Honouring Feelings and Needs Builds Bridges

She is in the kitchen cooking. His parents are expected in an hour and she is starting to feel stressed that things aren’t ready yet. She asks her partner to set the table. In the past he has experienced being laughed at and judged for how he has set the table and he is not keen on experiencing this judgement again. He is also just finishing an e-mail, so he can relax when the guests arrive.

He says, “It’s too early to set the table now. Why are you always making such a big fuss about setting the table? And why are you so stressed about having my parents over? I’ll do it when they get here.” She replies, “Why can you never do what I ask you? I am slaving away in the kitchen and you are doing nothing. Now I also have to set the table. You never bother setting the table properly anyways…” And the couple is “off and running” with judgments and criticism instead of having a productive communication.

When we are communicating with our partner—or our children for that matter—and we have the sense that we are not getting through, what might be in the way are our power selves. Our primary personality parts or primary selves are often power selves. They have been helping us to survive in this world for most of our lives. We are so used to those voices that we often think that’s just who we are.

To figure out what some of your power selves and/or primary selves are, consider for a moment into what energy you tend to shift to cover up your vulnerability. Do you have an angry power self? A rational power self? A controlling power self? A moral power self? A righteous power self? A pusher primary part? A strong perfectionist part? A spiritual part you shift into? A psychoanalytical self? The list goes on. All those voices or energies help us to feel stronger and in control. In relationships, however, they keep the other person at a distance.

The more we are in touch with our vulnerable authentic self and can communicate from an Aware Ego, the more clearly our partner can hear us without needing to go into his or her power selves and put his or her defences up.

Accepting, Acknowledging & Honouring Feelings & Needs QUOTE 1

Our judgements in a partnering relationship give us the feedback that our disowned selves are operating. When we are coming from our primary selves, we tend to judge more harshly. If I am over-identified with the rational mind, I will judge a partner who is more emotional and makes his or her decisions from a feeling place. If I am identified with being extrovert, I might judge a more introvert person as slow or too quiet and might not understand why they need quiet time alone to think. The introvert in turn might judge the extrovert as being too loud, too quick and for needing or craving social interactions. When there is a doer and a dreamer in a partnership, they will judge each other’s approaches to life. Or if I am over-identified with that voice that worries what other people think, I might judge my partner for dressing more relaxed, not having good table manners or saying something inappropriate.

However, “the thing you hate the most and judge the most is the medicine that you need the most” (Dr. Hal Stone, founder of Voice Dialogue). What Hal Stone means by that is that whatever our partner is showing us is most likely an energy we are not in touch with. In order to be whole human beings and have the true freedom of choice of how we want to feel and act in each given moment, it is a good idea for us to consider embracing that trait which we judge.

Often judgments go both ways as in the example above. So what is happening with the couple in our example? They are mirroring each other’s shadows. They are judging each other for what they themselves have disowned. He is judging her for making a “silly” request, for caring too much about appearance and for being controlling and conscious of time. He is identified with a more relaxed attitude towards meals and having guests. She judges him as being lazy and unhelpful and incapable or possibly too uneducated or too carefree to meet her standards of perfection.

The couple has different priorities and different needs. How differently would the conversation go if they used non-violent communication to acknowledge the partner’s feelings and needs and express their own? A successful conversation could sound like this:

She :”I am starting to feel a bit stressed because I am worried that we won’t be done when your parents arrive. I am anxious because I want everything to be welcoming. Would you please set the table now?”

He: “I have noticed that you are feeling stressed. I know you like things to look nice and make sure that our guest are comfortable. Thank you for doing all this work. I would still like to finish my e-mail so that I can forget about work and relax when my parents get here. Is it okay with you, if I set the table in half an hour?”

She: “Thank you for letting me know about your e-mail. I understand that you would still like to finish. If you could make sure to use the new table cloth and find matching napkins, that would help me a lot. Can you please make sure we are done with the preparations when your parents arrive? I would like to be able to give them our full attention when they get here.”

Accepting, Acknowledging & Honouring Feelings & Needs QUOTE 2

They have both acknowledged each other’s feelings and needs. They have also clearly and non-confrontationally expressed their own feelings and needs. Setting the table has become an acceptable request, instead of a silly demand. How do we know if we have made a request, rather than a demand? Our partner has the option to either say no, or to negotiate how and when he or she meets the request.

The Four-Part Nonviolent Communication Process developed by Marshall Rosenberg includes: Clearly EXPRESSING what I observe, feel and require, and making a clear request; openly RECEIVING what my communication partner observes, feels, needs and requests.

The steps of non-violent communication are not complicated. However, it requires discipline to remember to communicate with I statements, expressing how we feel, and without generalizations (“You always”, “You never”) or why-questions which can be taken as criticism (Why is the table not set? Why are the children not in bed yet?). When you use the words “I feel because I…” it reminds all communication partners that what we feel is not because of what the other person did, but because of our perception and a feeling choice we made regarding our perception.

Accepting, Acknowledging & Honouring Feelings & Needs QUOTE 3I often hear one partner saying, “I just don’t understand why he/she feels this way!” That statement is a hidden judgment. It prevents us from building a bridge. Change it to “I am willing to understand how he/she feels.” It helps if we can truly empathize and understand why our partner has a certain feeling or need. However, ultimately it is immaterial if we understand on a rational level; we need to respect feelings without judgments, even if they are different from ours. It helps if we can really empathize. What is needed is to arrive at a point where we can accept the other person’s feelings the way they are. In order to communicate most successfully, we need to move beyond needing to be right and beyond making the other person wrong. If we want our feelings and needs to be respected, we need to stop judging other people’s feelings and needs and begin to truly accept and respect them.

Angelika

Relationship Coaching & Belief Change Work

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

If you enjoy my posts, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.